Singin’ in the Rain is a favourite musical of many, and since its original production at London’s Palladium in 1983, it has enjoyed a number of successful and award nominated remounts in the West End, Broadway, and elsewhere. The most recent professional production in Australia was in 2016 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, and the cast included two dance specialists in the two lead male roles. It’s that sort of show; proficient and exciting tap dance routines are the show’s heart and soul. The musical closely follows the original 1952 film of the same name that featured Gene Kelly. Yes, dance is important.
The book is by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, song lyrics are by Arthur Freed, and music is by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.
The action is set in Hollywood during the transition from silent films to ‘talkies’, and follows two stars (‘Don Lockwood’ and ‘Lina Lamont’) as they struggle to make the changeover. He fares better, but she has an altogether unattractive voice that stacks the deck well and truly against her. Their studio boss (R.F. Simpson) knows this and is amenable to a suggestion from Lockwood’s sidekick (“Cosmo”) to secretly have a voice double for Lamont. Their choice is a young aspiring actress Kathy Selden with whom Lockwood is rapidly falling in love. When Lamont discovers all that is happening, all hell breaks loose and she tries to exact her vengeance, but it all backfires in grand comedic style!
With its humorous story line, and bright tuneful songs that seamlessly fit into the action, the show is great fun and very easy to enjoy. It is however getting a little dated, and is a brave choice by community theatre groups because of the significant demands it places on dancers.
Northern Light’s production gets many things right, and the partisan opening night audience were demonstrative in their appreciation to the extent they didn’t seem to care too much about some of the technical hitches (such as very slow lighting cues, and lack-lustre audio engineering). Instead, they were won over by the fabulous costumes (designed by Sue Winston and director Sue Pole), the beaming smiles from the enthusiastic dance ensemble (choreographed by Kerreane Sarti), some first-rate singing (under the watchful eye of musical director Penny Vandervlag), and excellent performances from several of the principals. Deon Martino-William’s performance of ‘Beautiful Girl’ was noteworthy.
Michelle Davy’s performance as Lina Lamont was superb. She was sassy as a self-deluded wanna-be-femme-fatale, but also vulnerable. Her mangled off-key singing, excruciating enunciation and comic timing were just perfect! A highlight of the production.
Kate Hodges’ singing voice is gorgeous, and it was a delight to watch her characterisation of Kathy Selden unfold, from being offended by Lockwood’s initial amorous advances, through to falling for him. Her performances of ‘Luck Star’ and the trio ‘Good Morning’ (with Don and Cosmo) were fabulous.
Dominic Hodges’ performance of Don Lockwood was understated. The role is a demanding one with involvement in no fewer than eleven songs, including the showstopper ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, which was … sung in the rain! (Well done to the set builders!). His pleasant but light tenor voice would have been well served with some assistance from the audio engineer, as would the orchestra, which was unbalanced and muffled at times. He was at his best in scenes that were dialogue-driven, especially those with Kathy. This is perhaps not surprising, as Kathy is played by his real-life wife!
Thomas Sheldon plays Cosmo with great enthusiasm, physicality, and energy, and at times he carries the momentum of the show on his shoulders. His performance of the iconic song ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ was merit worthy deserving of the laughter and applause from the audience. It’s an enormously difficult number to perform, because it demands LOTS of pratfalls and outrageous antics while singing and dancing at the same time. Of course, the success of such a number also turns on both the inventiveness of the choreographer and the skill of the performer. Choreographer Kerreane Sarti was surely pleased with the results.
The set design almost always uses the full expanse of the Shedley Theatre stage, which at times feels inappropriate, such as when Don is expounding his love for Kathy in the song ‘You Were Meant for Me’. Using an intimate section of the stage arguably would have been better and would have allowed for more empathetic lighting and effects.
A highlight of the show was Sam Davy’s excellent movie projections of scenes from black and white silent movies and first attempts at ‘talkies’. They were really first rate and oh-so-funny. They reinforced the story line and gave an extra dimension to appreciating the on-stage work of the principals.
Northern Light Theatre Company’s production of Singin’ in the Rain is a lot of fun, with numerous high points.