By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
"If the water runs overboard, we'll just do 'Noah, the Musical.'"
The 25-foot-tall sprinkler system is hidden among the lights in the chapel of Ozark Christian College. Below are two gutters that collect the water that spills down into a tray that pumps the water up for another trip down.
Mary Green, her husband and others built the system in the chapel over spring break. The collection tray required the construction of a second stage, about 8 inches above the floor. Though Green didn't say how much it cost, the system was expensive, she said.
The system is so well hidden that viewers might not even know it's there Ñ until its moment in the sun arrives.
Because not even a storm can wipe the smile off Don Lockwood's face. Aglow with the thrill of a plan to make movie musicals with Cosmo Brown and feeling the spark of new love with beautiful singer Kathy Selden, Lockwood has to sing in the rain.
"The expenses of doing the rain system added to the cost of the show," said Green, director of "Singin' in the Rain," which begins its run today. "But it is so worth it. You gotta have rain in this musical. It's a disappointment without it."
Christopher DeFazio, a sophomore at OCC, plays the role that Gene Kelly made famous. The first time he opened the umbrella, sang and hung off the iconic lamppost, Green said DeFazio's face lit up.
The show is about much more than a joyous moment in bad weather, however. Set in the 1920s, famous silent movie stars confront the reality of "talkies," films that feature a perfect synchronicity of sound and action. As toast of the town Lockwood finds he's slowly being phased out of a job, he and Cosmo come up with a plan to make a new kind of movie based on singing and dancing.
The 1952 movie, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds released to a lukewarm reception. But contemporary critics have hailed it as one of the best musicals of all time. In addition to the titular song, it also includes classics "Make 'Em Laugh" and "Good Morning."
"It's one of my favorite musicals from way back," Green said. "The music; the story about the whole transition from silent to talking; the humor it brought in."
Re-creating the movie has taken much more than a clever sprinkler system, however.
DeFazio, involved with theater for most of his life, said he was introduced to the exuberant, energetic Kelly only recently.
"It is more than a little intimidating," he said of taking on a role so strongly tied to Kelly. "But I just bring my best to the role. I love the musical and the character, and I love Gene Kelly. He really is an inspiration."
A cast of about 60 actors, singers and dancers is involved, as well as an orchestra of 21 and a crew of 12. Jon Derry plays Cosmo Brown and Jordyn Williams plays Kathy Selden.
Many of the musical's signature dances are also performed, including the bouncy, three-person tap of "Good Morning."
The actors have learned how to tap dance with the help of choreographer Gerri Ellen Johnson.
"I have never tapped before this show," DeFazio said. "I knew that Jordyn had some experience, but Jon and I never had. We're taking the challenge and meeting it head on."
Green said the show is one of the most technically challenging musicals she has ever directed. The production, which has a slew of scene changes, uses backgrounds projected on a white screen. The lights, finding costumes and making movies within the musical have ratcheted up the difficulty, she said.
"It's pretty intense compared to some of the other musicals we've done," Green said. "But this one brings a lot of fun to the stage. We don't just choose any musical. We want it to be a story of joy."
Want to go?
"Singin' in the Rain" will be presented today through Sunday at the chapel at Ozark Christian College. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. each night, with 2 p.m. showings on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: $10, $7 for children. Overflow areas available. Details: 417-626-1221.