Filled with toe-tapping tunes, Singin’ in the Rain is good, old fashioned, crowd-pleasing fun. The Production Company’s staging features sensational music, colourful costumes and an appealing cast of talented triple threats.
One of the very first jukebox musicals, long before the phrase was coined, the classic 1952 MGM movie featured the truly memorable songs of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Legendary theatre writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green created an amusing musical comedy set during the birth of talking pictures. The comedy centres on delicious creation Lina Lamont, a gorgeous silent movie star who is dumb enough to believe her own hype but smart enough to ferociously protect her own career and ‘romance’ with co-star Don Lockwood. Sidekick Cosmo Brown has plenty of wisecracks to deliver, with rising starlet Kathy Selden rounding out the four main leads.
While the quality of the songs is a major asset in the stage adaption, the light plot means that the show does not stack up overly well as a piece of musical theatre. This comparison is highlighted by the fact that the season is playing directly after Gypsy, one of the greatest stage musicals of all time.
Director Gary Young keeps the action fast and frothy, with the majority of the humour landing successfully. Delivery of punch lines will only improve over the weeklong season with audience reaction. Characters are clearly drawn, particularly the large number of male characters, and the space is used well to achieve a brisk flow of scenes.
John Foreman conducts Orchestra Victoria in a thrilling performance of the score. The brass section is in superb form, and the harp adds an utterly sumptuous touch.
Richard Jeziorny’s scenic design has some attractive elements, but does not add up to a cohesive whole. Various levels create interest, and the orchestra is very well positioned, but there is a lack of wit and style overall. Kim Bishop’s costumes enhance the period setting with splashes of glamour. It is no surprise to see the name Isaac Lummis listed in costume construction given some of the spectacular outfits on stage, particularly in “Beautiful Girls” and everything that Lina wears.
The staging of Singin’ in the Rain poses a range of technical challenges. The movies, which are integral to the story, have been expertly realised (look out for a delightful cameo from Melbourne’s own cinema superstar). It is understandable that the rain effect could not be achieved given the short season, but this does raise the question as to why a show was selected for which the chief effect could not be reproduced.
Matthew King’s lighting is a particular feature of the show, with lighting bars and changes of state prominent in aspects of the storytelling. King has done an excellent job in creating a functional and highly attractive design. System Sound has worked to their reliably high standard in all regards except for the disappointing result with the tap dancing in “Moses Supposes,” which cannot be heard. Given the brilliant work on show in this number, it is hoped that this flaw is remedied promptly. This tapping is one of the highlights of Simon Lind’s choreography so it really deserves to be heard. It is not clear why traditional tap numbers “Good Morning” and “Broadway Melody” are not done in tap shoes, the former featuring tap steps throughout and the latter being mentioned in the script as a big tap number. Choreography is extremely well rehearsed but generally a little short on flair. “Broadway Melody” in particular falls short in terms of the potential storytelling it could contain.
Rohan Browne is a charming, handsome Don, winning the audience over with his smooth vocals and terrific dancing. Browne’s performance of “Singin’ in the Rain” is an absolute highlight, with his energetic, stylish, highly skillful dancing going a very long way to overcome the fact that there is no rain.
Christie Whelan-Browne is a hoot as Lina, really hitting her strides with Lina’s act two lament “What’s Wrong With Me?” Whelan-Browne proves herself the most accomplished comic performer on stage, landing all her laughs with perfect timing and delivery. And she looks an absolute knockout in an ongoing parade of the most spectacular costumes. The onstage bickering of happily married co-stars Browne and Whelan-Browne adds a delectable layer of subtext to the humour.
Alinta Chidzey is adorable as the sweet natured Kathy, her singing voice sounding truly gorgeous. The versatile Chidzey enjoys solid chemistry with Browne, and proves herself a highly accomplished dancer.
Matt Lee looks the part of Cosmo, and certainly impresses in dance. While he achieves a jovial tone in the role, Lee would have most likely benefited from more rehearsal time with the comedy.
Robyn Arthur gives solid support in a pair of delightful cameos. Lisa Sontag proves there are no small roles as Lina’s BFF Zelda Zanders. Ben Gillespie sounds glorious as the Production Tenor crooning “Beautiful Girls.”
Audiences are sure to enjoy this rarely seen musical, and are sure to be left humming the tunes for days to come.
Singin’ in The Rain plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until Sunday 25 August 2013.
Photos: Jeff Busby
This review published on Theatre People 22 August 2013