Nothing says "the arts in Pittsburgh" like the Civic Light Opera season each summer, and yesterday we took in the CLO's initial production of the season, the classic, and dare I say it, iconic show, "Singin' in the Rain".
"Singin' in the Rain", of course, began as a movie that was released in 1952. It starred Gene Kelly, Donald O'Conner, Debbie Reynolds, and Jean Hagen, and was directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen. Whenever polls of "Best Movies Ever" are taken, "Singin' in the Rain" always scores highly, usually in the Top Twenty, and it is always rated as the greatest movie musical ever made.
"Singin' in the Rain" was first produced as a stage play in 1983, this is the third time that the CLO has mounted a production of it, and it is often produced on the high school musical circuit, but this was the first time we had seen it on stage.
I prepped for seeing the play by re-watching the movie on Friday. Mistake. The movie has so many classic bits: O'Conner singing "Make 'em Laugh", Kelly, Reynolds and O'Conner singing "Good Mornin'", and, of course, Kelly and his umbrella dancing an singin' in the rain. These performances are so well done, so good, and so famous that anyone, ANYONE, would suffer in comparison, so it really wasn't fair for me to have watched the movie a mere twenty-four hours before seeing the play.
That said, how was the play? It was good, well produced (as are all CLO productions) and the actors were terrific. David Elder, Mary Michael Patterson, and Cary Tedder played Don, Kathy, and Cosmo (or the Kelly, Reynolds, and O'Conner parts),
and Ashley Spencer played Lina Lamont, the role played by Jean Hagen in the movie, and the role that always seems to get overlooked when people talk about the movie (Hagen received an Oscar nomination). All were very good, but I thought that Tedder was a better dancer than Elder, although Elder definitely had the looks of a "leading man".
And to answer the question that is probably in your mind, yes, it did rain in the stage at the Benedum, and Elder did all of the things Kelly did - dancing with the umbrella, splashing in the puddles, and leaping on the lamp post. He was great. But, he was no Gene Kelly. Nobody is.
Remember a few months back when NBC telecast a live production of "Sound of Music" starring Carrie Underwood? I didn't watch, mainly because I'm not all that big fan of the show, but I thought is was tremendously unfair how Miss Underwood was savaged by the critics and the public at large - before the show was even broadcast, no less - for the simple fact that she WASN'T JULIE ANDREWS. I thought of that yesterday watching this play, and thinking of how unfair it is to the actors in this, or any play with similar lineage. It is a shame for anyone to deny themselves the pleasure of seeing a show like "Singin' in the Rain" just because the actors in it ain't Kelly, Reynolds, or O'Conner. Nobody can be Gene Kelly, just like no outfielder can ever be Babe Ruth, but that shouldn't stop us from enjoying a different production of a beloved show on its own merits. So, if you ever have a chance to see a stage production of "Singin' in the Rain", by all means do so. But wait until after you see the play, before you decide to watch the movie again!
One final thought on "Singin' in the Rain". The basic story of this show is what happened to a couple of beloved movie stars of the silent film era when talking pictures were first introduced. In 2011, "The Artist" was a black and white, silent movie that was quite good, and it won the Best Picture Oscar that year, but it pretty much told the same story that "Singin' in the Rain" did. The big difference is that we are STILL watching and loving the Gene Kelly movie sixty-two years after it premiered. I don't think that we will be doing that with "The Artist".
So, let's end this post with one of those classic numbers from "Singin' in the Rain", shall we?