White Christmas? Who knows, but it is safe to say that it will be raining throughout the holiday season in Olney this year. That’s because Olney Theatre Center [OTC] is staging “Singin’ in the Rain,” a musical based on the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer film, through Jan. 5.
“I have to give a gigantic applause and bow and handshake to the crew of the Olney Theatre,” laughed Amanda Castro, “because these women are holding it down as far as making it rain. They just are!”
Castro, 27, takes on the role made famous by Debbie Reynolds in the 1952 movie about silent film-era movie actors making the transition to “talkies,” while her costar Rhett Guter, 33, dances through the rain in the footsteps of Gene Kelly. The two triple threats — both sing, dance and act — are a study in contrasts.
“I didn’t grow up on musicals,” admits Guter, who first wowed Olney audiences as Burt the dancing chimney sweep in 2017’s “Mary Poppins. “My parents are artistic, but neither are performers in any way, shape or form.”
Growing up in St. George, Utah, Guter wanted to put a different kind of show. “When I was 15, I showed up (at Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts) and declared that I was a magician and there to study acting performance.” Pressed into service in the musical theatre department, Guter said, “I slowly warmed up to dancing. I was always athletic but never into sports, and I found I was actually pretty good at it.” Then Utah dance legend Rowland Butler showed up to teach dance Guter’s junior year and “really changed the game for me.”
Guter headed off to Southern Utah University for a bachelor of fine arts degree in theatre and a bachelor of science degree in dance. He spent summers at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, went to California to join the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, worked as an actor/choreographer in Chicago and as a professional magician as well as an actor in New York City — a jack of all performance genres, despite how dazzling his dancing may be.
Castro, while similarly well-rounded, has been tap dancing “my whole entire life. My father is a musician,” she said. “And I’ve always danced. Dance was my first love, first spiritual call.” An energetic child growing up in a musical family of Puerto Rican descent in Brooklyn, Castro was put into dance class at an early age, and she never looked back. The family moved to the suburbs — New Haven, Connecticut —and Castro went to college at the California Institute of the Arts, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in choreography and dance. She was getting ready to stay in Los Angeles, but returned to New York to join a modern dance company, started singing, launched an all-female percussive dance group and did musical theater. “It’s been a big ping pong back and forth of all these different things!”
One constant through the ping-ponging has been her love for “Singing in the Rain.” Castro said she grew up watching the movie with her mom, learning all the tap sequences by heart. The musical version, directed by Marcos Santana, who returns to Olney for the first time after directing the Helen Hayes Award winning musical “In The Heights” here in 2017, is a show she has been waiting a lifetime to perform in.
“I love being a dreamer, I do,” said Castro, who plays plucky teen Kathy Selden, who puts her dream of being a Shakespearean actor on hold to help a pair of silent movie stars transition to talking pictures.
“I love Kathy! I want to be her friend,” said Castro. “I love that I can be on stage and show another strong woman — she’s young, but she’s strong. Kathy has so many dimensions; she’s a badass, I don’t know how else to say it! I love that Kathy resists. She wants to find her destiny.”
What Kathy’s resisting — unsuccessfully, of course — is Guter’s Don Lockwood, the movie star she befriends, helps out, dances with and ultimately wins over. This is where Guter channels Gene Kelly, the dancer he’s been inspired by since he started studying jazz, ballet and tap as a teen.
“Once I started dancing, I watched him in either ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ or ‘An American in Paris’ every single day,” said Guter, who’d have the movies playing in the background as he went about his work. “He very much influenced my training as a dancer; there’s something about how masculine and grounded and romantic Gene Kelly is. He oozes charm; he’s that ‘blue-collar working-man dancer.’”
Fred Astaire may have offered an “elegant, upper class” vibe, Guter added, but Kelly translated the classic lines of ballet into an egalitarian American art form. And now Guter is bringing Kelly to Olney. “Marcos Santana has such a wonderful eye for theatricality,” Guter observed. “He’s really got a sense of paying homage to the show, and giving people that iconic moment snapshot, while at the same time carving out our own voice in a way that only theatre can do.”
Castro concurred. “This is a plot we’ve known for a long time, but I love Marcos’ vision for the show, because he makes it feel so fresh,” she said. “It’s a dream, because this is a show that has the most ‘moving parts.’ There are so many sets, so many set pieces, so many scenes. It’s the biggest puzzle, but it’s the best one to play.”
The biggest puzzle, perhaps, is the dance titular dance sequence, which involves a smiling Guter doing a soft shoe dance while rain pours down on the stage. “It’s pure water,” she explained. “There’s a gutter, a place for the water to go, and the orchestra is covered so the instruments don’t get damaged, but the stage gets nice and wet and there’s a method so (Guter) doesn’t get hurt.”
Working with Guter and the rest of the cast, she added, is “amazing. It’s great. There’s so much talent on the table and so much knowledge you can trust. I’m a happy little performer.”
But making performers happy, according to Guter, is what OTC is all about. “A place like Olney is an artistic home,” said the actor, who credits “coincidence and kismet” for landing him in “Mary Poppins” and now “Singin’ in the Rain.” “When you’re bouncing around the country trying to get jobs, you find these theatres you know have similar aesthetic and value to the work that you do, and they call you up every now and then and allow you to come back. It’s paramount to have that as an actor and an artist.”
It’s great for the audience, too.
“I love being part of this show and I’m so grateful to the Olney for being here,” said Castro. “This is ‘Singin’ in the Rain 2019: It’s a little bit of old, a little bit of new, and it brings such joy, especially at this time of year!”
“Singin’ In The Rain” runs through Jan. 5 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Laytonsville Road, Olney. Performances start at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Wednesdays, Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 and 18. Additional performances are set for 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29; 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22; 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 26 and 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 24 and 31. There are no performances on Wednesdays, Dec. 4 and 18 and Thursdays, Nov. 28 and Jan. 2. Tickets start at $42, with discounts available for groups, seniors, military and students. Call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.