Saturday, April 25, 2009

gotta dance! thoughts on the pso's salute to gene kelly

I remember when I went to the accepted student's day at my current University, the opening introductions involved a powerpoint that might as well have been titled 'this is why we're awesome' as opposed to whatever scholary, scientifically motivated title they may have come up with. At one point in the proceedings, as will happen at any University, a point was made of all of the successful people who have passed through the same hallowed halls.

If I said that the fact that Gene Kelly walked the same halls, occupied the same city once upon a time had absolutely no bearing on my love for my school, I would be forced to wash my mouth out with soap (and throw away my orphan annie decoder).

Pittsburgh loves Gene Kelly, and Gene Kelly loved us right back through his dance. He never took to a top hat (as only Fred Astaire could) and maintained a tie to his roots. I know someone in the area who met him at least once, and all he said was that he was 'just a guy from Pittsburgh.' That's really all that needed to be said.

On thursday evening I was fortunate enough to attend the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's program "Gotta Dance!: A Film salute to Pittsburgh's own Gene Kelly" which, surprisingly, was not actually all about Gene Kelly. A giant screen was suspended above the stage (blocking the poor brass section from view) and, aside from the opening number, the evening entailed seeing clips from some of the greatest musical sequences of all time, with the live accompaniment of a full orchestra.

It's a film (musical) lovers dream, right?

The Program
Hooray for Hollywood! Medley - - Richard Whiting (Arr: Bill Holcombe)

There were no clips for this one, but it involved a lot of fun interludes like the Merry Melodies theme and some of those famous opening orchestrations i.e. 20th Century Fox that were just a joy to hear in such a format. Yet again, film lovers dream.

2001: A Space Odyssey - - Johann Strauss & Richard Strauss
Opening titles through Waltz of the Spaceships

Kubrick absolutely made the right choice with the score for this film. The opening credits alone give me goosebumps.

Brigadoon starring Gene Kelly & Cyd Charisse - - Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe
"Heather on the Hill" and Dancing Forever!

Still haven't seen this movie, but it's a lovely number. Cyd Charisse I still refuse to believe that you're really gone (and even though the evening was more about gene kelly/the freed unit this made me wish that they had done the "dancing in the dark" sequence from The Band Wagon)

Singin' in the Rain starring Gene Kelly & Cyd Charisse - - Nacio Herb Brown
When You're Gene Kelly, You Gotta Dance! (Singin' in the Rain & The Broadway Melody)

I can't even begin to explain how amazing it was to see this iconic number (and portions of one of my favorite films of all time, really) not only on a large screen, but with the full, glorious sound of that orchestra. Gene made it pretty hard on them because I never realized that his "do's" at the beginning change tempo (or at least he changes tempo sporadically) and of course this is a one sided arrangement where the conductor had to keep up with him no matter what. And the "Broadway Melody number" was fascinating for me because 1) I don't know how they removed some of the tracks and 2) There were instances where Gene's voice sounded like an echo or certain portions of the chorus would be included and other's not, supporting my notion that sound mixing is something of a mystery I can't even begin to comprehend.

Madame Bovary starring Jennifer Jones & Van Heflin - - Miklos Rozsa
Great Waltz to Disaster Amid Smashing of Glass

I haven't seen this film either, and now I absolutely must. It's just another testament to the brilliance of Vincent Minnelli and the most interesting integration of music of the evening, as unlike everything else it was not a straight musical number, it integrated itself into the narrative in a more intrusive way than the straight forward character development or aside quality of most musical numbers. Beautiful.

An American in Paris starring Gene Kelly & Leslie Caron - - George Gershwin
The Date to End All Dates in the City of Lights-Complete Ballet

I wasn't too fond of the film when I saw it, but i suppose that's why they added on this million dollar sequence at the end which is absolutely deserving of all the praise it garners. Such a fantastic achievement. I've never been fond of Leslie's acting (and yes, I've taken the language difference into account) but she was simply a marvelous dancer.

Suffice it to say that as someone whose life is film (and film scores), and as someone who loves the 50s mainly for the golden age of musicals, hearing the work of Gershwin, of Rozsa, performed so superbly, as the likes of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse danced before my eyes larger than life, their voices echoing through the superbly designed Heinz Hall....

It was really and truly a glorious feeling.



  1. Awesome picture. I wonder how you ever got such an amazing jumping photo? ;)