A Musical Love Story Illuminates a ‘Gray and Lovely Day’

Posted in More Stories, Music, Theater and Dance

BY DIANNA MACLEOD
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Feb 10, 2014

Let the rain pitter-patter
But it really doesn’t matter
If the skies are gray,
Long as I can be with you, it’s a lovely day

Rain falling steadily from gray skies—it’s what we Whidbey Islanders might call a lovely day. It’s certainly what composer Irving Berlin was referring to when he wrote, “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain),” the song Fred Astaire sang to Ginger Rogers as they sought shelter from a downpour in the 1935 film “Top Hat.”

Now imagine a fictional couple—we’ll call them Fred and Ginger—as newlyweds buying their first house right here in our mists…er, midst.

That’s just what collaborators Ken Merrell and Eileen Soskin ask you to envision in their upcoming musical, “Fred and Ginger—No Dancing!” Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 13 through 15 at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 20103 Hwy. 525 just north of Freeland. Songs from the repertoire of Maestro Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and the brothers Gershwin are woven into a love story, one that is told by a real estate agent who helps the couple discover, and rediscover, the meaning of home, right here on Whidbey Island.

"Fred & Ginger - No Dancing" poster

“Fred & Ginger – No Dancing” poster

“We follow Fred and Ginger over 40 years, from starry-eyed to clear-eyed, from a couple in love to two loving individuals. It’s an emotionally powerful story with a great soundtrack and, as advertised, no dancing,” said musical director Soskin.

She and scriptwriter/director Merrell are lifelong fans of musical theatre and keenly aware of the importance of dialogue, song and movement in developing character and telling a story.

“Part of the challenge, and the excitement, was to place these classic songs in a new context to advance our plot and develop our characters,” commented Soskin. “Finding superb singers was easy; Whidbey has a wealth of musical talent.”

The ten or so Astaire-Rogers films made with RKO Studios during the 1930’s not only featured two dancers who seemed unbound by gravity, but introduced songs that have become classics in the national repertoire.

“As a boy, I had a huge crush on Ginger Rogers,” admitted Merrell. “And I always loved the songs. Those composers made an enormous contribution to the American songbook.” In fact, the abundance of great songs posed a challenge for the creative duo when selecting the songs they would eventually use; with difficulty they winnowed their original list of over 40 down to 27.

Unlike the original films, top hats, tails, ball gowns and champagne don’t figure into Merrell’s story about a Vietnam veteran named Fred and a flower child named Ginger. Although Merrell set his story in more recent times, he managed to reference details from some of the original films. For example, the real estate agent who sells Fred and Ginger their Whidbey Island honeymoon cottage goes by the same name as the character played by Ginger Rogers in “Shall We Dance.”

Musical director Soskin arranged the music, helped the actors interpret and master the songs and found the right “sound” for the production. She also went back to the original scores and retrieved the introductions to the songs for inclusion in the script. Merrell helped the actors on the stage realize the characters he had created on the page.

Soskin and Merrell decided to cast six actors to play Fred and Ginger—one pair for each of the three time periods illuminated in the show. “This decision both shows the effects of aging on our couple and allows for a variety of singers. Each actor performs three or four solos, plus several duets,” said Merrell.

Cast names, left to right: Melanie Lowey, Ken Stephens, Gretchen d’Armand, Les Asplund, Kristie Bingham, Rich Doyle (Photo Credit: Helene Chandler )

Cast names, left to right: Melanie Lowey, Ken Stephens, Gretchen d’Armand, Les Asplund, Kristie Bingham, Rich Doyle (Photo Credit: Helene Chandler )

“It’s a tremendous cast,” commented Soskin. “Professional, immensely talented and a pleasure to work with. And the songs, well, they beg to be sung, even after all this time.”

The weather is fright’ning
The thunder and lightning
Seem to be having their way
But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a lovely day.

(Tickets for “Fred and Ginger—No Dancing!” may be reserved online up until 3 p.m. on the day of each show at concerts@uucwi.org or purchased at the door prior to each show if still available.)

Dianna MacLeod holds a degree in journalism from the University of Michigan. An alumna of Hedgebrook, she moved to the island in October of 2011 to complete a novel—and never left. 

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