Summer Rain

Lynne Lancaster

A wonderfully evocative revival of this rarely seen Australian musical.
Summer Rain

Summer Rain playing at New Theatre into December. Photograph by Chris Lundie. 

This is a rare chance to see this great Australian musical: It is Christmas 1945, charismatic Harold Slocum – actor/manager and head of Slocum’s Travelling Family Tent Show – has a love of gambling and (with a lack of funds) is unable to pay his troupes. After the performers walk out, the Slocum family ends up in the drought-blighted NSW outback town of Turnaround Creek – where it hasn’t rained for a Biblical seven years.

Putting on a show, the Slocum family draw on the enthusiasm of the townspeople, despite the hostility shown by local publican Barry Doyle, who remembers – 16 years earlier – the last time Harold was in town (and why is Barry Doyle so hostile? All is revealed later).

Suddenly the drought breaks (with a joyous 'Send 'er Down, Hughie!') and the Slocums are stranded while staying at the Shamrock Motel. Over the nine relentless days of rain, hidden memories are revealed; emotions run undoubtedly high, and new life is breathed into the town with the birth of baby Nancy. Love also blossoms for the Slocum's daughter Joy and a more optimistic atmosphere with the start of 1946 and the end of long years of war cautiously starts to take hold.

Trent Kidd, director and choreographer, does a splendid job of bringing this whimsical, rather melancholy and moving show with its large cast of seventeen to life. The set design  by Mason Brown was fluid and flexible and was most impressive. Painterly, atmospheric and evocative it had the feel of a one horse outback town straight out of a Dobell or Drysdale painting. The extended number in the first half 'Nothin‘ Doin’ captures perfectly the enervating heat right on Christmas with the townspeople bored and barely able to move. The lighting by Juz McGuire was also splendid and the greatly detailed costumes (also by the talented Mason Brown) were impressive too. 

Musically, it ranges from Operatic to Vaudeville with touches of Sondheim. It is a pity the orchestra was hidden the whole time behind a curtain and there was no acknowledgement of Tim Cunniffe and his team at the end. There is much fun with, for example, the sultry 'Tango D’Amour', while musicals such as Singin’ In The Rain were echoed in 'Watch the Puddles There', there are beautiful ballads too 'Casuarina Tree' and ironic comments  'You Might Miss the Mongrel' about men with shades of Chicago in the mix.

Choreographically it also ranged from Vaudeville to Fred and Ginger style, as well as big musical full cast production numbers and also old style social dances requiring the cast to be extremely versatile.

Andrew Sharp strongly anchors the show as the dynamic Harold Slocum who has gentle humour and a great rapport with his colleagues but is torn and tired underneath. As Ruby Slocum, Harold’s second wife and female head of the troupe, Jacqui Rae Moloney is vibrant, captivating and full of panache. Will she leave Harold?Catty Hamilton as strong and feisty Joy Slocum is enchanting – a terrific singer and dancer especially in the delightful dances with handsome Nat Job as charming Clarrie Nugent. Anna Freeland as Peg Hartigan Barry’s eldest daughter working at the Shamrock and married to Mick, was glorious, sensitively portraying and bringing her to life with passion, charm and commitment. Her voice is terrific, luscious and assured. Barry Doyle was portrayed by Laurence Coy with hidden menace but unfortunately he lacked lustre in the vocal department for his big songs. 

A terrific show that deliberately references Hollywood and Australian traditions, celebrating the vaudeville troupes which travelled outback Australia in the 1930s and 40s and the tight-knit rural communities they entertained; ​Summer Rain ends on a cautiously optimistic note.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

SUMMER RAIN

CREATIVE TEAM
Director/Choreographer Trent Kidd
Musical Director Tim Cunniffe
Set and Costume Designer Mason Browne
Lighting Designer Juz McGuire 
Associate Musical Director Glenn Moorehouse
Assistant Director/Assistant Choreographer Caroline Mooney
Production Manager/Stage Manager Jo Jewitt
ASMs Christine Ciuciura, Jessie Huang, Becky Matthews
Operator Martin Gallagher
CAST
Rebecca Burchett, Daisy Cousens, Laurence Coy, Anna Freeland, Catty Hamilton, Tom Handley, David Hooley, 
Nat Jobe, Jaimie Leigh Johnson, Michele Lansdown, Joy Miller, Jacqui Rae Moloney, Clare Ellen O’Connor, 
Brett O’Neill, Steven Ritchie, Andrew Sharp, Chris Wilcox.

Summer Rain by Nick Enright and Terence Clarke 
New Theatre 
15 November until 17 December 2016 

 

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.