Singin’ In The Rain
Dainty Entertainment Group
QPAC Lyric Theatre
September 22 – October 30 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Scott J. Hendry’s staging of Jonathan Church’s Singin’ In The Rain is sensational, the most visually spectacular and enjoyable evening we’ve had at the theatre this year. Perfectly cast, beautifully staged and choreographed, light-hearted, fun and entertaining, this is a slick show we could easily enjoy more than once. And if you’ve managed to avoid seeing A Clockwork Orange all your life you’ll enjoy it so much more… NOT linking to that.
The title number was originally supposed to be a showcase for the three leads but Gene Kelly figured it would work well to illustrate his character’s joie de vivre.
I love Rohan Browne and Brisbane loves Rohan Browne, and thanks to a savvy somebody in production or marketing who also loves Rohan Browne (perhaps Casting Director Lynn Ruthven), we were privileged to see Rohan Browne open the Brisbane season. The ideal Don Lockwood (The Production Company thought so too, in 2013), Browne is just swell; suave, sophisticated and funny. He dances up a very stylish storm (well, a downpour at least), executing Andrew Wright’s swanky choreography effortlessly. The title number is the epitome of pure joy, complete abandon, and it comes complete with authentic rain soaked swagger, precision lamp post swinging, splashing and smiling like any silly, lovely, completely lovesick schoolboy. If ever there was a performance as competent and confident as Gene Kelly’s this is it.
Although uncredited, Gene Kelly had two incredibly talented choreography assistants. These ladies were none other than Carol Haney (The Pajama Game (1957)) and Gwen Verdon (Broadway star of “Can-Can”, “New Girl In Town”, “Damn Yankees”, “Redhead”, “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago”). In fact, Kelly’s taps during the “Singin’ In The Rain” number were post-dubbed by Verdon and Haney. The ladies had to stand ankle-deep in a drum full of water to match the soggy on-screen action.
Don Lockwood’s love interest, Kathy Seldon, is recreated by the gorgeous Gretel Scarlett, a fantastic singer and dancer, and unlike Debbie Reynolds, she performs every number herself! She’s pitch-perfect, tap-happy and finds just enough fire in the belly of this character to give Lockwood a hard time before a happy ending. These two are so sweet together, somehow finding that elusive chemistry that sells a show without upsetting the off-stage other halves.
In the “Would You” number, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) is dubbing the voice of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) because Lina’s voice is shrill and screechy. However, it’s not Reynolds who is really speaking, it’s Jean Hagen herself, who actually had a beautiful deep, rich voice. So you have Jean Hagen dubbing Debbie Reynolds dubbing Jean Hagen. And when Debbie is supposedly dubbing Jean’s singing of “Would You”, the voice you hear singing actually belongs to Betty Noyes, who had a much richer singing voice than Debbie.
As Cosmo, Brisbane’s Jack Chambers is no Donald O’Connor but as far as the opening night audience is concerned he’s worthy of their whooping and cheering. His is a polished, fast-paced performance and thoroughly entertaining, but lacking in substance. Chambers presents an uber confident, slickly marketed stage persona and a well rehearsed performance but he’s yet to dig deeper and give us more. The simple fact is that on any other stage Chambers might shine but he shares the space and the spotlight with a couple of brighter stars.
The “Make ’em Laugh” sequence was created because Gene Kelly felt that Donald O’Connor needed a solo number. As O’Connor noted in an interview, “Gene didn’t have a clue as to the kind of number it was meant to be.” The two of them brainstormed ideas in the rehearsal room, and came up with a compendium of gags and “shtick” that O’Connor had done for years, some of which he had performed in vaudeville. O’Connor recalled, “Every time I got a new idea or remembered something that had worked well for me in the past, Gene wrote it down and, bit by bit, the entire number was constructed.”
Erika Heynatz (you’ll remember she whipped us into shape in Legally Blonde), almost steals the show once more, this time with her original portrayal of the glamorous, self-serving silent movie star Lina Lamont, pulling out all the stops and eliciting screams of laughter at her screeching vocals and department store mannequin mannerisms. We haven’t seen anyone posture quite so beautifully since Ladies In Black. Heynatz creates a gorgeously groomed train wreck of a character, whom we can’t stand and can’t wait to see again. Her Act 2 dressing room solo What’s Wrong With Me? brings down the house.
Ian William Galloway’s AV perfectly complements the plot, bringing the show up to date in terms of production values, and the production itself into a seamless cinematic realm that we’re privileged to see quite often in Brisbane actually, on a slightly smaller scale, because optikal bloc. Production elements combine perfectly to keep the focus on the performers, with design (Simon Higlett) and lighting (Tim Mitchell) showcased in the title number, and in company numbers All I Do, Beautiful Girl and the epic Broadway Ballet. It’s a fantastic ensemble with standout performances from Broadway Ballet Girl, a sexy, naughty Nadia Coote, and Make-Up Girl, Rachael Ward, both completely captivating, easily drawing the eye in a bevy of triple threat beauties, which is no mean feat in any company.
Of course it’s quite a feat to make it rain onstage – even looking up at the source of the rain doesn’t spoil the effect, in fact we have time to marvel over the making (and lighting and sound) of it, and the disappearance of it in time for the second act. Throughout, MD Adrian Kirk leads a stellar group of musicians.
Browne, Scarlett, Chambers and Heynatz lead this company in the most spectacular theatrical production of the year, bringing childlike joy to our backyard until October 30. Brisbane, we are living the meme.