Aired on KSDS-FM on 4/8/16
RUN DATES: 3/24/16 – 5/1/16
VENUE: The Old Globe
In adapting a piece of literature, there’s an obligation to maintain the spirit of the original.
W. Somerset Maugham’s riveting 1921 short story, “Rain” (originally titled “Miss Thompson”), has certainly provided fertile ground for adapters: three films, and an aborted musical, called “Sadie Thompson,” created in 1944 with Ethel Merman in mind.
Now, along come composer/lyricist Michael John La Chiusa and librettist Sybille Pearson, with a new musical, “Rain,” having its world premiere at The Old Globe. Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein is making his musical direction debut, and given the intensity of the drama, he acquits himself quite well.
The cast is strong and the design is outstanding – with a revolving set, evocative lighting and wonderful, running-water rain effects. This new version effectively fleshes out the characters’ backgrounds, but eliminates the subtlety and intrigue of the original — and subverts Maugham’s intent.
Two American couples are stranded on the wet Samoan island of Pago Pago, due to a measles outbreak onboard their ship. One man is a jaded doctor; the other, a sanctimonious minister. They and their wives are forced to stay in the only boardinghouse, along with another passenger, Sadie Thompson, a flamboyant, tough-talking prostitute.
The reverend reviles Sadie’s sinful behavior and is hellbent on saving her soul. His own fall from grace provides the calamitous ending of Maugham’s story. But here, not only is the intimated incident explicitly acted out, Sadie is portrayed as the seductive source of the hypocrite’s intemperance. It’s surprising that this plot distortion was created by a woman, although Pearson does give her four female characters stiff spines.
The shock value of the dénouement is diminished, both by foreshadowing throughout the 2½ hour show, and the several musical numbers that follow the scandal.
La Chiusa’s music tends toward the melodically complex and tonally dour, punctuated by a few tuneful, upbeat numbers, which are the highlights of the show: Sadie’s “Sunshine” and native wife Noi Noi’s sexy/fun “(Malo) Hello,” in particular. The regimented structure, as each character sings his or her needs, wants and weaknesses, slackens the action. But Eden Espinosa is terrific as Sadie; all the voices are potent and the nine-piece orchestra is excellent.
A new show always needs shaping. This is one step along the rocky road to often-elusive musical theater success.
©2016 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews
P. Baird Godvin
May 7, 2016
If theatre is your passion, I know you will want to provide your readers with accurate facts concerning the history of the theatre. Like most critics reviewing the Globes recent musical production of “Rain” you mention the three films but fail to mention the 1922 iconic Broadway sensation “RAIN: a Play in Three Acts”.
This version of “Rain” was adapted by John Colton and Miss Clemence Randolph, with Maugham’s permission, from his original short story “Miss Thompson.” The three films were adaptations of the three act play not the short story. The films contain characters not found in Maugham’s short story, like Sadie’s love interest Sergeant O’Hara. United Artists bought the rights to make the films from Colton and Randolph in 1928 and the 1932 Joan Crawford rendition clearly states that the film is adapted from the three act play by Colton and Randolph.
Sadie Thompson came to life on the stage in the twenties due to the renowned and never unequaled portrayal by actress Jeanne Eagels. Famous Broadway critic Ward Morehouse in his memoir “Broadway After Dark” recalls the opening night of the three act play.
“RAIN came into the Maxine Elliot Theater on a November evening in 1922, and the opening brought forth an emotional demonstration never exceeded in the theater of this country and century. First nighters stood and screamed when the curtain fell upon Sadie’s denunciation of Davidson at the close of the second act, they were as wild as spectators at a football game… I occupied a seat in the rear of the balcony on the opening night and experienced one of the most genuinely stirring moments in all my theater-going years…”
I hope you will give credit where credit is due. It was the three act play RAIN by Colton and Randolph that made Maugham’s short story famous and the rendition upon which the films were based. Not the other way around.