Favorite Musicals: Singing in the Rain

Sorry we are late posting this week. Life has been hectic, but I hope first post on favorite musicals brightens your week.

Jaz on Singing in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain. What a glorious film. Should I begin with Gene Kelly, my first movie star crush? Or the film’s witty plot and dialogue? Or the phenomenal musical numbers?

I’ll just start at the beginning.

It’s 1927, The Jazz Singer has just come out and Hollywood is in an uproar. At Monumental Pictures, all silent film production stops and its two biggest stars, Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood, told they must begin a “talkie.” Their first attempt is a fiasco: The Dueling Cavalier is laughed out of the theater opening night (No, no, no! YES YES YES!!!). After a night of brainstorming and a dance, Lockwood, his friend and accompanist Cosmo Brown, and perky aspiring actress Kathy Seldon come up with a solution: make it a musical.

There’s one glaring problem, though. Snobby Lamont has the voice of a helium-addict gerbil and a brain about half its size. “She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance – a triple threat,” Cosmo quips. Kathy obligingly offers to dub for Lamont at the risk of her own budding career. Cue title song (sigh…).

Lina is infuriated when she finds out. Later, however, she changes her mind and threatens to sue the studio if Seldon is not permanently assigned as her dub singer in all future films. This effectively destroys Seldon’s film career, and … well, you’re just going to have to watch it and see.

Singin’ in the Rain is one of the best musicals ever made. Not only is it a brilliant satire, it has some of the greatest performances you’ll see in a film. Be sure to note O’Connor and Kelly’s distinct styles – one energetic and elastic, the other smooth and laidback – in “Moses Supposes.” Talented actress Jean Hagen plays the role of Lina Lamont hilariously, and in “Make ‘Em Laugh, Donald O’Connor does just that. It was Gene Kelly’s iconic rain dance, however, that first made me fall in love with this film.

Liz on Singing in the Rain

Singing in the Rain, why do I love thee?

Let me name the whys.

Gene and Donald, and Debbie too

Dancing and singing, and big cakes with frosting

Bright yellow jackets and rainy mornings

Proper settings and old motorcars

Microphones in bushes

Dumb blondes and men behind curtains…

Actually, I think it would be easier to name the things I don’t like about it: the long and strange Broadway scene, and the very short time they gave to the beautiful song “Would You?” I would love to hear more of the song; I prefer it to “You were meant for me” which Gene Kelly sings in the “proper setting” of the studio (I do like that song though).

The most memorable songs for me are “Good Morning” and, of course, “Singing in the Rain.” Gene Kelley really seems to be enjoying himself as he sings in the rains—even when he stands under the gutter spout, and “Good Morning” is such a cheerful song that it makes me cheerful as well.

Funny, romantic, full of great songs and dances performed by talented actors—and with the added interested of a bit of cinema history—Singing in the Rain is one of my favorite musicals and movies in general.

What do you like about Singing in the Rain? Which is your favorite song or dance routine?


Favorite Romances: Beauty and the Beast on Film

Jaz on Beauty and the Beast (Film versions): When anyone mentions the tale “Beauty and the Beast,” I immediately think of the Disney film. And is it any wonder? Colorful and brimming over with catchy tunes and whimsical characters, it’s a delight for the eyes and ears.

There are other film adaptations, of course, Beastly being the most recent. Fifteen minutes into it, I walked out. The word for the film is inane. Poor acting and vacuous dialogue dominated. The main character didn’t match the title description at all; he just looked like he’d been taken unawares by a tattoo artist obsessed with plant roots and computer chip designs. The director obviously thought he didn’t look that bad, either: one scene showed the shirtless hero working out his abs. Anyway, after that scene and hearing the characters discuss for the third time whether it would rain tomorrow or not, I had had enough. I also watched another film adaptation when I was about seven that featured a man in a creepy hairy costume.

But I digress.

The first half hour of the Disney version introduces us to Belle, the beautiful and independent intellectual who yearns for excitement in her mundane life. She almost verges on whininess. It’s understandable: there’s no one there she can relate to, excepting maybe the book-shop owner. But when – thanks to her father’s lack of common sense in travel plans – she finds herself in a magical castle inhabited by cheerful furniture and a fearsome beast, Belle throws herself on the bed and mopes.

Belle, you’ve got adventure. So stop whining.

She does eventually take my advice and finds the Beast is a kindred spirit. And you can’t help but like a person (or creature, I should say) who owns a library the size of a football field or two.

A note on the beast’s character: he is emotionally vulnerable, parallel with the original story. When faced with the prospect of life without her, he loses all interest in it. Belle, on the other hand, balances her relationships. She cares most for her father, and we get the sense she could live without the Beast and still have a fulfilling life.

Throughout the tale, Lumière and Cogsworth, the film’s secondary characters, provide laughs and excellent entertainment, especially during the film’s highlight song, “Be Our Guest.” Just thinking about this scene makes me happy. The entire soundtrack is flawless, but this is my favorite. Next in line would be “Gaston.” He may be sexist, ignorant and arrogant, but does he have a voice! And a swell cleft in his chin.

The film has its dark side nearing the end, as most Disney films do: Gaston’s plot to force Belle to marry him, the march to Beast’s castle, and finally the fight between the two. But (overlooking the transformed Beast’s rather effeminate appearance) everything ends perfectly and the main characters live happily ever after.

This is, without a doubt, Disney’s best animated film.

Liz on Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s animated classic:

I think the phrase “animated classic” describe the movie quite well. It’s animated, and it’s…well…classic. The story, with its independent heroine and non-love-at-first-site romance, is unlike the other Disney animations. The musical score is fantastic (I still love to sing the songs), and the secondary characters Mrs. Potts, Chip, Cogsworth, and Lumiere are so entertaining themselves I don’t mind when the story takes us away from Belle and Beast.

As strange as it may sound, one of my favorite parts of the movie is the prologue. There’s something about the narrator’s voice and the music (which reminds me of Saint-Saens’s “The Aquarium”) that is enchanting. Sometimes, when I need a break, I’ll watch the prologue and the first song. Speaking of the first song, I want to read the book Belle is given. It sounds like a fun adventure/romance story.

I was cleaning out my closest at home a while back and found my Beauty and the Beast coloring book. One of the few pictures colored in it was that of Belle in the field of dandelions. Even as a kid I connected with Belle’s yearning for adventure and her desire to be understood.

As I was writing this post, I had to stop and ask myself why, when I watch the movie, I cheer for the Beast, instead of Gaston, to win Belle’s heart. After all, both the Beast and Gaston are arrogant and not always cordial to those around them. Perhaps, it’s because of the hint of the outcome in the title, or compassion for Beast’s suffering, or perhaps it’s that Beast is set up to change and Gaston is not. It’s interesting how we are directed to consider characters in a certain way.

Since Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies, I was very excited to buy it on DVD recently. Only, I wish they had not added in the “Human Again” scene to the new special edition; there was a reason it was left out of the original release—it’s not as good as the other scenes.

What do you love or dislike about the film versions of Beauty and the Beast?