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Theatre at the Center’s ‘What a Glorious Feeling’

Theatre Center's producti'WhGlorious Feeling' features Nicole Miller as Debbie Reynolds Richard Strimer as Gene Kelly.  |  Michael Brosilow

Theatre at the Center's production of "What a Glorious Feeling" features Nicole Miller as Debbie Reynolds and Richard Strimer as Gene Kelly. | Michael Brosilow photo

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‘WHAT A GLORIOUS FEELING’

♦ April 25-June 2 with shows at 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays and
2 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays and select Thursday evening and 4 p.m. Saturday shows

♦ Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind.

♦ Tickets, $38-$42 with discounts for groups of
11 or more

♦ (219) 836-3255;
theatreatthecenter.com

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Updated: May 20, 2013 6:08AM



Gene Kelly once said as a young man he got started dancing because “I knew it was one way to meet girls.”

Well, it certainly worked for the legendary hoofer. He met his first two wives — Betsy Blair (1941-57) and Jeanne Coyne (1960-73) — while working on dance movies.

Kelly’s off-camera life was almost as interesting as his 25 movie musicals.

So perhaps it was inevitable that a stage show would peek behind the scenes at Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain,” the most critically acclaimed musical film of all time.

Jay Berkow an award-winning Western Michigan University playwright, created “What a Glorious Feeling,” which will make its Chicago-area premiere on April 25 at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind.

(UPDATED 4/30) The show’s official opening, which was pegged for April 28 has been postponed for a to-be-announced date, and the production will run through June 2.

“What a Glorious Feeling” is set during the 1952 “Singin’ in the Rain” rehearsals that starred Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.

The movie re-created the era of the late 1920s when the talkies made the silent films virtually obsolete.

The stage musical includes the rehearsals and backstage work for some of the classic song and dance scenes such as “Good Mornin’.”

Other song snippets include “Moses Supposes,” “Make ’Em Laugh” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”

The offscreen story revolves around the tension-filled love triangle of Kelly, Coyne and Stanley Donen.

Coyne was Kelly’s assistant choreographer while Donen was the director and also a choreographer.

Donen and Coyne had recently divorced (although Donen still apparently loved her) while Kelly, still married to Blair, fell in love with Coyne on the set.

Kelly would later divorce Blair and wed Coyne. They were married until her death from cancer at age 50 in 1973.

Starring in the Theater at the Center production are Richard Strimer as Gene Kelly, Cara Salerno as Jeanne Coyne and Mike Danovich as Stanley Donen.

Theatre at the Center artistic director William Pullinsi helms the show, with Danny Herman as the choreographer.

Pullinsi is no stranger to the “Singin’ in the Rain” stage musical. He directed a version at the former Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Summit in the mid-1990s.

Through the years, Pullinsi also has had many acclaimed choreographers for his shows.

For this one, he has called on Herman, who last collaborated with Pullinsi on “Dreamgirls” 20 years ago at Candlelight.

Herman then took that show on national tour and went on to choreograph more than 50 shows at various venues.

Herman also got to know Kelly and Donen personally and now resides in Austin, Texas.

“Having worked with Bill (Pullinsi) in the 1980s and ’90s, I trust he knows what we need to make a great show,” Herman said before starting rehearsal week.

One need, of course, is a great dancer to portray Kelly.

Strimer earned a supporting actor Jeff Award for playing the Donald O’Connor role of Cosmo Brown in a 2003 version of “Singin’ in the Rain” directed by Marc Robin at the former Drury Lane Theatre in Evergreen Park.

Much of the “Singin’ in the Rain” comedy centered on O’Connor’s role.

His oft-quoted line about the silent film star Lina Lamont is a classic: “She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.”

Strimer is the opposite. He can act, sing and dance.

Playing Kelly’s Don Lockwood role, however, requires more dramatic chops. Kelly in real life was a taskmaster and dancing perfectionist.

“Playing Gene Kelly is intimidating,” Strimer said. “And I’ve never worked with Herman, but the thrill for me is to be challenged with new roles and new people.”

Strimer, fresh out of Michigan State University, came to Chicago 20 years ago to make a career in theater.

He has become one of the Chicago area’s best tap dancers and, though taller and slimmer, has Kelly’s matinee-idol good looks.

With only a five-person cast, “What a Glorious Feeling” also includes Nicole Miller as the young ingenue Debbie Reynolds and Robert Hildreth as producer and songwriter Arthur Freed.

Pullinsi indicated that this Theater at the Center audience already has a glorious feeling for the new musical.

“Advance ticket sales have being going great,” he said.

Don Snider is a local freelance writer.

SPECIAL EVENTS

Theatre at the Center will offer these special events surrounding the Chicago-area premiere of “What a Glorious Feeling.”

Wine tasting

At 6:30 p.m. April 26, with the performance at 8 p.m.

Attendees can enjoy wines from all over the world complemented by an assortment of hors d’oeuvres.

Complimentary with the purchase of a full-price ticket, this event is subject to availability and cannot be combined with any other offer.

2nd Saturday Symposium

At 3 p.m. May 4, with the performance at 4 p.m.

Attendees can enjoy a free behind-the-scenes preshow discussion led by Jay Berkow, the playwright of “What a Glorious Feeling.”

Reservations are recommended for this event titled “Singin’ in the Rain — from the screen to the stage,” which is complimentary with the purchase of a theater ticket.

Hooray for Hollywood

At 5:30 p.m. May 16, with the performance at 7:30 p.m.

This event is $50 and includes dinner and a theater ticket.

The menu includes spring greens with champagne vinaigrette dressing, lemon chicken breast or roast loin of pork, mashed red potatoes, peas and carrots, and cinnamon ice cream.



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