By BRUCE DENNILL
Singin’ In The Rain / Directed by Jonathan Church / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg
Singing’ In The Rain might be mostly about the novelty of indoor rain for some people, but it’s a production that presents a story on three different levels. Which is two more than many similarly mounted shows. There is the superficial: a slowly developing love story set in and around a Hollywood studio. But there also threads in the script that satirise everything that Hollywood is – artifice, superficiality, pride – woven into sequences that celebrate the joy at the heart of creating art.
Not all of that will be appreciated by all who watch this show on stage, but that doesn’t matter, as the production values are so high and the hundreds of complex marks so consistently hit – unsurprisingly, as this South African cast are already veterans of an extensive international tour that took place before it opened locally – that it’s possible to develop a deep appreciation of the piece on a technical basis alone.
At the heart of everything are the story’s central trio – leading man of the silent screen Don Lockwood (Grant Almirall), his under-appreciated best friend Cosmo Brown (Steven Van Wyk) and a sensible, hard-working up-and-coming starlet named Kathy Sendel (Bethany Dickson). Silent films have helped Don reach the pinnacle of his craft – such as that is – while Cosmo, a musician, has made the most of his niche as a piano player. Kathy dreams of breaking her way into the elite, but is admirably cynical about both the process and the rewards.
The fly in the ointment throughout is Lina Lamont (Taryn-Lee Hudson), the screen queen whose celluloid partnership with Locksmith is the platform on which the fortunes of an entire studio are built.
Almirall, whose impeccable turn as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys lifted him into the top tier of male musical leads, handles the extra footwork here adroitly and is very comfortable indeed with the relatively easier singing required for this role. Dickson is arguably the standout performer in terms of the level at which she executes all aspects of her role – expert vocals, dancing and acting – and the apparent ease with which she does everything. And Hudson creates a fine balance between being both comic relief – her screechy, rhetorical take on What’s Wrong With Me? is a show highlight – and villain (once she realises that her success may be unsustainable given the changing industry).
But it is Steven Van Wyk as Cosmo who really grabs the opportunity to announce his arrival in the limelight – and underline how deserving he is of his place there. His role requires an enormous amount of energy to be expended on every level (during the song Make ‘Em Laugh alone, he gets through the average workload of most actors in an entire production) and he completes everything with precision, panache and what appears to be delight. Watch for his name above the title soon…
The much-hyped technology is impressive, with the scene in which the title song is performed at the end of Act 1 augmented by a deluge of fantastic proportions, with the water soaked up by a custom-made stage that’s just as impressive, in its way, as the rain-making system. That the equipment will work is expected. Of more concern for the performers, and for audience members who are aware of the challenges of completing complex choreography in limited space, is the three-inch height difference between the surface that shrugs off the water and the area of the stage that surrounds it. For the paranoid, it’s a broken ankle waiting to happen. For the cast, though, it’s something that’s clearly been adjusted to, and no concessions are made in terms of commitment to performance.
Singin’ In The Rain is packed with colour, humour and cheerfulness. It lacks the depth of some the other big-name musical titles, but it also adds something fresh to the formula, so on balance, it’s a fine show, executed brilliantly in technical terms.