BWW Review: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN International Tour 2015
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN plays The Theatre at Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila until September 13.
Manila, Philippines--You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is theatrical proof of how this age-old formula can work wonders. With syrupy and infectious melodies, stunning choreography and visually-stunning sets, this monumentally theatrical homage to the most beloved classics in the Nacio Brown and Arthur Freed canon perfectly fits the bill for a "Mary J. Blige Pre-Approved" musical- it is uncomplicated, lavish technicolor entertainment--without the drama.
The show opens to a lone Grauman's Chinese Theatre custodian casually sweeping across the sprawling stage, leading in the 27-strong cast, as they make preparations for the "Royal Rascal's" movie premiere of silent screen power couple Don Lockwood (Duane Alexander) and Lina Lamont Taryn Lee Hudson).
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's opening is exactly what sets off the magical feel to the show--to the point of making one believe that the lone custodian was sweeping invisible faerie dust off the stage floor into the very air of the theatre for the audience to breathe. This is the kind of magical anticipation the show gives the audience even before it actually begins, perhaps owing it all to the grand reputation that precedes the musical itself.
This three-hour splashy spectacle, which originally premiered in London's West End in 2012, is an almost shot-by-shot technicolor facsimile of the 1952 silver screen classic. It floods the stage, and the audience, with a cheery mélange of rainbow-colored sweater vests and a sea of bobbed hair. Yes it is superfluously cheery, but not in any way unhealthy. A show that does not bank on sexuality, violence and over-the-top dramatics to keep an audience entertained, is a welcome change. And, the over-hyped "indoor rain" spectacle is not the musical's only bankable draw.
Makin' 'em Laugh - Filipinos, a Tough Crowd?
If one should be granted the exclusive chance to ask any member of the cast if such a stereotype rings true of the Filipino audience, it is highly likely that the clichéd statement would be totally lost on any of them.
The physicality and frankness SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's comedy (with its in-your-face punchlines and sharp sarcasm) is one close to the heart of many Filipinos. Switch on the TV to locally-produced afternoon variety shows and sitcoms and you will see variations of Lina Lamonts and Cosmo Browns all heavily made up, toppling over chairs and tripping over themselves, messing up the English language, and saying goofball one-liners like "I can memoralize that" or catchphrases like "What do you think I am? Dumb or something?"
The language of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is elaborate, physical comedy and humorous wordplay may be steeped in classic Hollywood/Vaudeville Americana, but in this Manila run, the show's comedic brilliance is not for one minute lost in translation to the Filipino audience's long-standing love for larger than life, whimsical entertainment.
Friendly and Familiar
Without trying too hard, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN manages to be an efficient and economic vehicle for a 27-member cast, employing the full strength of the ensemble in all the storytelling techniques it uses. In a scene almost reminiscent of "Belle" (Disney's "Beauty and the Beast") where the entire town serenades Belle under Gaston's lead, Kathy Selden-- played to heavenly ingénue perfection by the gorgeous and golden-voiced Bethany Dickson-- is lifted into the air as park guards, street vendors, and Hollywood Boulevard passersby shower her with compliments as Don Lockwood professes his newfound infatuation for her.
A Spoof Within a Spoof
Hollywood history buffs are sure to recognize the clear parallels between the nicknames of these two studio moguls: the fictional R.F. (R.F. Simpson) of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's Monumental Pictures; and, the real life L.B. (Louie B. Mayer) of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, the very studio that produced the original screen version.
Judy Garland aficionados would also be quick to draw lines that connect theatrical fantasy and Hollywood history, during Selden's audition for R.F. right after the lavish "Beautiful Girl" number (picture a squeaky clean, family-friendly version of Miss Saigon's "American Dream," but with a private aero plane as the centerpiece). This very scene does contain some historical truth to it, one eerily similar to an early scene from the 2001 TV film "Me and My Shadows - The Judy Garland Story," which shows MGM's L.B. (Mayer) on an MGM movie lot, sitting in his director's chair and a yet to be discovered Judy Garland auditioning with no one else but a lonely pianist accompanying her.
Taking Hollywood allusions and connections a step further, a closer study of Lina Lamont's motivations would show that her overweening sense of entitlement as a studio star ultimately develops the show's plot. When R.F. says to Lina Lamont--something along the lines of "I'll change Monumental Pictures to Lina Lamont Pictures" in the final act-- the statement may be interpreted as a satirical commentary on the old star system of Hollywood. Hollywood history buffs would explain the old star system as how the contract stars of MGM and Warner Brothers were practically owned by their studios as if they were "branded cattle."
The Lights of Broadway and the Mystery of the Yellow Traveling Case
Steady, dense-yellow cinematic spotlights are the signature colors of Tim Mitchell's lighting for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, and for good reason. The show's stage lighting--as is the lighting for technicolor film sets of yore-- is specially designed to draw out the vibrant tones and flawless textures of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's intricately color-wheeled costumes, set design and props.
