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THEATRE: 22 NOVEMBER 2016

By JOHN ROZENTALS

Summer Rain, book and lyrics by Nick Enright, music by Terence Clarke | Directed and choreographed by Trent Kidd

New Theatre (http://newtheatre.org.au) | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 17 December

I’m not sure whether the comment was laudatory or derogatory but I was interested to hear an audience member venture that attending Summer Rain was nothing like going to one of the mainstream musicals in a glitzier venue such as Star City’s Lyric Theatre or the Capitol.

They were quite right, of course. New Theatre doesn’t have anything like the budget that goes into producing the really big shows, but that doesn’t mean that the talent on display is any the lesser.

New Theatre is fortunate indeed to have access to the singing/dancing/acting talent pool that it seems to have at its fingertips, and when it all comes together, as it has in this show, the results are close to sublime.

So please don’t make the mistake of equating lack of glitz with amateur production. This is truly slick and professional and well worth the admission.

Summer Rain is an unashamedly Australian bush musical from the pen of the late, great local playwright Nick Enright, whose name graces the bar at the new Eternity Theatre in Darlinghurst.

Set in late 1945, the musical centres on Harold Slocum (Andrew Sharp), proprietor of Slocum’s Travelling Family Tent Show. He’s just lost his troop, largely due to his love of dabbling on the neddies, and is left with just his immediate family — long-suffering wife Ruby (Jacqui Ray Maloney), vivacious daughter Joy (Catty Hamilton) and recently discharged son Johnny (Tom Handley) — to keep the whole shebang rolling.

And that’s exactly what he intends to do on Boxing Day in the drought-ravaged town of Turnaround Creek, where it isn’t just the elements that conspire against him. Local publican Barry Doyle (Laurence Coy) has some scores to settle — mostly romantic it turns out — from a previous visit and sets out to make life as difficult as possible.

But, in short, this is a feel-good show, and the list of inevitabilities lines up, just as we probably all knew they would — the drought breaks, some old loves are rekindled, some new loves are ignited and friendship blossoms between townsfolk and carnies. Even the long-standing feud between Slocum and Doyle is resolved.

The entire 17-strong cast is in fine voice and step though I’d probably settle on the stand-outs as Sharp, Maloney, Hamilton, Handley and Coy, together with Nat Jobe, who plays the town bookie Clarrie Nugent, and Anna Freeland, who plays Peg Hartigan, the married elder daughter of Barry Doyle.

But the heartiest praise of all is due to 15-year-old Rebecca Burchett, a Year 9 student at Redlands, who absolutely stars as Cathy, Barry Doyle’s youngest daughter. The unbridled glee she brings to the stage is palpable.

Watch her space. Burchett is one heck of a star of the future.

And go see Summer Rain. It will have you tapping your toes and humming tunes.

All images: Chris Lundie