New Brisbane-based theatre production company, Prospero Arts, is making its debut with concert performances of the classic musical, Singin’ in the Rain, in collaboration with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). Considered one of the greatest Hollywood musicals ever made, the rich musical score offers many hit songs – ‘Make ’em Laugh’, ‘Gotta Dance’, ‘Good Morning’ and the iconic ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, among others. It also offers wonderful dance numbers and tap dancing, demanding a versatile cast of triple threat performers who can act, dance and sing.
Prospero Arts has based this production on the classic film version, directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and co-starring Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. A joyous and entertaining musical on many levels, this lively production showcases some of Australia’s best and brightest talent, many of whom are born and bred Queenslanders.
Set in the 1920s, the musical centres on the transition between silent films and moving pictures. Don Lockwood (Bobby Fox) and Lina Lamont (Georgina Hopson), are glamorous Hollywood stars of the silent screen, playing roles in the many swashbuckling films of the period. Despite Hollywood linking them romantically, Lockwood falls for Kathy Selden (Angelique Cassimatis) who turns out to be a talented singer, dancer and actor. She is just the girl for the new talking pictures, rather than the unfortunate Lamont whose accent and singing voice cannot make the grade. While the story is predictable, its social comment on this fascinating period of movie history is pertinent.
Prospero Arts’ production cleverly captured the style, feel and pure energy of the film with an infectious panache. Despite not being fully staged and advertised as an ‘in concert’ performance, there was no apparent skimping on either staging or production values, with impressive period costuming from Anna Handford.
The 20-piece band was enclosed centre stage, with two staircases on either side of the musicians leading to a platform that ran above the orchestra and in front of a huge screen. Acting both as the film screen of the period, as well as projecting imagery representing various settings, this was the perfect staging solution. It was brilliantly used to open the show with film titles projecting the names of the creative team, cast and musicians, perfectly timed to the length of the overture. It got the show off to a great start.
Additionally, delightful period ‘silent film’ and ‘talking picture’ extracts were ingeniously created by video production company, optikal bloc. Utilising key cast members, these were great fun but also seemingly all too accurate and real. Video Designer, Craig Wilkinson used the screen for a range of excellent imagery, including the famous rain scene, complete with sound effects by Geoff McGahan. The production elements were for the most part very smooth, despite some minor mic and screen issues, as was the well-realised lighting design from Ben Hughes.
Director and choreographer, Cameron Mitchell painted some marvellous stage pictures for the principals and ensemble, using the stage to great effect. The two staircases variously represented film lots, studio offices, dressing rooms, parties, street scenes, even the red carpet for opening nights. The platform above the orchestra became a walkway as well as a chorus line of dancers for the song, ‘Beautiful Girl’, sung charmingly by tenor, Liam Head. Mitchell’s characters were well fleshed out, while his choreography, particularly several marvellous tap dancing numbers that included ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Broadway Melody’, was terrific and very engaging. His attention to detail was excellent while his polished production brought the show gloriously to life.
No less impressive was Musical Director, Vanessa Scammell, who gave a meticulously prepared reading of this memorable score. From the orchestral ‘Overture’ and ‘Entr’acte’ through some of the best-known songs, she delivered a varied and infinitely colourful palette of sounds. The orchestra played this sparkling score with passion and commitment through the romantic, sweeping numbers such as ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’ and ‘You Are My Lucky Star’, alongside jazz-era heavy brass and percussive numbers such as ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ and ‘Broadway Melody‘.
As Don Lockwood, Bobby Fox gave a finely honed and expertly delivered performance on all levels – as actor, singer and dancer. Barely off stage, his energy levels were impressive and his tap dancing and singing both superb. He managed the iconic ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ in his own inimitable style, not trying to emulate Gene Kelly, yet giving an equally fine rendition to the delight of an appreciative audience.
Angelique Cassimatis was his match as love interest, Kathy Selden, making her charming character both strong and vulnerable in equal measure. A terrific actress, she has a lovely soprano voice and equally first-rate dance and tap dancing skills, demonstrated in both ‘Good Morning’ and ‘All I Do is Dream of You’, as well as in her numerous scenes with Lockwood.
As Lockwood’s offsider, the comic character of Cosmo Brown was very capably played by Mark Hill, who made a great fall guy and matched Lockwood in energy and commitment. He made the most of his big number, ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, with great timing and much humour. Together Hill and Fox made a great team in both ‘Fit as Fiddle’ and ‘Moses Supposes’, with lots of fast business and some great dance numbers.
The role of the hapless Lina Lamont was well portrayed by the delightful Georgina Hopson. With her ugly, shrill voice, when both speaking and singing, plus her woeful attempts to learn diction and speak into a microphone, she gave us an hilarious if venomous character. Her rendition of ‘What’s Wrong with Me?’ was great fun, not least because it must have been so difficult to sing that badly.
Michael Tuahine as studio boss RF Simpson, Gabriel Tiller as director Roscoe Dexter and Lena Cruz as Hollywood publicist Miss Dinsmore, were all solid, as were the talented ensemble of singers and dancers.
Singin’ in the Rain in Concert was an exhilarating and fun-filled musical evening in the concert hall. It offered a well-played brilliant musical score, cleverly staged and directed with terrific choreography and a strong and talented cast. Prospero Arts and QPAC should be delighted with the success of their first venture into home-grown musical theatre productions in Brisbane, and we look forward to much more from this collaboration in the future.
Singin’ in The Rain – in Concert
Presented by Prospero Arts and QPAC
Concert Hall, QPAC
Direction and Choreography: Cameron Mitchell
Musical Direction: Vanessa Scammell
Lighting Designer: Ben Hughes
Sound Designer: Geoff McGahan
Costume Designer: Anna Handford
Video Designer: Craig Wilkinson
Video Production: optikal bloc
Production Manager: Alex Shenton-Parkin
Cast: Bobby Fox, Angelique Cassimatis, Mark Hill, Michael Tuahine, Georgina Hopson, Lena Cruz, Caitlin Quinn, Gabriel Tiller, Liam Head
Ensemble: Courtney Bell, Jack Connor-Rowan, Shay Debney, Chloë Marshall, Joe Meldrum, Isabella Roberts, Sophie Zidar
Singin’ in the Rain – in concert was performed from 11-13 November 2022