With its signature cheer and lightheadedness clearly hinged on the persistence of the yellow color scheme throughout the entire SINGIN' IN THE RAIN franchise, it is easy to reference the yellow umbrella as the musical's most iconic piece of prop. But jump to the act where we are shown the inside of Cosmo Brown's imaginative mind (when he tries to sell his idea for a musical to R.F.) and you will notice a more metaphoric (and sadly overlooked) prop: the yellow traveling suitcase. What's in that odd piece of luggage? Rays of sunshine or an infinite supply of bouncing skittles?
Visually, the musical peaks during this stunning film to stage adaptation of Cosmo Brown's imagination sequence. This is where the set design, lighting and stage direction all come together to create one spectacular number after the other.
Here, the ensemble--along with Brown's imaginary leading man and lady-- trace a Broadway baby's journey to fame: from exploring audition opportunities under the glaring neon lights of the Great White Way, jam-packed rides in NYC's subways, to finally meeting the leading lady of your dreams and whisking her away into the sunset in a romantic dance.
The Trio of Triple Threats
Bethany Dickson positively, figuratively glows as Kathy Selden in this production. Dickson's characterization gives Selden a well-studied, theatrically traditional singsong delivery of lines, guaranteeing her future success in the era of the talkies. That very moment nearing the end where the spotlight follows her offstage as she rushes towards the audience to escape embarrassment during the iconic switch-a-roo scene (involving Hudson's Lina Lamont), it would come as no surprise if you hear the men in the audience gasp out wishful thoughts, "Rush towards me instead. Don't go back to Lockwood!"
Steven van Wyk's Cosmo Brown is an affirmation of just how the classic Hollywood asexual, sissy stereotype came into existence - through a generous mixing of musical talent, alert sarcasm, and a witty affinity for backhanded compliments, thus making him the quintessential third wheel. He engineers a precise clumsiness into his pocket-sized Cosmo Brown, making for the forever suffering, overlooked, selfless sidekick, a little more believable. Van Wyk makes it easy to see Cosmo Brown as more than just Lockwood's portable, pocket cheerleader, but as a talented pint-sized star whose sharp sarcasm may just be a guard for a deep-seeded longing for something bigger for himself, something that involves being more just the third wheel.
Duane Alexander (who steps in for Grant Almirall as Don Lockwood for this run) makes for a sweet, charismatic screen head honcho, charming enough without giving off too much of the flirtatious ladies man vibe typical to this 1920's Hollywood stereotype. Alexander's singin' and dancin' moments in the musical's iconic rain is an exemplary study on exactly how to create a man-child's dream-come-true moment --with a healthy mix of mad dancing skills, a puddle of rain water, and a peevish glint in the eyes. From the onset, Alexander's sweet singsong delivery of lines establishes his character as Selden's soulmate, in this coupling, you will find no mystery.
The Not so Belittled Eliza Doolittle
Taryn Lee Hudson, as the magnificently gammed, vocally lusterless Lina Lamont, is most magnificent in this production when she laments--or rather squawks out--the only soliloquy found within the three-hour spectacle that is SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, the anthem of her existential crisis, "What's Wrong with Me?" And this tribute to her is justified with good reason - she is after all the leading lady of Monumental Pictures.
Hudson's clueless, scheming Lamont is no "Fair Lady" in this picture --yes the show is filled with "Rain-in-Spain-Stays-Mainly-on-the-Plain" type tongue twisters to delight the elocution elitists in the audience, case in point "Moses Supposes" --but sadly, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN predates any possible Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle allusion by almost 20 years.
It is interesting to note however that Hepburn's dubbed singing voice for her Eliza Doolittle might just be one of the many legacies of the Selden and Lamont dubsmash switch-a-roo.
For a screen goddess lovingly ridiculed and scorned by Lockwood and Brown with the effigy "Talentless Triple Threat," Hudson's Lamont is pure comedic genius in the mold of uncoordinated comedic legend Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan in the original "Annie" movie, and all else that's gloriously awkward and larger-than-life Burnett throughout her culturally iconic 1970's CBS variety program "The Carol Burnett Show." Cameron Diaz --who was, by leaps and bounds, less stellar than Burnett as Miss Hannigan (in the 2014 "Annie"reboot) could learn a thing or two from the art of magnificent underperforming from Hudson. Her high Fran Drescher-like nasal trills are a guilty pleasure to the ears --the much needed drop of cringe-inducing vinegar one needs on their palate to break away from the sugar high that only a show soaked in cheery sunshine can give.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN plays at The Theatre in Solaire until September 13 and is brought to Manila by David Atkins Enterprises, Michael Cassel Group, Concertus Manila, Dainty Group and Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and is produced by Stage Entertainment and Chichester Festival Theatre.
For tickets, call (632) 891-9999 or visit ticketworld.com.ph.