Singin' in the Rain - So Popera Productions - Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (NSW)
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Direction by Amy Copeland, Musical Direction by Peter Copeland, Choreography by Teegan McKeen and Dane Sanderson
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
In a time where contemporary musicals are focused on the heavy social and political issues that are currently infiltrating our world, its nice to hearken back to that Golden Age of cinema with a classic musical adaptation that just gives you the warm and fuzzies. Today, that musical is that tap-tastic classic Singin' in the Rain. Based on the MGM Film of the same name that starred the incomparable Gene Kelly, Signin' in the Rain is a musical reminiscent of shows such as 42nd Street and An American in Paris. With tap heavy dance numbers and the obstacle of actually making it rain on stage, So Popera Productions donned their rain jackets and tackled this audience-pleasing favourite.
So Popera Productions, an Illawarra based theatre company, have quite comfortably created their well-known niche of bringing Broadway to Wollongong. Their production values reach the heights of Broadway and the West End and are quite clearly aimed at matching the shows that tour through Sydney. Stepping into the theatre you are wowed by the set, Tim Hawkins as head set designer and director Amy Copeland succeed in transferring the design of the Broadway set to the south coast theatre with a few tweaks to suit the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre's vast space perfectly.
For those of you who have never hummed the show's title whilst caught in the rain, the show is set at the classic time in Hollywood when films were still in black and white, silent and not producing seven thousand Fast and Furious films. Don Lockwood (John Michael Burdon) is the Hollywood hot-shot and star male lead in the Lockwood and Lamont films, with the annoyingly narcissistic diva Lina Lamont (Kimmie Jonceski) playing the second half of the duo. Don's joined by his long time friend and creative partner Cosmo Brown (Bejay Van de Haar) as he rules the screens of Hollywood. That is until the newest invention of the "talking picture" comes onto the scene, this as well as Don's infatuation with aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Mary McCorry) sees Don having to quickly get with the times or get left behind in the silence....all with a musical tap dancing score!
Under her direction, Amy Copeland knows how to put on a good show. The costumes, set, props, choreography and special effects are all carefully focused on and primed to near perfection. Everything runs near enough professionally. The quick changes in particular are quite impressive to watch.
Peter Copeland's musical direction sounded beautiful. Raised a fair few feet in the air above the set instead of in the orchestra pit, the orchestra never missed a beat. Teegan McKeen and Dane Sanderson's choreography suited every number and payed homage to the original film with moves that were reflective of and callbacks to the classic. Personally, I love a good tap dancing number and the tap in the show was exactly what you would have wanted it to be.
As leading man Don Lockwood, John Michael Burdon was no Gene Kelly but at the same time I would be astounded to see anyone even attempt to try to be like Gene Kelly. Burdon's voice was well suited to the classical dulcet notes of the musical and he revelled in, well, singing in the rain. Although at times I felt his accent dropped here and there, you could not fault the man's dancing. If I could tap half as well as that, I'd be a happy man.
Beejay van de Haar matched his stage partner with ease playing the ever hilarious, Cosmo Brown - indeed making us laugh. A committed performance that never dropped a line and boosted the scenes with his awkwardness and one liners, Van de Haar was clearly having the time of his life. Make 'em laugh may have gotten off to a less than perfect start with a few bits of comic timing missed but it picked up immensely throughout, impressing the audience with back flips, flying props and some spot on physical comedy with a suitcase.
Completing the lead trio, Mary McCorry was sublime as Kathy Selden. Her voice, stage presence, singing and dancing boasted all the traits of a performer who knows their craft and their character well. The scenes in which she sung solo and purely focused on the story and notes she was telling were captivating to say the least. McCorry's songs Would You and You Are My Luck Star were standouts in the production and is definitely a name to keep your eyes on the horizon for.
Kimmie Jonceski stole the show as the insufferable Lina Lamont. Clearly a gifted and talented singer, it must have been either such fun or a real struggle to sing as awfully as Lina does in the show. Her grating, high-pitched, nasally screech with an awful accent (that sounded like it was from some The Real Housewives of show) was never dropped and her solo What's Wrong with Me was a clear audience favourite. Famed Illawarra and So Popera regular Scott Radburn played R.F. Simpson, head of Monumental Pictures, with ease; he owned the stage with a presence that never tried to steal the limelight but instead served his character's purpose. Kyle Nozza brought to life directer Roscoe Dexter, the stereotypical frustrated director working with a diva. Anne-Marie Fanning, Cheryl Radburn, Justin Huntsdale and Jarrod McWilliams and James Gardner (as young Don and Cosmo) rounded out the supporting roles, each relishing their moments in the spotlight. Huntsdale even impressed with his own tap-dancing ability in the classic Moses Supposes number against the two leads.
The show really hit its stride with the large ensemble numbers. Each and every person on that stage wanted to be there and loved every minute of it.
As with most community theatre productions I see, there were issues and even the vast production level quality of So Popera couldn't escape them. The sound cues seemed to be missed a number of times throughout the show, missing the start of character's lines. Even at the start of the show when an actor pulls the light switches in the back lot of the sets studio, the effect that came through sounded like the sound team were still getting set up. I also felt at times that the lights needed adjusting because there were scenes were actors' faces were hidden or just not lit properly. The big dance numbers were all lit like a festival extravaganza, but the more intimate scenes relied on side lighting which resulted in actors blocking each others' light; perhaps some spots or lighting from the front would have rectified this. The only other thing I could pick at was that the enunciation of some actors sounded muddled and the pacing and comic timing in some scenes was laboured or clunky, something the first act (being 90 minutes long) needed to rely on to keep the audience energy up.
Without a doubt, the key moment and the main audience hook for this show is the Singin in the Rain number, with audiences scrambling to purchase 'Splash Zone' tickets. Copeland and her team managed the feat of bringing rain to the set - I particularly loved seeing the splash zone seats scramble to get their ponchos on in time. However the wetness of the stage resulted in it being extra slippery for the actors but obvious great care was taken by all involved to ensure no mistake or injury was made. Due to a technical issue in the first act, the splash zone groundlings got their satisfaction in the finale number and left the theatre absolutely drenched, massive smiles plastered across their faces.
The show really hit its stride with the large ensemble numbers. Each and every person on that stage wanted to be there and loved every minute of it. Each member brought something to the chorus, whether it was standouts like Nelson Bowler's spot on American accent, the belting harmonies of members such as Molly Stewart, Stephanie Arezzi, Katherine Akele, Michaela Neto and Jack Dawson or the impressively professional dancing of ensemble members like Teegan McKeen (her talent reflective of her choreography), Rebecca Virtu, Blake Douglas, Kelly Duroy and more.
There were times where I felt backings were used because the cast sounded so clear when they were singing all together and the sheer joy that exuded from them in the finale splashing ended the show on a high. Ironically one of the best numbers because for some reason we as humans just love splashing in water.
If pleasing audiences with classical shows that bring near professional level visuals and sounds to the stage was their intention, then So Popera succeeded and can add Singin' in the Rain to their list of well-received shows. So, if you're one of the few who have opted to have water kicked in your face, then it'd be best to leave your phones and other electronic devices in your bags.
Singin' in the Rain played until Saturday 26th January 2019. So Popera's next shows Into the Woods and Legally Blonde will be holding auditions soon. Check out their website below for tickets and details.