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