Nostalgia is the prevailing mood where the musical is concerned. A great
deal of old wine is being poured into new bottles as known songs or scores are adapted
and refreshed. Think Shout, The Boy from Oz, The Sound of
Music, Mamma Mia!, Hair. The comfort factor is high, the risk
It isn't strictly accurate to call Singin' in the Rain old wine
in a new bottle, of course. It is old wine in an old bottle -- a staging, as
accurate as possible, of a film that next year turns 50. The story of a movie studio
struggling with the introduction of the talkies it rendered exactly and lovingly. The
spirit, and mostly the letter, of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's robust choreography is
It's lots of trouble to go to when the video is available for less than
$30, and for keeps. Why pay $45 to $75 to see something that's inevitable a
compromise on a much loved, much seen classic? The answer comes as a relief in this
techno age. There's still nothing like being there.
For many, the impressively "real" rain in the title song sequence that
ends Act I will be the clincher. Star Todd McKenney splashes about cheekily,
swooshing water into the auditorium and breaking through the invisible fourth wall that
by convention isolates performer from audience. It's enormous fun. But the
greater "being there" moment comes earlier, when the prodigiously talented Wayne Scott
Kermond (as Cosmo Brown, the Donald O'Connor role) sings and dances the big comic number
Make 'Em Laugh. Well, he doesn't sing much because the dance is so intensely
physical. There are no multiple takes here, no rest breaks, no dubbing the voice
later. You can see the sweat and the chest heaving as Kermond, towards the end of
this demanding number, prepares to launch himself up a wall and somersault off, which he
does triumphantly. Then he does it again. That wasn't "real"; it was real.
For McKenney, the challenge was never going to be whether he can dance
the Kelly stuff -- he's a splendid hoofer, with a sexy, loose-limbed
muscularity. The bigger task was to erase the image of the master, which he does
with ridiculous ease. McKenney's skills were forged in the furnace of 766
performances of The Boy from Oz. He was scarcely off stage and was
transformed from someone extremely good into a finished, charismatic musical theatre star.
The casting by do-it-all director, choreographer and producer David
Atkins is spot-on throughout. Rachael Beck is sweetly feisty as Kathy Seldon, which
is all that's required, and Jackie Love's screechy Lina Lamont is a scene stealer
(although her sulfur-crested cockatoo voice lost its hideous vim intermittently on
opening night, suggesting that Lina might have benefited more from her vocal coaching
that suspected). Glamourous Sheree da Costa, in the Cyd Charisse role, gives a
lesson in sophistication to every young woman on stage.
Millions of dollars have gone into the production, but it could have
stood more. The smaller-scale sets tend to push the action to the front of the
stage, leaving limited space for the dance. McKenney and Kermond were delicious in
the Moses Supposes vocal coaching scene, but how exciting it would have been if
there'd been more room to fly.
There was a game attempt to reproduce the splendour of the bigger
production numbers that didn't fully come off, a situation reinforced by some ragged
opening night ensemble dancing. As another recent revival notes, the old
razzle-dazzle is important. But if that didn't always live up to expectations, the
"being there" factor did. The predicted demise of the musical hasn't happened yet.