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See Singin’ in the Rain

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: April 15 through May 7; opening weekend times include Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 16, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 17, at 2 p.m.
Admission: $25 to $45
Contact: 668-5588, palacetheatre.org




Major improvements
Rajotte looks back and forward at Singin’ in the Rain

04/14/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



Singin’ in the Rain holds a special place in Palace Theatre Artistic Director Carl Rajotte’s heart, not only because the 1952 movie starred his idol, Gene Kelly, and because he himself performed as both Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown back in the day — it’s also the first musical he ever directed for the Palace. And it kind of happened by accident.

Sixteen years ago, Palace Theatre President Peter Ramsey called Rajotte out of the blue, a year after Rajotte performed in the company’s 42nd Street, to ask if he’d choreograph the Palace’s upcoming take of Singin’ in the Rain. Timing was perfect; Rajotte would be finished with his cross-country tour of the musical Swing!, and a show in Manchester also meant Rajotte could visit his dad during the run. He agreed.
Four days into rehearsals, the director had a treadmill accident and threw her back out. Ramsey passed the reins on to Rajotte.
“I jumped in and stayed up all night,” Rajotte said. “We were heading into tech week, and it was tough. … But I was very young, and I wanted to prove myself.”
Back then, the Palace hired just two or three professionals while the rest were performers from the community who had day jobs and were only available for evening rehearsals.
“The level of training is higher [today] because we can bring in a lot more people from New York. You know, it’s not that they’re so much better than community theater, it’s just that they’re trained, and this is their full-time job,” Rajotte said.
For that show, the set was practically a blank stage with a couple platforms and furniture, which Rajotte’s brother, a carpenter local at the time, and his dad helped build. Costumes were made up of whatever was already in the Palace’s collection.
Rajotte still has the VHS tape of that performance and thinks the difference is notable.
“I think when you’re going through life, you don’t see the major improvements because you’re just going in, day in and day out. And I’ve been here for 14 years now,” Rajotte said. “It’s a good way for me to measure where we started and where we are now. It’s a big difference, and I’m very proud of that.”
This season’s production, which premieres this weekend, was inspired by the 2012 West End Revival. The main set is a large Universal Studios lot divided into segments. Unlit, it’s gray, but when the cameras “roll,” everything glows with new LED lights. Costumes designed by Jessica Moryl are equally bright.
“It’s like when technicolor took over black and white,” Rajotte said. “It’s different, probably, than what most people have seen around here, for sure. … To complicate it all, you put rain on everything. … Everything has to be waterproof. … We’re probably going to have to change the wood on the stage quite a bit. After a while the wood will warp a little bit. Because it’s a tap show, you can’t have anything lift up. It has to be totally flat.”
Making it rain is a giant hose that travels to the top of the stage and connects to a long pipe with small holes drilled near the spout, larger ones toward the end. Onstage is a rain deck that will slant and collect water offstage. 
Rajotte was pumped after the Palace’s Rock of Ages this spring, a New England premiere that he said saw record ticket sales, but for the former dancer, there’s something special about Singin’ in the Rain. He modeled his own dance style — athletic, with expertise in tap and ballroom — on Gene Kelly’s and knows the musical in and out.
“I grew up watching Gene Kelly. I wanted to be just like him,” Rajotte said. 
But it was hard, during New York auditions, to find triple threats with tap dancing in their repertoire.
“When I grew up, everybody tapped! It seems like it’s less and less nowadays. So the pool is smaller. Auditions were a little more difficult,” Rajotte said. “The chemistry and the look of everybody has to fit. … It’s more difficult for this one especially. Don Lockwood — he is Gene Kelly. You know what I mean? Even when I played Don, I put so much pressure on myself. Because I know, when I see Singin’ in the Rain, I sit there with my arms crossed like, ‘OK, let’s see this.’ So I know the pressure. I’m delighted to have Danny McHugh.” 





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