(L to R) Don (Ian Laudano), Kathy (Bailee Endebrock)and Cosmo (Connor Olney) sing and dance their way through of the many musical numbers in “Singin’ In The Rain.” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
(L to R) Don (Ian Laudano), Kathy (Bailee Endebrock)and Cosmo (Connor Olney) sing and dance their way through of the many musical numbers in “Singin’ In The Rain.” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Once they got bit by the theater bug, the three leads of Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Singin’ in the Rain” never looked back.

Bailee Endebrock, who plays Kathy Selden, is from the small town of Herrin, Ill. “Warsaw actually really reminds me of the town I grew up in. That’s why I really love being here. It reminds me of home,” she said.

Her dad has four brothers and sisters and they all play instruments. “I grew up in a very musical family. I grew up in a church-centered family so we were always singing at church,” she said.

Her first shows included “The Wizard of Oz” in middle school and “The Music Man” when she was 8 or 9 years old.

“Then I just never stopped. There never was really a moment where I decided this was what I was going to do. I just kind of always knew,” Endebrock said.

She goes to the University of Cincinnati where she will be a senior this fall. This is her second season at the Wagon Wheel, having performed in 2017.

“My experience last time was so special. One of the reasons I wanted to come back was because of the amazing experiences that I had the last time I was here so I wanted to come back,” she said.

Connor Olney, originally from Albany, N.Y., and who attends Florida State, plays Cosmo Brown in the show. It’s his first summer at the Wagon Wheel.

“I’ve basically been performing all my life,” he said. His first show was “Gypsy” when he was in fourth grade. “Then I just grew up doing it, went to college for it. And now I’m here.”

The Wagon Wheel production isn’t the first time he’s been involved with “Singin’ in the Rain.”

“There’s two young kids in the show in a flashback, young Don and young Cosmo. And when I was a kid I played young Don. So it’s kind of like a full-circle moment,” Olney said.

He said this time around it’s a completely different experience and he appreciates it so much more.

The third lead actor is Ian Laudano, who grew up in Aberdeen, N.J., and plays Don Lockwood.

“I got my start doing theater when my mother forcibly signed me up for musical theater camp after fifth grade,” he said.

Laudano said he’s part of an “extremely artistic, especially musical family, especially on my mother’s side, and she’s like, ‘You know what? All you do is chorus. We’re going to try musical theater.’ I was like, ‘Alright, fine.’ So we did a bootleg, knockoff of ‘Wicked, the Musical’ at our musical summer theater camp and I never turned back.”

He is a graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater. This is his second season at Wagon Wheel, having performed in all seven shows in 2018.

Wagon Wheel last had “Singin’ in the Rain” as part of its summer season in 2005.

The musical was adapted from the 1952 movie of the same name. It features a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown.

The musical is set in the waning days of Hollywood’s silent screen era. The main focus is on Don Lockwood, a leading man; Cosmo Brown, Lockwood’s longtime friend; Kathy Selden, an aspiring actress and singer; and Lina Lamont, an actress who was big in silent films but whose voice doesn’t translate well to motion pictures with sound.

Olney said Cosmo is “basically the comedic relief in this show – always having a good time, always funny. Very in the style of Vaudeville, which is where Don and Cosmo started.”

Laudano said Cosmo is “arguably the smartest character in the show.”

Olney said Cosmo is smart, always has to have the last word and always has a punchline or joke. He plans piano on the set for Don and Lina Lamont. “So he’s more on the creative side of the shows,” Olney said, always supporting Don.

“Kathy is an aspiring actress. She runs into Don one evening and they just kind of keep bumping into each. She keeps getting mixed up with Don, she meets Cosmo. They have a lot of fun, and then a beautiful love story blooms between Kathy and Don,” Endebrock said.

Laudano said, “Don is the leading man of the play. He grew up with Cosmo and their best friends. And they’re two of a kind. He meets this enchanting woman a few scenes into the show and spends the rest of the show pining after her and then falling in love with her. And it’s just your standard, gorgeous MGM musical.”

Lina Lamont is played by Robin Dunabant in the Wagon Wheel show. Laudano said Lamont is a “silent film star with a voice like nails on the chalkboard. And she and I are co-stars in basically all of our silent films together. And we try and make a ‘talkie’ film together, and the test screen goes horribly wrong.”

Out of an inspiring moment of desperation, Cosmo comes up with the idea that Kathy should fake Lina’s voice onscreen. “Chaos ensues,” Laudano said.

Laudano said the musical is almost identical to the script of the 1952 movie. “There’s a couple of things tweaked here and there just to compensate for the stage. Lina has a show-stopping song in the second act that was not included in the film,” he said. “It’s gorgeous.”

Laudano said the first time he saw the movie he was 8 years old.

“It was a Saturday Night Classics on Turner Classic Movies, and my parents called me into the room and said, ‘You know what? You just need to watch this.’ It’s just one of those movies that are required viewing for anybody at all if you’re into any sort of entertainment,” he said. “There’s just something very special ... You just fall in love with it.”

Olney said the songs in it are “old Hollywood songs.” Endebrock said the script was written around the songs.

“Arthur Freed wrote a lot of the music for MGM musicals, and this script was basically built to use some of the leftover songs that he had. And they brought in the Broadway powerhouse script-writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, to which they added ‘Make ’Em Laugh’ to the script and also added extra lyrics when it was necessary. So it’s filled with these hidden gems of MGM musicals that turn into just being MGM hits,” Laudano explained.

Olney said the musical has many iconic songs most people know even if they don’t know they’re from “Singin’ in the Rain.”

“They’ll recognize the songs, they’ll recognize the tunes,” Endebrock said. The song “Good Mornin’” was featured in an orange juice commercial with Debbie Reynolds.

Endebrock said there are a lot of themes in the show that are still relevant to today, including the camaraderie between the three characters.

“But one of the amazing things about doing this show in 2019 is that you can go back to the 1920s. You really do get to go on a totally different journey,” she said.

Olney said it has long tap numbers that really don’t exist in musicals today.

“It’s just a dance marathon. It’s so entertaining,” Laudano said. “And it’s so beautifully choreographed by (Artistic Director) Scott Michaels and Natalie Nalotke. She’s a New York choreographer, and she nails the MGM tap dance choreography style. It’s just magical to watch.”