COME OUT FROM BEHIND THAT SCREEN, MR. KELLY…
On March 8 and 9, the Royal Albert Hall in London hosted a showing of Singin’ In The Rain, re-mastered and in high-definition on a large screen, with the soundtrack played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I was present for both performances, accompanied by a different friend each night.
What a fabulous weekend.
How to describe the show?? Not really a ‘show’ but a film screening with live music. It was like nothing else, ever. The Royal Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Neil Thomson, is superb, and John Wilson, who reconstructed the score by listening to the original orchestrations and transcribing what he heard, must be a genius. The original orchestrations, of SITR and of many other musicals — created by amazingly talented arrangers and musicians like Conrad Salinger, Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin — were destroyed by MGM and used as landfill in the making of a road in Los Angeles.
In preparation for the performance, they took out all of the music, leaving only the singing voices and the dialogue. Then they replaced the orchestral soundtrack with the live performance, synchronising it exactly.
The film was shown on a huge screen with the orchestra sitting in front on a lower level. The Hall was full, both nights, with every age from 5 to 85 I would think, male and female.
The atmosphere was incredible – people actually love SITR passionately. The middle-aged man sitting next to me on Friday was very excited throughout the showing, standing and cheering and generally enjoying himself. On Saturday, we met a lady in the next seat who had been a Gene Kelly fan since childhood.
The most amazing thing for me — apart from seeing Kelly on a HUGE screen — was his voice. When they were deconstructing the film they seem to have changed the timbre of the singing voices, and Gene sounded like he was right there, recording the songs with the orchestra. It was as if he was standing just behind the screen, ready to emerge and take a bow at the end. I admit to a few tears when listening to “You Were Meant for Me.” His voice sounded absolutely wonderful with a smoky and plaintive quality, which reached right inside.
Then there was the dancing! The audience clapped and cheered after every number. It was a natural outpouring of appreciation and enjoyment. The senses were overwhelmed, watching him perform and seeing the complexity and beauty of his movements more clearly than you ever could on a DVD. “Moses Supposes” was just about the most amazing and mesmerising few minutes of the evening. Maybe we should remind ourselves that he was almost 39 years old when he did it. Donald was 13 years younger, but you never notice an age difference.
Parts of the “Broadway Melody” ballet were equally astonishing. The sheer cleverness and passion in the veil dance as seen on the big screen is mind-blowing. It is also extremely erotic! Thankfully that fact seems to have escaped the notice of the censors in the U.S. and England! And Donald’s “Make ‘em Laugh” number has to be seen on a big screen in order to truly showcase his physical comedy talents. He brought the house down.
The live music gave an immediacy and intimacy and an entirely new dimension to every part of the movie, as if someone had pressed the ‘refresh’ button. I’ve officially run out of superlatives.
There were a couple of things, however, that were not quite perfect. For instance, sometimes the music was a little loud for the voices, especially when the characters were speaking, and a couple of times the words and the mouths uttering them were not exactly in synch — just like in the movie! But it was hardly noticeable. As well, sometimes the taps were a little too loud or not there at all, and there was no sound when Gene ran the umbrella against the railings in the rain number, though the squelchy taps in the dance were emphatic and convincing.
The Hall has a capacity of around 5500, and it was full, so far as I could tell, on both nights. That is 10,000+ people who were willing to pay around £45 each, in order to watch Singin’ In The Rain presented in this unique way. That says so much about the incredible hold this film has on the hearts of vast numbers of people all over the world.
The place was awash with love and joy and good feelings, and everyone had a smile on his/her face as s/he left.
SITR is still not my “most special” Gene Kelly film — I am waiting for them to give the same treatment to An American In Paris — and I know that Gene sometimes grew a little tired of the constant focus on SITR, seemingly to the detriment or neglect of acknowledgment of his other work, but at least he succeeded with this film more than any other, in his stated aim, to be a joybringer.
It was a privilege to be present on this great occasion, to be a part of the magic. And now I have more Gene memories to add to the multitude he has already blessed me with, to keep and to cherish until the stars turn cold.
*Sue originally posted this review on her site.