The Kansas City Symphony’s performance of “Singin’ in the Rain” for the Screenland at the Symphony series was a highly enjoyable romp, an added dimension to a film where the humor and drama focus on the practice of dubbing.
Ranked the No. 1 movie musical by the American Film Institute, “Singin’ in the Rain,” released in 1952, was designed as a vehicle for pre-existing songs in the MGM catalog by Alfred Green and Nacio Herb Brown woven together with a Betty Comden-Adolph Green script. Gene Kelly, who starred and co-directed with Stanley Donen, also provided the choreography.
The audience on Friday was enamored with watching the movie on the big screen in Helzberg Hall and the novelty of hearing live orchestra accompaniment, chuckling en masse at Jean Hagen’s Academy Award-nominated performance and wowed by Donald O’Connor’s ridiculous comic athleticism, clapping appreciatively after big numbers.
Gene Kelly made it look easy, with his charismatic smile and exuberant puddle jumping, but trying to match the score to the screen proved a challenge for the orchestra, especially in fast transitions, rubato sections and tap dance sequences.
When they did synchronize the effect was impressive, such as in the “Gotta Dance” sequence (great mallet and flute lines), percussive effects in “Make ’Em Laugh” or any of the straightforward sections.
The orchestra played from reconstructed orchestrations by John Wilson, which didn’t include all the movie’s music, such as the fun fiddly solo in the opening flashback montage.
Associate conductor Aram Demirjian had the unenviable responsibility of connecting sight and sound. The ensemble also included a drum set embedded in the orchestra, expanded by a line of saxophones fronting the woodwinds and a guitar tucked next to the basses.
The brass players relished the Broadway jazz riffs and tangy smears and had lush, studio-quality sonorities, but the woodwinds were underwhelming, not balancing up to the energy or sound concept.
The strings achieved the broad sweeping background of sound, with nice solo moments in the cello.
There were some production issues, too, with patrons in the side seats disadvantaged by poor sightlines for the screen and complaints of insufficient amplification of the recorded voices.
Audio concerns included a distracting hiss cutting in and out with the voices, tap sounds muted and an audible recorded orchestra underneath the live one.
Kelly’s widow, Patricia Kelly, was on hand for pre- and post-concert talks to add commentary and dispel some myths about the production, with Butch Rigby, founder of Screenland Theatres, hosting the event.