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One day, one night, that's the pity.

4.19.2010


On Wednesday I'm going to see On the Town on stage. I'm very excited, but pretty nervous too. On the Town (1949) is in the Gene Kelly Holy Trinity for me, along with Singin' in the Rain (1952) and An American in Paris (1951). Don't get me wrong, my love is vast and wide for Brigadoon (1954), Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), Anchors Aweigh (1945), Summerstock (1950), The Pirate (1948), etc....but musicals and film-making don't get much better for me that those first three. I honestly know very little about the stage production of On the Town, and I'm not sure how true the revival is to the original staging vs. possible elements added from the beloved film. (Even though I think the right thing is to want it in its original form, I can't help secretly desiring bits from the movie.)


It's common knowledge that the original Leonard Bernstein score was quite butchered for the film adaptation, even though original lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green were able to write the lyrics to the new songs, with music by Roger Edens. Only 4 of Bernstein's songs survived in the adaptation, which I kinda feel bad about but not really cause I adore the whole score of the film. (There was a good period of time when I thought if I ever married "You're Awful" would be my first dance song, because how could I not marry someone who thought it was The Best Thing Ever?) The idea for the stage musical came from choreographer Jerome Robbins, and his 1944 ballet Fancy Free, set to Bernstein's music. It was so successful that Comden and Green were asked to turn in into a musical. The funding came in part from MGM, with the promise of film rights. However, when Louis B. Mayer saw the show, he found it 'smutty,' which in large part why the show was changed so drastically for film.

Originally George Abbott, the stage director, was also set to direct the film, but let's all thank our lucky stars that the job went to collaborators Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. And also send a shout of thanks for the casting. The perfect male musical trio returned for its final time (and thank goodness, because that would be have been a sadder mess in It's Always Fair Weather). Jules Munshin as comic relief, Frank Sinatra as the complete opposite of himself (in real life a total wolf) and Gene as his pretends-to-be-a-rogue-but-really-is-a-small-town-guy-with-tons-of-heart. Also known as O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg.

And then there's the ladies: Betty Garrett (another returner from TMOTTB), Ann Miller, and Vera Ellen. Betty basically plays the same character she did in TMOTTB, but with an even better name: Brunhilda Esterhazy. Ann Miller is also her usual scintillating self, sexy and desired by all men. It's Vera Ellen's performance that always surprises me. I know her best of all as Judy Haynes in White Christmas (1954), where she's a tad manipulative, pushy, and full of herself. Her Ivy Smith in On the Town is weepy, insecure, and certainly the most saccharine of all three females. But it works, and you do like her. I'm just always sort of shocked that it's the same person. Also, she seems to have at least a tad more meat on her bones. Her cuteness is best displayed in "Main Street" when her soft-shoe number with Gene reminds me a lot of "You, Wonderful You" from Summer Stock (1950) with Judy Garland. So sweet and sincere and just exactly how you would imagine two people falling in love in a totally choreographed way.

This was the first musical to be shot on location, and they only had 5 days, most of which had rain. Not to mention the rabid Sinatra fans (who can blame them?) hunting them down throughout the city. I believe it was also the first musical to replace the lead actors with trained dancers for a ballet sequence (seen later in Singin' in the Rain, Oklahoma! and others). The fabulous Carol Haney made her film debut filling in as one of the females. It's not my favorite dream ballet, but the dancing Vera and Gene do on the ballet bar is downright HOT. Plus, this is where Leonard's music shines and makes you wish all his music had stayed.

Of course Gene's dancing is fantastic in the film, even if it's not on display quite as much as usual. I find I'm so drawn to his moments in numbers when he's not singing or even dancing. You'd think he'd appear uncomfortable to not be in on the 'action', especially for numbers he likely staged and choreographed himself. He looks so content to just sit back and watch his friends and castmates do their thing. I can't think of someone who can be silent and react and act when others are performing for him as well as he does. For someone with a reputation as a perfectionist and fierce task-master, he seems to GIVE so much to his fellow actors (not to mention his fellow dance partners). He clearly wants them to look good (unlike, may I say, Vera Ellen in White Christmas). A huge part of his magnetism comes from how intent he is on portraying genuine chemistry with those around him. I mean, watch him in the guaranteed pick-me-up "Count On Me," one of my favorite scenes in the film, and one of my favorite ensemble numbers EVER:



The gang (along with Alice Pearce as Lucy Schmeeler--the only original cast member to be included in the film) try to cheer up Gabey (Kelly) after Ivy ditches him. And just for starters, LOOK AT HOW HE LOOKS AT FRANK. I mean, it's freaking adorable. He looks like he is looking at his best. friend. And gawd, that smile. Don't even get me started on his bit with Lucy. How he keeps her stare, half bewildered, half aroused. It's just divine. Lucky, lucky woman. I mean, through the whole number you could look at any one of the actors and get a different show. I can't get enough. It's simply one of the best movies ever.

4 comments:

Allie said...

I love this musical. LOVE IT.

MLight said...

Wonderful post about one of my favorite musicals! I hope you enjoy the performance!

Maryann said...

Thanks, Moominlight--that means a lot coming from you!!

I'm sure I'll feel the need to post a review!

Maryann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.