The year is 1924, the setting a boarding hotel on the island of Western Samoa, where a missionary, a doctor, and their wives are scandalized by Sadie Thompson’s arrival, particularly when they learn what she does for a living. But the missionary has secrets of his own, and when he tries to save her soul, more heats up than the South Pacific sun. This gorgeous and powerful new work reveals the explosive nature of repressed desire.
How did Rain find its way to The Old Globe, and how does the production fit into The Old Globe’s mission?
I’ve known and admired Michael John LaChiusa for a long time. His music moves me and speaks to me in a distinct and personal way. I loved Giant when I saw it at The Public, and it introduced me to the work he and Sybille are doing together. We’re all represented by the same agent, Charles Kopelman, and it was he who asked me to read and listen to Rain. I loved it and grabbed it. The Globe has a long history of developing world premiere musical theatre (Rain is our 30th such premiere) and this piece, with its literary provenance in Maugham’s great story, seemed to combine the classic with the new in a way that resonates to me as an Old Globe show.
This is your musical theatre directing debut—what drew you to this piece, both as a director and as the artistic leader of The Old Globe?
Mostly, the piece simply moved me. Michael John and Sybille have plumbed the psychological depths of the piece in a breathtaking way. Short stories are like bullets: they fly fast and straight. Action and character have to be simple. There’s not much room for discursive material. Music can bring that dimension. What this piece does is tell Maugham’s story, but it expresses dimension and complexity that is latent in the original. That aspect of it—its moral and psychological richness—felt to me of a piece with the work I’ve been doing for years. Classics, Shakespeare, new plays that are densely literary. So it seemed a natural step, and a good first musical for me to attempt. I also had an intuitive sense that the Globe’s audience would appreciate it.
How has the theatre worked with the writing team to develop this world premiere?
We did a 29-hour reading in New York a couple of years ago, and two weeks at the superb New York Stage and Film at Vassar. There’s been much honing, sharpening, re-shaping and careful listening to audiences who’ve watched the piece. The usual musical theatre development process, really, but streamlined by my insistence that the Globe premiere it.
The original story Rain is based onhas been adapted into three different movies; why is now the right moment to share this story with your audiences in musical form?
Rain is what journalists would call an evergreen: a story that’s always fresh. That’s why it’s been so often adapted. There’s something about its basic theme—the destructive power of repression, and specifically sexual repression, and the ways in which primal human instincts will always explode that repression—that is (sadly) always current. We need to explore that theme, and continually expose ourselves to stories that look at it. And Sadie Thompson is of course one of 20th Century English literature’s most vivid female characters. She’s a force of nature with a distinctive voice that’s instantly recognizable. Michael John has recognized that that voice is musical, and he’s allowed us to hear it in notes and words that feel exactly right. His musical idiom and the voices of Maugham’s conflicted, searching people, are a very precise and very exciting match.
Why should everyone make their way to beautiful San Diego to catch this production?
Because in it they’ll see the contemporary American musical theatre at its most thrilling. The artists at work on this show are at the top of their fields, and the cast is doing daring work that simply commands attention. Plus, San Diego in the spring is pretty sweet.