Published in Cape Times, 30 November 2015
FEEL-GOOD: Mila de Biaggi is captured in rehearsal as the Broadway Melody Girl (the role played by Cyd Charisse in the film) in Singin’ in the Rain with Grant Almirall as Don Lockwood. The stage production of ‘the finest screen musical ever made for Hollywood’, Singin’ in the Rain, opens at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre on December 11, writes DEBBIE HATHWAY
IN 1996, I reviewed the Wild Coast Sun’s dance revue, X-posure, with Amra-Faye Wright in the spotlight. Seated next to several awestruck colleagues, I remember thinking how hard the supporting cast of dancers appeared to work throughout their performance.
The Wild Orchid Showbar was known for the high quality of its floor shows, but this one had something different. Even now I can remember how Wright commanded that stage with her powerful voice, magnetic appeal and legs for days, just five years before she was given the opportunity to play Velma Kelly in Chicago on the West End.
My point? At 24, Mila De Biaggi is presenting very similar potential. Like Wright, the Broadway Ballet Girl soloist for Pieter Toerien’s Singin’ in the Rain is a triple threat with a string of kudos behind her name. Most notable among them is her 2012 portrayal of Penny Johnson for the international touring company of Dirty Dancing in South Africa, and its Asian Tour for which she garnered a Naledi Award nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. The following year, she joined the West End company of Dirty Dancing as a swing and cover for Penny.
De Biaggi’s eyes light up at the mention of Wright, who is clearly a “phenomenal” role model.
At face value, they’re practically cut from the same cloth. Get to know them a bit better and you’ll discover down-to-earth, unpretentious, honest-to-goodness people who just happen to possess an enormous amount of talent for musical theatre. De Biaggi also worked for the South African tour of Sunset Boulevard in 2013 and took the role of Victoria, the White Cat, for South Korea’s International Touring Company production of CATS in 2014. “I’ve never been pushed that much in every way in my singing, dancing and acting; the process is incredible… because you have to become a cat! It was a very special experience,” says De Biaggi.
The Cape Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA) gave her the invaluable technical grounding she needed to pursue her passion and it was during a visit with the company to New York, which included watching a performance of A Chorus Line on Broadway, that De Biaggi realised that that is her dream.
“Just to be able to express yourself through your dancing, through your acting, through your singing… It’s so different and challenging, but I love it.” She went on to graduate from the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel, which she describes as one of the best times of her life. “That’s when I learnt that at the end of the day we’re all individuals and there’s enough work for everybody if we can bring out our own unique gifts… You don’t have to compete with anybody except yourself.”
She also learnt that there’s no such thing as perfect (“you just have to find the very best version of you”), and adopted a “balls to the wall” approach to her work. It was sound advice from her college coaches, Anton Luitingh and Duane Alexander, who taught the principles of not holding back and giving 110% every time.
This production of Singin’ in the Rain sees all three of them working together for the first time, with Luitingh as resident director and Alexander as resident choreographer and alternate Don Lockwood. “They keep me on my toes,” she says, “and they give me notes. I love notes! When you’re doing a show eight times a week, and we’ve been doing it now for eight months – it’s good for (the creative team) to make sure that everyone’s always on their game.”
Set in 1927, Singin’ in the Rain tells the story of the transition from silent films to talkies. If the comedy doesn’t get those feel-good endorphins flowing, the music and dancing certainly will. It’s not often audiences are treated to such spectacular tap dancing and any dance fan simply has to see a live performance of Gene Kelly’s iconic title song number, and Donald O’Connor’s hilarious Make ‘em Laugh. A word of warning, though, if you want to avoid a shower, steer clear of the first three rows!
Bethany Dickson stars as the aspiring actress Kathy Selden, opposite Grant Almirall who makes his debut as the charming Don Lockwood.
The cast of 27 includes Steven van Wyk as Cosmo Brown, Taryn-Lee Hudson as Lina Lamont, James Borthwick as RF Simpson, Mark Richardson as Roscoe Dexter and Anne Power as Dora. Cameron Wenn is the associate director (UK), Kelly Ewins is the associate choreographer (UK) and James Cundall the producer of this touring production.
Singin’ in the Rain will be staged at Artscape Opera House from December 11 to January 10.