Next week, we open Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s production of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.
This is an important show to many, many people. For a lot of us theatre-folk, it was our first movie musical…and what a tough act to follow. It’s such a classic that probably many of us have a Singin’ In The Rain story: the first time we saw it, what it means to us, and so on.
Well, here’s mine.
When I was a kid, I went on a trip to the beach with my parents. Not the “golden sands and pristine, blue water” kind of beach you see on a Sandals commercial. No, I’m talking about a Washington State Beach: rocky, covered in driftwood, edged by dark, forbidding waters. Like something out of a depressing, Scandinavian art film.
No wonder my family liked it. Them’s our people.
And when I say “kid,” I actually mean that I was hitting my teenage years or at least verging on them, and—okay, I’m going to get serious for a moment—that’s when depression began to set in for me. Don’t worry, I’m better now; that’s not what this post is really about. The process took a long time, but that unfortunate quirk of brain-chemistry is now well-managed.
In short, depression was starting to become a problem for me. You should know that going in.
The thing about the Washington State coast? It rains there. You may have heard of a little place called Seattle, which I am 100% certain boasts the same average rainfall as the Amazon River basin. (This is the internet; just try and prove me wrong with “facts.” I dare you.)
So it should come as a surprise to roughly no one that my family encountered rain during our visit. This was totally fine, because we were there staying in a little cabin during the off-season, the whole point being that we could remain comfortably indoors and play board games and such, because that’s how we McNultys do.
One day or night, I can’t be sure which—THAT’s what color the sky was—I decided to brave the downpour. It matched my mood, and there’s something glamorous about openly defying the will of nature. Clearly, nature was telling me to stay indoors with my parents and break out Monopoly, but when you’re an almost-teenager, that’s a tough sell at the best of times. So, I donned a rain slicker and stepped outside into the storm.
I made my way to the beach, a journey that required negotiating a horizontal forest of driftwood. The weather-beaten logs lay scattered above the tideline, almost blocking access to the sand. But as countless other visitors had done before, I found the path of least resistance and clambered over the natural barricade. In retrospect, it was dangerous to go alone. But I was a kid in a rain slicker and thus enjoyed the irrational sense of invincibility that a sheet of plastic provides.
I found myself alone on the beach. This is no surprise, as it was completely miserable out there. No one in their right mind would be out in that storm, glamorous or not. So that’s exactly where I was, getting colder and less happy by the minute. What had seemed like a good idea on the other side of Mt. Driftwood was starting to lose its luster. And my invincibility cloak wasn’t rated for cold. There’s always that Achilles’ heel….
I started to dance.
You should know that I was socially awkward and painfully self-aware. I was a young man interested in musicals; that sets you apart pretty darn quickly, especially when you once brought in your VHS of CATS for show-and-tell. (THAT was a good choice.) So feeling uninhibited was not an everyday experience.
But there I was, completely alone on a beach in the cold and the rain, and I started to dance. Then I started to sing. Since there was no one there to judge, I went with the obvious choice.
“I’m singin’ in the rain,
Just singin’ in the rain….”
Which was not inaccurate. No one can accuse this song of beating around the bush.
It’s difficult to tap dance in rain boots. On sand. But I sort of managed to freestyle it, having no one to entertain but myself. If it hadn’t been for the rain’s quick erasure of my tracks, I would have left behind quite the mysterious trail. When I reached the end of the song, I cycled back on a loop; it’s not like I was ever going to find something more apropos. Things continued in this vein for a remarkably long time, until it bordered on warm underneath my slicker.
It turned out I wasn’t alone after all. A couple walked down the beach, probably having spotted me long ago and already made plans to avoid eye-contact with the weird kid. But surprisingly enough, I didn’t care that they saw. I was totally free. And I kept right on going.
I’d left the cabin in a foul mood. But the thing about that song is…it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can’t make it through so much as “doodle-doo-doo” without feeling an almost magical sense of relief. It’s a ridiculous, joyous, and deeply personal song. And I think that’s why it resonates with people across the generations.
When I heard the melody of “Singin’ In The Rain” played in the overture a couple days ago, I’ll confess I felt unexpected tears well up. (Hey, I’m secure enough to admit that. Now.) It took me back so clearly to a magical experience, a moment of simply being alive, without the world looking on, without the pressures and anxieties of life.
That’s it. There’s no thrilling dénouement. I don’t get swallowed by a whale or something. I share this story not because I think it’s remarkable. I share because I think it ISN’T.
I think it illustrates a common experience, as does the song itself. It’s about finding joy in spite of everything. Everything might be the rain during your vacation. Or it might be depression. Or it might be something else entirely.
But a little “singin’ and dancin’ in the rain?” That can make even the worst storm bearable.
With the possible exception of Scandinavian art films.