Right as rain

Singin’ in the Rain (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises, Michael Cassel Group and TEG Dainty)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

September 23 – October 30

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1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain” is one of the greatest movie musicals ever made, a now-legendary film of significant artistic achievement and much magnificence thanks to is snappy story, score of Hollywood standards, and complex and eclectic choreography mix. From the opening overture of its iconic tunes, music is its stage show highlight, courtesy of the live band, atop the stage. Indeed, under the musical direction of Adrian Kirk, the band more than does justice to the range of the show’s musical numbers, from the lyrical beauty of ‘You Were Meant for Me’ to the pep of ‘Good Morning’ and the sultry sections of ‘The Broadway Ballet’ (aka Broadway Rhythm)… which is absolutely as it should be for a musical drawn from what the American Film Institute declared to be the Greatest Movie Musical of all time. Add some clever costumes, sumptuous sets and the spectacle of rain live on stage and this becomes a show sure to leave audiences with something to sing about.

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The setting is an appealing one in the Hollywood of yesteryear. The year is 1929, Hollywood is still Hollywoodland and the silent screen era is enjoying its heyday, but about to become superseded by ‘talkies’. In a plot closely adhering to the original, romantic lead Don Lockwood (Rohan Browne on opening night; the role is being shared with Grant Almirall after headliner Adam Garcia had to withdraw from the production due to injury) and his leading lady Lina Lamont (Erika Heynatz) are the Monumental Pictures power couple of Tinseltown, or so fans are lead to believe. While Lina thinks that she’s in a relationship with her co-star because she read it in a gossip magazine, Don struggles to tolerate his on-screen partner. After a chance encounter with aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Gretel Scarlett), he falls in love.

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When Studio boss RF Simpson (an appropriately imposing Mike Bishop) declares that Lockwood and Lamont’s latest romantic swashbuckler be transformed into a talkie, it is suggested by Don’s best friend Cosmo Brown (inaugural “So You Think You Can Dance” winner and Brisbane’s own Jack Chambers) that Seldon’s beautiful voice be used in place of Lina’s grating squawk and strong New York accent, that even an exasperated diction coach cannot correct (a common practice for the time). Although this was a common practice at the time, when Lina discovers the plan, disaster ensures until the truth is revealed.

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The storyline anchors the comedy and drama alike and allows for many standout scenes and performances. From the cutely choreographedAll I Do Is Dream of You’ from Selden and the showgirls of the Coconut Grove, to the emotionally-climatic ‘Broadway Ballet’, every number is full of energy and supremely entertaining. There is much chemistry between Brown and Chambers; this is immediately evidence in their flashback number from the première of the newest film, “The Royal Rascal” where Don tells the gathered crowd an exaggerated version of his life story, including his motto: ‘Dignity, always dignity’, contradicted by the ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ number that the duo playfully re-enact. And their ‘Moses Supposes’ number, where they tap together with a diction coach is a real treat. As Don’s comic offsider, Chambers’ boisterous performance is a show standout; whether as tap dancer, vaudevillian or almost acrobat in the sensational slapstick number ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ in attempt to cheer up Don in response to his questioning of the quality of his acting, he is always entertaining and certainly deserving of the most responsive opening night audience applause.

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Gretel Scarlett does a decent job as the young, unaffected but feisty Selden, especially in her attempts to insult the cocky movie star Don with empathic declaration of apathy towards the industry (“If you’ve seen one movie, you’ve seen ‘em all”) and shines in song.

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Erika Heynatz, however, is simply sensational as the dopey screen siren Lina. Not only is her physical comedy hilarious, but her comic timing and (over) reactions, especially during test screening of their attempt to rival the runaway hit “The Jazz Singer”, are perfect. And when she is given her own song, ‘What’s Wrong with Me’, she totally owns it. Rohan Browne steps into Kelly’s shoes with suaveness and style, robust in dance, sensitive in song but also playful in his title number delivery.

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As a title number, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is as memorable as its on-screen version, as, growing out of the props and locations around, Don dancers with an umbrella, swings from a lampposts and splashes about side swiping the water that puddles on stage thanks to the 12 000 litres that rain down on him. It is quite the spectacle, especially for the poncho-ed people in the initial three ‘splash-zone’ stall rows. And when the ensemble revisit the rainy number as encore, audiences are sure to leave the Lyric Theatre smiling, regardless of their age.

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Costumes capture the essence of golden age of Hollywood era and also the showbiz pizzazz of numbers like “Beautiful Girl’, in which showgirls dance atop the wings of a massive plane, as well as the beautiful period costumes for the films being created within the story.

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Tim Mitchell’s lighting design ranges from recreation of the flash of paparazzi photos to harsh movie-making lighting and the visual, neon spectacle of the full company’s epic ‘The Broadway Ballet’ dance representation of Don’s story.

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And the use of black and white ‘silent films’ not only supports the story, but adds many comical moments in what is simply a wonderful stage revival of one of the world’s best loved movies.

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“Singin’ in the Rain” is a charming, comic and glamourous romp, full of colour and movement to not only ‘make ‘em laugh’ but leave ‘em smiling long after its curtain comes down. Everything is right about this classic musical, faithfully recreated by Director Jonathan Church; its freshness shows that its entertainment is eternal, regardless of if audience members are nostalgic or new-to-the-story attendees.

Photos c/o – Jeff Busby and Darren Thomas

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