Next month at the Royal Albert Hall we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain, as the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Neil Thomson bring the film’s iconic soundtrack to life while the re-mastered film is shown on the big screen with the original vocals and dialog intact.
Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain is frequently described as one of the best films ever made, topping the American Film Institute’s 100 Years of Musicals list and ranking 5th in its updated list of the greatest American films ever made, testament to the relevance that the film still has on audiences 60 years later.
Singin’ in the Rain: Live in Concert will be introduced by Patricia Ward Kelly, wife of the late Gene Kelly - star of Singin’ in the Rain. We recently caught up with her to ask a few questions about the event.
Q+A with Patricia Ward Kelly
How does it feel to be introducing Singin’ in the Rain at the Royal Albert Hall?
It is very exciting to be introducing ‘Singin’ in the Rain Live in Concert’ in such a beautiful and prestigious venue with such great history, and, especially so, because this is the world premiere of this performance.
That the Royal Albert Hall was originally constructed to promote understanding and appreciation of the Arts and Sciences and is set amidst so many wonderful museums and places of learning makes the location even more special. Gene was a true Renaissance man and would have appreciated not only the history of the place but also the general commitment in promoting a broad range of experiences. Students often asked Gene what they should study, expecting him to say, “Jazz” or “tap” or “classical ballet.” But his response was, “Study everything.” An economic major in college, Gene felt it was important for artists to have a broad background in all subjects: mathematics, literature, art, history, politics, philosophy, and, yes, all forms of dance.
I saw Valery Gergiev conduct the World Orchestra for Peace at the Royal Albert Hall several years ago. I was privileged to join Lady Solti in a box for the performance. I must admit that I was transfixed by the experience and always looked forward to returning. I never dreamed then that I would actually be able to walk onto the stage and present one of the greatest classic films of all time and one that continues to entertain and inspire generations of new performers. It is a great honour.
Why do you think that Singin’ in the Rain is regarded as one of the greatest musicals ever made?
Last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. with the award-winning actor Rita Moreno to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain. Though Rita only appears in a few scenes in the movie, she visited the set every day and watched the filming of all of the sequences. She said it was especially interesting to watch Gene “hop” from behind the camera to in front of the camera and back again. She said he was in constant motion and involved in every detail. Since Gene always wished to be remembered more as a creator than as a performer, Rita’s insights helped audiences understand his crucial role behind the camera.
Rita described Singin’ in the Rain as a “perfect” musical, and I’ve heard others refer to it that way since. She felt it was on target in every way – witty, sophisticated, fun, full of joy. For me, one of the things that stands out is the choreography and how contemporary it is. Even though it is a period picture, set at the dawn of sound, the choreography is current and is still being referenced by young dancers and choreographers. Gene used to tell me that one of the great challenges is to make something contemporary and yet also make it timeless. It seems that he and the rest of the extremely talented creative “team” accomplished just that.
Do you have a favourite scene/song that you are most looking forward to experiencing with the live orchestra?
Gene used to say that the best tap number ever done in the movies was Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dancing in Broadway Melody of 1940. He also told me that the best tap number HE ever did on film was Moses Supposes with Donald O’Connor. He said Donald was a great, unsung hero – a terrific improvisational comedian with remarkable spontaneity.
I went to a screening of Singin’ in the Rain once and Donald’s widow, Gloria, was there. She commented about how Donald looks over at Gene in this number, so every time I see it, I think of that. This is a particularly tricky segment for the live orchestra to play, so I’ll be rooting for the musicians as they match the action on the screen.
One of the things I love most about watching Singin’ in the Rain is hearing the audience response. I’ve seen the movie many, many times now, but I always find the laughter infectious. And when the Singin’ in the Rain number comes on and people hear the opening bars of the familiar music, something magical happens and I cannot help but be moved by the communal spirit of joy.
What do you think Gene would have made of seeing Singin’ in the Rain performed at the Hall?
Contrary to some of the accounts you may read, Gene was a very humble man who never took his fame for granted. He was never jaded. For this man who grew up in a lower middle class neighbourhood in the steel town of Pittsburgh and who initially dreamed of playing short stop for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team or professional hockey, “playing” to the world premiere audience at Royal Albert Hall would be a true honour. In sum, he would be delighted.
About Patricia Ward Kelly
Biographer and film historian Patricia Ward Kelly is the widow of Gene Kelly.
Currently, she serves as Trustee of The Gene Kelly Image Trust and Creative Director of Gene Kelly: The Legacy, a corporation established to commemorate Gene Kelly worldwide. Mrs. Kelly lives in Los Angeles and is completing the memoir about her late husband. Her one-woman show that recently sold out in Los Angeles and at the Lincoln Center in New York, Gene Kelly: The Legacy – an Evening With Patricia Ward Kelly, is currently available for touring.
Singin’ in the Rain: Live in Concert takes place on Friday 8 & Saturday 9 March
Buy online at www.royalalberthall.com or phone the Box Office on 020 7589 8212