It's not just that recent events have made the idea of singing in the rain a
patriotic duty for Americans right now, but this 1927 musical that became a film in 1952
reminds us that the end of one thing inevitably leads to the birth of something new and
often better. In this case it is the end of silent movies, a development that was
disastrous for many actors without vocal skills, but the beginning of modern film that
has become the most powerful artistic medium of the last half century.
So how does a well-known singing/dancing film look when it is converted
back to the stage? Sensational! It's not film's loss, but the stage's gain, a
whole new layer of playful associations and contrasts is evoked as a series of genres
comment one upon the other. It's even more fun as the subject of the musical is
itself film making.
The idea of "play" resonates throughout, giving the performances a
joyous lightness and the audience a chance to join in. That doesn't just mean taking
the risk of getting wet in the front rows as huge amounts of real rain come down, but the
fun of recognising well-loved dramatic and filmic cliches and stereotypes affectionately
First there's Lina Lamont, an early version of the film studio goddess
doomed, once the talkies arrive, by a voice that could damage duco. Jackie Love
gives a great comic performance as Lina, climaxing with her song What's Wrong With
Me?, an amazing combination of melody and ear-wincing enunciation.
Todd McKenney as Don Lockwood is shadowed by Gene Kelly's film version,
but McKenney makes the role his own with an easy charm and relaxed dancing style that
matches the original. Director David Atkins has wisely kept the original Kelly
choreography for the most part.
It is Wayne Scott Kermond, as Cosmo Brown, who has the most challenging
dance number in Make 'Em Laugh, where his acrobatic feats superbly demonstrate the
power of live theatre. The sheer risk of this live performance is breathtaking in
the literal sense: we do hold our breath and so participate in the risk, releasing it with
relief and applause when he succeeds.
Rachael Beck as Kathy Selden, produces a voice lovely enough to give
real feeling to songs like You Are My Lucky Star and Would You?.
The big number, Singin' in the Rain, is a technical as well as
performative triumph. McKenney expresses the sheer joy of new love with infectious
grace, as carefree as a kid kicking water in a gutter as he gradually gets soaked to the
The film-clips add another jokey dimension to the whole. The bad
acting, the behind-the-scenes drama, the cliches and stereotypes of performance, are
deservedly exposed to laughter. In fact a series of illusions are deliberately
stripped away in giving us access to the process of illusion-making in the film studio.
Yet the Singin' in the Rain number in particular reminds us that
we happily collude with technology's power to produce illusion, not just in films but
even in the flesh and blood performances on stage. The show even produces a fleeting
history of American music theatre in its evocation of vaudeville, follies showgirls and
Only in the "dream" Broadway sequence, that becomes part of the new
film, do we miss film's ability to make connections for us, and we briefly seem to lose
track of the plot.
Nevertheless, this seems a perfect show for spring in Melbourne.