A World Premiere Musical

Written by:
Josh Baxt
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One thing the Old Globe does exceptionally well is make Shakespeare relevant. Through sets, costumes and playfully exploiting the Bard’s lack of stage directions, the theater brings these plays alive for 21st Century audiences. They feel significant.

Unfortunately, “Rain” does not receive the same treatment.

Set in Samoa in late 1924, this world premiere musical follows several passengers as they wait out a ship-board measles outbreak on Pago Pago. Samoan native Noi Noi (Marie-France Arcilla) and her European transplant husband Jo (Jeremy Davis) take them into their small hotel.

Noi Noi gets a bad feeling from the motley group – and with good reason. Alfred and Anna Davidson (Jared Zirilli and Elizabeth A. Davis) are zealous missionaries; Alec and Louisa MacPhail (Tally Sessions and Betsy Morgan) are a hard-drinking physician and his disaffected wife; Sadie Thompson (Eden Espinosa) is a prostitute. You already know what happens.

The strength of this production is the atmospherics. The hotel set is a dynamic three-layered cake that rotates, separates and comes together, providing a perfect backdrop for the action. The show is strongest when it uses up this fantastic space. Even better, the stage is enveloped in light mist and actual rain. The stage exudes tropical humidity.

Unfortunately, the characters do not. Put me on Pago Pago in shorts and a t-shirt, and I will sweat profusely. Yet, the passengers in suits and dresses are dry as a bone – not even a cursory forehead mop to show their discomfort.

While the cast is excellent – with tremendous voices – they are not given enough to do. Again, the musical is strongest when everyone is participating. In the song “Prayer,” most of the cast joins in and the harmonies are stunning. Unfortunately, many of the songs are solos, during which non-singing actors are often static bystanders.

Perhaps the production’s greatest issue is its archaic storyline, which could have benefited from a 21st century refit. The Davidsons are eager to destroy the immoral Thompson. Alec McPhail is wrestling with post-World War I PTSD and self-medicating with alcohol. These are vibrant themes that could have deep resonance now. Unfortunately, they are addressed as if we were still in the roaring 20s – more historical artifacts than actual investigations.

There are a number of bright points. The song “Sunshine” is Espinosa’s shining moment and the interactions between Jo and Noi Noi are often delightful. But these wins only slightly offset the show’s unfortunate grimness. This is a rare misfire from the Globe, who assembled great talent with little payoff.

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