Theatre Bugs
Odeon Theatre
Until 27 Feb 2017

Review by Anthony Vawser

There aren't many cinematic images as memorable or universal as Gene Kelly and his umbrella; there certainly aren't many movie/stage musicals as beloved as this one. Can a bunch of youngsters, however talented, possibly do justice to its particular brand of magic?

Yes, they can. Hats off to producer Joni Combe, and director Michelle Davy, for believing it could be done, and for demonstrating through Theatre Bugs’ debut production that Adelaide is full of youthful theatre practitioners who not only strive for excellence but who also achieve it.

Lachlan Zilm's Don fits the bill for a charismatic leading man, and dances beautifully into the bargain; he triumphs over occasional wobbly vocal moments with his consistently confident demeanour. Josh Spiniello is a natural and delightful comic performer, even if his antics in the role of Cosmo are over-indulged just a little at times; no reservations, however, about the levels of energy and fun that Spiniello-and-company bring to the "Make 'em Laugh" number.

Gemma Caruana's interpretation of the legendary Lina Lamont is an ideal mixture of brassy, arrogant, and oblivious, without ever simply becoming a cruel caricature. Caruana brings both showmanship and genuine pathos to her solo number, "What's Wrong with Me?" (Onor Nottle - unseen by this reviewer – performs the role in alternate show times.) Amelia Sanzo's Kathy is a charming characterisation, very pleasantly sung, though a slightly stronger vocal contrast could have been drawn between her and Lina.

Among the supporting cast, Alexander Nancarrow stands out as the authoritative R. F. Simpson, as does Hayley Thomas, who makes her character of Zelda into a memorable offsider. The young ladies playing the vocal coaches – and their on-stage students – also deserve special mention for 'rolling their Rs' so skilfully!

Any flaws to be found while watching "Singin' in the Rain Jr" are minor and ultimately unimportant, but they bear mentioning. The entire cast appears to be micro-phoned, but amplification was not always present when needed during certain moments in certain musical numbers, while some performers seemed to be relying on their mic during dialogue scenes, rather than attempting voice projection.

The 'Lina recording mishaps' scene was always going to be a challenge to stage successfully, and it's the one iconic sequence here that doesn't really translate, feeling rushed, sparse, and a little on the awkward side. On the other hand, "Good Morning" is a credit to all concerned; brightly and beautifully done, in just the right way, at just the right time to aid the show's momentum.

This reviewer confesses that his heart sank upon noticing that "Broadway Melody", a tangentially-related number that, in the film, incorporates a seemingly endless ballet which slows the pace to a crawl, had been retained for this shortened stage adaptation. Fortunately, all the boring bits are simply discarded, and the performers get straight to the point - in style!

The pre-recorded score serves this show just fine, while MD Mitchell Smith has made sure that chorus numbers in particular ring out clear and strong. Dancers have been well-drilled by choreographers Zak Vasiliou and Laura Brook, especially when required to wield umbrellas and/or tackle the uneven stairs beside the audience. The ensemble in crowd scenes have been skilfully directed by Davy, to be lively but not excessive.

Sue Winston's typically excellent costuming dazzles without being overly or inappropriately gaudy; the "All I Do is Dream of You" girls look particularly impressive wearing Winston's work. The crucial silent-movie sequences are rather brilliantly done, while Sam Davy's background projections on display are not only useful for reducing the need to utilise painted settings, but are also highly ideal for a show about the movies.

All this - and rain on stage! What more could you possibly ask for? The Adelaide Fringe may be home to a lot of admirable experimentalism and exciting avant-garde adventures, but if you’re looking for a dependable classic to send your spirits soaring and make you want to sing/dance/laugh, look no further.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)