A big stage musical about us dry laconic Australians, especially one set in a 1940’s country town during a drought, seems a tough ask.  After so many Broadway shows brimming with Yankee chutzpah and easy sentiment, our Aussie character doesn’t seem to lend itself to the same formula.

With Summer Rain the late writer Nick Enright and composer Terence Clarke have instead come up with their own unique formula. Most good musicals travel a long road of frequent adjustments and Summer Rain too has been refashioned through six different productions. 

STC director Robyn Nevin promised Enright just before his death that she wanted to give it yet another go.

It draws on our own vaudeville tradition of the travelling tent shows which once trawled through the outback. One such outfit, now reduced to just the Slocum family, limps back into a desolate drought ridden place that somehow holds some mysterious attraction for old Mr Slocum.   But there’s bad blood here and secrets to unravel.  The show biz types are not welcome although their return brings rain and then floods to Turnaround Creek, so they have to stay.

The musical is about their impact on the townsfolk, about the redemptive power of love and community, forgiveness and making a new start.   Dale Ferguson beautifully captures the added challenge of the outback in his parched set of bruised skies, empty rain tanks and wide pub verandahs, with the muted colours and stillness of a Russell Drysdale painting.   Nothin’ Doin’ is the town’s first song. 

Summer Rain was first crafted to give the NIDA graduating class of 1983 an equal crack at substantial roles, and what unfolds is still a rich clutter of subplots and vignettes.  This STC cast is uniformly magnificent but Nevin’s production struggles initially to lift the many stories into a powerfully engaging narrative. Terence Clarke’s music, with a six piece classical ensemble, is more charmingly restrained than powerful, until the second half when his reprises and harmonic skills swell to a moving almost operatic experience.  Enright’s script is as entertaining and dry witted as his lyrics are complex and evocative, while Ross Coleman’s choreography is magical.

The Casuarina Tree, You Might Miss the Mongrel, The Word on the Wind and Summer Rain are numbers which echo in your mind.   Genevieve Lemon, Terry Serio, Nancye Hayes, Blazey Best and Christopher Parker and Mitchell Butel are just some of the golden performers, singing alive an Australian idiom, robustness and warmth which is distinctively our own. 

Summer Rain is at the Sydney Theatre until 3 September. Bookings: 9250 1777

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