Singin’ In The Rain

Singin’ In The Rain
Music and lyrics by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Screenplay: Betty Comden & Adolph Green. Rockdale Musical Society. Rockdale Town Hall. March 6 – 14, 2020

While you shouldn’t anticipate the cinematic bells and whistles of MGM’s 1952 classic film musical Singin’ In The Rain, Rockdale Musical Society’s production of the stage version has technical bells and whistles all its own, along with plentiful lashings of charm.

The stage show sticks incredibly close to the rom-com script of the movie, set against a background of Hollywood transitioning from silent flicks to talkies and early musicals.

The filmed sequences throughout, featuring the cast, lose nothing by comparison with the original, and capture the essence of 1920s film-making marvellously. They are hysterical, as are the live movie-making sequences, where Veronica Clavijo’s Lina Lamont challenges the film’s Jean Hagen for the sheer controlled cringe-worthiness of her portrayal. The film sequences blend seamlessly with the striking LED scenic designs throughout, which display a very high level of Community Theatre achievement. Only once were performers and LED settings mismatched; in a street scene, ensemble members on steps in front of the screen appear at least two stories tall.

As matinee idol Don Lockwood, Christopher Brennan is charming and likeable, with a pleasing baritone voice. His portrayal capably combines the ham-acting of his screen persona with a warmth and sincerity in off-screen scenes, particularly as the evening moves along. Michael Osborne brings terrific comic timing to the role of Don’s sidekick, Cosmo Brown, and both of them hoof their way effectively through a number of routines.

It’s Bronte Tonks, though, quite luminous as Cathy Seldon, adds the genuine triple threat to the trio. As the aspiring actress who captures Don Lockwood’s heart, she also engages the audience’s affection at first sight. Her characterisation is appealing and sassy, her voice pure and warm, and her dancing very impressive.

I’ve mentioned Veronica Clavijo’s Lina, but let’s get more specific there. Her cheese-grating voice, which Cathy will have to dub for the talkies, is wonderfully excruciating, her timing in the classic microphone shots is perfect, and her bitchiness leaves scorched earth.

These four leads get good support from secondary characters including Alan Rosengarten as the studio producer and Paul Adderley as the director, though the standout support, for mine, comes from Sonya Eliopulos in her cameo as the quirky, bemused vocal teacher.

The joyous, shared enthusiasm of the ensemble and featured dancers is palpable throughout, and they help build the atmosphere and focus in their various scenes. Choreographer Chris Bamford caters effectively to their diverse dance skills, so the only quibble I have is that sometimes their groupings and placement beyond dance routines don’t quite work.

Thomas McCorquodale’s large orchestra sweeps you away with its lavish accompaniment.

Making her musical theatre directing debut, Kathy Petrakis has capably pulled together the complex challenges she has set herself with this production. On top of directing the cast, the technical aspects of the show appear to have been vast.

The restrictions of the heritage venue, however, meant that the iconic title song and dance had to be performed with a lighting and LED illusion of rain, rather than actual water. The representation was very effective in its own right, without making a real splash. Other indelible film moments, like Cosmo’s “Make ’Em Laugh” and Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse’s steamy dance in “Broadway Melody”, are impossible to reproduce on a Sydney suburban stage, so do like I did, and park your preconceptions outside the door.

For a crowd who apparently didn’t mostly grow up on MGM musicals, courtesy of Bill Collins’ Golden Age of Hollywood, this effervescent live telling of the classic story was very clearly a real feel-good crowd-pleaser.

Neil Litchfield

Photographer: Grant Leslie

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