Choreographer Danny Herman admits he was "a little intimidated" tackling the musical numbers for a stage production paying homage to "Singin' in the Rain," one of the greatest movie musicals of all time.
And since the classic 1952 MGM movie not only starred Gene Kelly, but also featured his direction and choreography, Herman confesses a certain "awe" agreeing to bring the great man of song and dance back to life for a new world premiere theater stage musical.
The result is "What a Glorious Feeling", which begins previews at Theatre at the Center in Munster this weekend and continues through June 2 as a Chicago premiere.
"It's exciting to bring behind the scenes stories to audiences about such a famous entertainment work that so many audiences already think they know so much about," said Herman, during a telephone interview earlier this month.
"But there was also a lot happening when the cameras weren't rolling."
He said creator Jay Berkow conceived the intimate show, billed as "a play with music" and an "exploration of creative and romantic temperaments," to transport audiences to the heyday of the MGM movie musicals. It's intended as a revealing portrait of the late dancer-actor-director-choreographer Kelly.
It's being directed by Theatre at the Center Artistic Director William Pullinsi.
"I worked with Bill Pullinsi years ago while he was at Candlelight Playhouse, where I did more than a dozen shows, which was just another of the reasons I wanted to be part of this project," said Herman, who has choreographed more than 50 productions nationally, including the national tour of "Dreamgirls," "A Little Night Music" and "Another Midsummer Night" at the Goodman and "Elmer Gantry" at Ford's Theatre.
Inspired by true events, "What a Glorious Feeling," brings to life the tempestuous love triangle that occurred during the filming of the blockbuster musical as Kelly not only clashes with co-director and friend Stanley Donen, but also falls in love with his assistant Jeanne Coyne, who was Donen's ex-wife.
"Together, all three of them work to make the movie happen and our production celebrates the genius of what was a highly charged collaboration with music and dance, while exploring the emotional complexity of their lives behind the camera; incorporating important, real-life figures," Herman said.
Those also portrayed in the story include a young Debbie Reynolds and producer and songwriter Arthur Freed.
Theatre at the Center familiar face Richard Strimer plays Gene Kelly opposite Cara Salerno as Jeanne Coyne and Nicole Miller as Debbie Reynolds, with Steven Stanopoulos as Stanley Donen and Robert Hildreth as Arthur Freed.
As for how the legendary Debbie Reynolds might feel about the behind-the-scenes story of one of her first and most famous film roles, told as a tell-all stage tale, Herman isn't so sure Reynolds would like what she sees.
"I don't know Debbie well, but I've met her before at events," Herman said.
"We've never had a conversation about what she thought about her time working with Kelly, but she's definitely shared her stories with audiences and fans often enough about how tough Kelly was to work with because he wanted perfection. And of course, at the time of this filming, Debbie was very young and new to his process, so that's what we had to have come through for our telling of what happened."