×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

San Diego Theater Review: New Musical ‘Rain’ by Michael John LaChiusa

With:
Eden Espinosa, Jared Zirilli, Elizabeth A. Davis, Betsy Morgan, Tally Sessions, Marie-France Arcilla, Jeremy Davis, Mike Sears, Rusty Ross.

Sadie Thompson, that naughty lady of Pago-Pago, has had the struggle over her soul dramatized innumerable times on stage and screen since Somerset Maugham created her in his 1921 short story “Rain.” It’s most surprising to see her treading the boards again in 2016, especially in such a serious musical drama as this “Rain,” a world premiere at the Old Globe Theater. Whereas “Giant,” the previous collaboration of librettist Sybille Pearson and composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa, wrestled a sprawling potboiler into an incisive indictment of U.S. race relations, “Rain” teases a sophisticated treatment of modern sexual politics out of an old warhorse.

Maugham’s general outline — Pacific missionary tries to bring the prostitute Sadie to Jesus and is himself overwhelmed by desire — remains, under Barry Edelstein’s direction. But the usual sin vs. salvation theme is pointedly sidelined in favor of exploring the accommodations men and women must make to each other.

Far from the traditional one-note martinet, crusading Rev. Alfred Davidson (compelling Jared Zirilli) is young and sexy, clearly already unhinged and beset by personal demons which stalwart wife Anna (a magnetic Elizabeth A. Davis), easily the stronger of the pair, attempts to check through the power of prayer.

Fascinating parallels to the Davidsons’ dynamic come from minor Maugham characters Pearson has built up. Louisa Macphail (Betsy Morgan) is game but helpless as doctor husband Alec (a haunted Tally Sessions) descends into alcoholism brought on by World War I horrors. Meanwhile, proprietor Jo Horn (a vigorous Jeremy Davis) and pregnant wife Noi Noi (Marie-France Arcilla, luminous) present a “golden mean” of a healthy relationship marked by mutual respect.

As the uneasy mood is deepened by distant tribal drums and torrents of rainwater (patrons sensitive to humidity, beware), song is shrewdly integrated with spoken dialogue to contrast each desperate couple’s efforts to achieve and maintain balance. Jo and Noi Noi’s flirtatious “The English Lesson” could be the most winning musical east-west melding since Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk.” Yet when Morgan, a cast standout, has Louisa work the number’s magic on Alec (“Make me want to love you”), the Macphails’ rift is humiliatingly widened.

“Rain” is drenched with a sense of librettist and lyricist working hand in glove, such that no character sings unless and until the spoken word won’t suffice. LaChiusa’s gift for character-defining soliloquies is much in evidence here, while world-music interpolations — Pacific chants, Scottish folk ballads and those incessant drums — reinforce the notion of fissures in the human fabric constantly threatening to engulf and destroy. (Mark Wendland’s spinning, three-level set for the Horn Hotel gradually splits apart to set the stage for Alfred’s ultimate fate.)

Ironically, the character least altered from past Maugham incarnations, Sadie, comes across weakest. Fresh and clean-cut, Eden Espinosa isn’t convincing as a hard-bitten veteran of red light districts and client abuse; she rides on poses borrowed from Sally Bowles and gimcrackery borrowed from mom’s closet. (Katherine Roth’s costumes are otherwise impeccable, but from a gaudy frock Sadie would never wear aboard ship to the final red dress, Roth seems to have shopped in an Amsterdam thrift store’s Hooker Dept.)

Extravagant melodrama teeters between the intense and the risible, and though Edelstein and his actors generally go for broke, there’s a certain tenuousness of tone which may right itself over time. Edelstein and orchestrator Bruce Coughlin also need to tighten up the musical buttons cuing us to applaud.

“Rain” impresses as a stirring story of grownup passions, maturely told. Its ultimate message — that honesty with oneself and one’s partner is the best policy — may not seem particularly novel. But as anyone in a relationship knows, the wages of dishonesty are far more deadly than those of sin, a fact the characters of “Rain” play out with chilling conviction.

San Diego Theater Review: New Musical 'Rain' by Michael John LaChiusa

Old Globe, 620 seats; $104 top. Opened April 1, 2016; reviewed April 2. Runs through May 1. Running time: TWO HOURS, 20 MIN.

Production: An Old Globe presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Sybille Pearson and music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, based on the short story “Rain” by Somerset Maugham.

Creative: Directed by Barry Edelstein.  Sets, Mark Wendland; costumes, Katherine Roth; lighting, Russell H. Champa; sound, Ken Travis; orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin; music director, J. Oconer Navarro; movement, Patrick McCollum; production stage manager, James Latus.

Cast: Eden Espinosa, Jared Zirilli, Elizabeth A. Davis, Betsy Morgan, Tally Sessions, Marie-France Arcilla, Jeremy Davis, Mike Sears, Rusty Ross.

More Legit

  • Audra McDonald Frankie and Johnny

    Listen: How Audra McDonald Faced Her Fear in 'Frankie and Johnny'

    When producers offered Audra McDonald a role in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opposite Michael Shannon, she immediately said yes. Then she remembered the nude scene. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Hell, yes, there was trepidation,” the Tony-winning actress said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I was [...]

  • A Strange Loop review

    Off Broadway Review: 'A Strange Loop'

    “No one cares about a writer who is struggling to write,” sings the anxiety-ridden lead character in Michael R. Jackson’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exasperating new musical, “A Strange Loop,” at Playwrights Horizons. The abundantly talented Jackson takes the otherwise tired trope of the young, poor and sensitive artist trying to discover his true self and [...]

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content