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‘Singin’ in the Rain’ continues legacy with Drury Lane revival

Actor Sean Palmer starring as DLockwood 'Singin' Rain' Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace.  |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Actor Sean Palmer, starring as Don Lockwood in "Singin' in the Rain" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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◆ Previews begin Nov. 8; opens Nov. 15 and runs through Jan. 13

◆ Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

◆ Tickets, $35-$45

◆ (630) 530-0111;

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Updated: November 1, 2012 2:39PM

For anyone who has seen Gene Kelly blithely puddle-jumping through a thunderstorm in the role of Don Lockwood, or Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden, pluckily making her way through “Good Morning,” or Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown overseeing that matchless elocution lesson, “Moses Supposes,” there is no need to be reminded that “Singin’ in the Rain,” the Hollywood story about the last days of the silent screen and the arrival of “talkies,” is widely considered one of the greatest film musicals ever made.

Not surprisingly, given the high expectations of audiences so infatuated with the 1952 movie classic, the stage musical version has had a somewhat more checkered history, with Tommy Tune (as director and star) and Peter Gennaro as choreographer of the 1983 London edition, and Twyla Tharp doing double duty on the revamped 1985 Broadway version. But now, with its grand-scale revival of the show, the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre has every intention of revising that history. And given the theater’s recent track record, it’s a good bet it will make quite a splash.

To begin with, Bill Jenkins (who did such a terrific job with “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”) is directing, Amber Mak and Matthew Crowle (also playing Cosmo) are choreographing, the masterly Roberta Duchak is serving as music director and the ever-ingenious Kevin Depinet is designing the sets.

And then there is the casting coup of Sean Palmer who is starring as Lockwood. Palmer, who arrives with a solid list of Broadway and London credits, is still most widely known by fans of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” as Broadway dancer Marcus Adente, boyfriend of Stanford Blatch, the gay talent agent who is one of Carrie’s best pals.

Palmer, who was raised in Reno, Nevada, is the son of a British mother who worked as a singer-dancer and who met Palmer’s dad, a jazz musician, in Germany, while doing USO tours. Although the actor has spent most of the past 20 years living in New York (he was part of the original cast of “Fosse” and created the role of Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid”), he has dual citizenship. In recent seasons he has worked in London (in “On the Town” at the English National Opera in 2007, and “Crazy for You” in 2011), and following the Oakbrook gig he plans to return to that city, where he has “lots of cousins, and the overall quality of life is just better for me.”

It was in London, in fact, that Palmer first met with Kyle DeSantis, Oakbrook’s executive producer, to discuss the job at Drury Lane. DeSantis was there to see shows, and to sneak onto the set of the upcoming film of “Les Mis,” for which Duchak was serving as Russell Crowe’s private vocal coach.

“I was a bit confused,” Palmer confessed, “because living in London my reference for Drury Lane was the famous street in Covent Garden, not a Chicago suburb. But my manager had suggested I meet in a hotel bar with Kyle and Amber [Mak] when they were in London last May. It was just after ‘Crazy for You’ had closed and I was looking for my next job. We talked about the history of the Oakbrook Theatre, and how it was really a family business. And that’s how I got here.”

Palmer arrived in Oakbrook for the first time on Oct. 15 — what he now recalls as “a crazy day.”

“The Jeff Awards were being presented that night, so everyone was racing around, and I was rushed into a costume fitting. I was pretty disoriented. There was no welcome package, and I’m not much of a driver, and there I was, surrounded by expressways, and sort of in-between universes. Of course I knew about Chicago theater — Steppenwolf, and the many actors who have come to work in New York, and the actors, like Gregg Edelman, who leave for work in Chicago. And a friend of mine told me that Diane Lane was starring in ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ at the Goodman. But at that moment my voice was not great from all the traveling, and I just went to sleep.”

There has been little rest since then as Palmer prepares for what he describes as “a mammoth show.” What he feels good about is that while the Oakbrook venue is large, it feels intimate.

“My career is all about practicality,” said Palmer. “It wasn’t necessarily the fact of doing the Gene Kelly role that attracted me to this job. I just knew it would be a challenge, and that’s how I rate things in my career. I saw a West End revival of the show before I left London and didn’t find it all that electrifying in terms of storytelling. I want to bring some depth and care to the love story [his Kathy is Chicago’s Jenny Guse, so memorable in the recent Porchlight production of “tick, tick . . . BOOM!,”]. And I know they’ve spent a fortune on the rain scene.”

Asked about the impact of “Sex and the City” on his career, Palmer was frank: “I’m not sure it has opened any doors for me. Casting directors tend to be limited in their imagination, so being cast gay means I’ll always be cast gay. The role was actually written specifically for me, so it would have been humiliating not to get the job of playing myself.” (The big perk of doing the show was meeting Mikhail Baryshnikov, “who was lovely and charismatic.”

And what about that big rain number?

“It’s actually so much simpler than the rest of the show,” said Palmer. “It’s all about being in love for the first time — having someone enter your life and just losing all your inhibitions. The dance in the rain is just an iconic way to say that.”

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