The stage was set with a single red chair and a closet that opened up to the audience. An audio recording of rainfall played as the theatergoers found their seats. Blue light filtered onto the stage.
The somber air of the set immediately established the tone of this musical adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day.” The story follows a group of schoolchildren on the planet Venus, where it rains ceaselessly — except for one hour of sun every seven years. The protagonist, Margot, was born on earth and is just old enough to remember what the sun was like before immigrating to the wetlands of Venus.
The show was written by high school musical theater duo Hannah Mayer and Leela Kiyawat, who study at the Oakland School for the Arts, or OSA. Their collaboration, performed last Saturday, along with the generous allowances of the Ray Bradbury Estate, gave rise to this rainy musical.
The cast and production team did an excellent job of creating the sobriety with which Margot experiences her new world. The largely empty stage felt expansive against the sound of falling rain. There was also a feeling of confinement, of being trapped by the blues and dark shadows that framed the set.
The lyrics provided another, equally powerful opportunity for world-building. “Our civilization is made out of water,” the children sang. References to rainforests, oceans and tsunamis abounded. The rain was on everyone’s mind, and they were not afraid to share it.
This created an amusing paradox, considering that the actors and creators of the production grew up in a state where severe rain shortage has led to years of taxing drought. This background is potentially what inspired such a vivid, creative view of the rain. In a state where tsunamis, rainforests and aquatic civilizations are rather uncommon, constructing a rainstorm-wracked planet is a deeply imaginative exercise.
In any case, the onstage rain was beautifully realized and seemed, however positive the audience’s associations with rain may be in real life, like a legitimate threat.
While the rain was the background of the production, the harmonies were the brightest star of the show. The cast had a dynamic, cascading way of uniting as one voice. It formed a welding of brass, vibrato and youthful eagerness that came together in joy or sorrow like a murmuration of swallows. Each musical number of the show was uniquely composed and arranged, but the harmonic abilities of the cast gave the musical its character.
The musical numbers also hit home with compelling lyrics that did not hesitate to pose the themes of the show back to the audience in the form of rhetorical questions.
“The sun and Margot, which isn’t real?” two singers harmonized as part of a contrapuntal number in which the children vent their frustration on Margot.
It’s a fair question. Throughout the show, we saw this confused, childish logic develop into something tangible, with Margot coming to represent the sun in both personal and symbolic terms.
The show could be broken down in many ways, but it always came down to that dyad — the sun and Margot.
“They locked me in the rain,” Margot sang, literally locked in a closet, much as the sun is blocked out by condensation.
The production managed to blend a number of details together in stark, artistic contrasts. The rain and the sun. Warm and cold weather (and emotions). Earth and outer space. Music and lyrics.
Perhaps most impressively, the show was able to combine a deeply literary text with the energetic, larger-than-life airs of a musical theater production in a way that honored both traditions.
Contact Blue Fay at [email protected].