Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: MBS 'Singin' in the Rain'

Jeremy Lee checked out the opening night of Singin' in the Rain, here are his thoughts on it:

While most of the world is going through a heatwave now, including Singapore, it's raining cats and dogs over at the Marina Bay Sands. On the stage of the MasterCard Theatres specifically, as Singin' In The Rain is the latest stage production to be brought in by the good folks at Base Entertainment Asia to relieve the heat of this (too) sunny isle

Singin' In The Rain is the stage adaptation of the same-titled classic 1952 film musical, which has been dubbed one of the greatest musical comedies of all time. It was the musical that solidified the star status of twinkle-toed screen legend Gene Kelly and made a star out of a then 19-year old Debbie Reynolds, who along with Donald O'Connor showed off their triple threat skills of singing, dancing and acting.

Those are big dancing shoes to fill for the cast of this production – incidentally, I watched a different but similar production that played at the Esplanade in 2002, and was curious to see how this one matched up to it. I am glad to report then that this cast has resurrected the spirits of these screen legends.

The show is essentially a show about a show. But rather than merely poking fun at backstage foibles and celebrity culture, it’s based on a premise upon which much hilarity ensues: It’s the roaring 20s, and silent movies are making way for talking pictures, or talkies – essentially the movies that we all know and love today. How does popular screen couple Don Lockwood (Duane Alexander) and Lina Lamont (Taryn Lee-Hudson) cope with this new fad that threatens their careers? And how will Don, with the help of best friend and comic foil Cosmo Brown (Steven van Wyk), pin down the girl of his dreams: aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Bethany Dickson)?

With rip-roaring laughs, that’s how. The show-within-a-show that the studio is currently filming, named The Dueling Cavalier, will now be turned into a talkie – but there’s just one problem: leading lady Lamont, though famed for her beauty, doesn’t have an equally beautiful voice. In fact, her voice is as screechy as nails on a chalkboard!

While I shall refrain from putting in any spoilers here, let’s just say the portrayal of the troubled production of this film will be the source of tear-inducing guffaws. The disastrous test screening is especially side-splitting – my favourite scene in this show, it leaves me in stitches no matter how many times I see it.

The laughs alone are worth the price of the ticket. However, there’s more! We are actually treated to exuberant dancing and memorable tunes as well.

Dance fans, you’re in for a treat. The punishing choreography, which includes tap dancing and rowdy physical humour, is very much an indelible part of this show. Practically every song involves a dance sequence, and there’s even an extended one in the middle of Act 2, “Broadway Ballet”, which features Don in an imaginary scene from The Dancing Cavalier – any excuse for a dance, it seems.

To be fair, while Gene Kelly and gang danced in the film with almost-superhuman reserves of energy, we have to bear in mind that it was a film, and they had to do just one good take. The choreography in the stage version is more realistic for actors who have to do it almost perfectly ‘live’ for 8 shows a week.

That being said, the cast executes the difficult dance sequences admirably. The “Good Morning” sequence is a particular standout, as dancing threesome Don, Kathy and Cosmo shimmy their hearts out in a youthful celebration of love, friendship and optimism.

All this makes the songs seem like a footnote. Except that they aren’t. The show has a good mix of hummable ballads like “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Would You?”, and group numbers like “All I Do” and “Beautiful Girls”. There’s even what we may call a rap in “Moses Supposes” – which is just another excuse for the boys to dance. Though most of the songs follow the classic musical practice of being standalone production numbers that don’t really advance the plot, nobody cares when they are all so well-crafted and superbly performed, especially by Dickson, who gets the best songs of the bunch.

While Bethany Dickson also made good use of her singing pipes during her previous appearance in Singapore as Maria in The Sound of Music, in Singin’ In The Rain she shows off her dancing skills too, which aren’t too bad either. Her ingĂ©nue who worms her way into Don’s heart has sugar and that little bit of spice.

Leading man Duane Alexander ably stepped in when the originally intended Don Lockwood had to sit out the Singapore run due to an injury. Nevertheless, it was like he was born to play this role as he crooned the title song “Singin’ In The Rain” while kicking, jumping and twirling in a full suit as gallons of fake rain drenched him on stage. Though his singing voice is a bit nasally for my taste, he does what he’s really supposed to do – that is, channel the spirit of Gene Kelly in this iconic scene.

Erstwhile comedian Steven van Wyk gave a performance with heart in the often-thankless adorable sidekick role, charming the audience with his natural good humour and physicality. Of note was his performance in “Make ‘Em Laugh”, which is a daunting and exhausting number for any performer, but he somehow managed to light up the stage with his efforts.

Special mention has to go to Taryn Lee-Hudson, though, for her portrayal of the unsympathetic yet ridiculous and blindingly funny character of Lina Lamont. Having heard her real voice (it’s actually quite low), it’s impressive that she can put on that jarring voice for the whole show, and still keep up with her comic timing. Extra points too for being able to deliberately sing off-key during her solo “What’s Wrong With Me?”, to great comic effect. She deservedly got the loudest cheers from the audience.

A note to the dainty: If you generally don’t like your theatre experiences to come with added moisture, I would advise you not to sit in the first few rows. Sitting in these designated “splash zones” will leave you soaked during the rain scene (hmm, or is it scenes?). I personally don’t think this “audience participation” is necessary, as it’s gimmicky and makes the show seem somewhat like a theme park ride. The quality of the entertainment on offer is good enough without it.

However, if you are game for a fully immersive experience, go ahead and get the close-up seats, I say. Just don’t wear your Sunday best to the theatre. I will be content with staying dry and enjoying the show for the true triple threat that it is – laughs, dancing and music.

Singin' in the Rain runs till 2 August 2015. Check out the Events Page for tickets!

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