People dispute which Oscar-winning film least deserved the top prize, and “The Greatest Show on Earth” leads the contenders. They also like to argue which masterpieces Hollywood underrated, and “Singin’ in the Rain” often heads that pack.
This contender for the title of Greatest Film Musical Ever got just two 1952 Oscar nominations, for supporting actress (Jean Hagen) and scoring of a musical. But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences passed it over for a best picture nomination for the likes of “Ivanhoe,” “Moulin Rouge” and...“The Greatest Show On Earth.”
Six decades later, we can appreciate it for the brilliantly constructed, sparklingly funny and breathtakingly danced piece it is. And the music will never come up fresher than in the concert that opens the Charlotte Symphony Pops season, where the CSO plays all the tracks to the film projected on a screen above.
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Hearing the orchestra this way makes sense: The finest classical musicians in Los Angeles, many of them emigrés from Nazi Germany, often played in studio orchestras during Hollywood’s Golden Age.
MGM regularly employed them, and you’d have heard these pros on the soundtracks of “An American in Paris” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” which were released just five months apart. (No star has ever made better back-to-back musicals than Gene Kelly did in those two, and you hear a few bars of “Paris” quoted as an in-joke in the music for “Rain.”)
The plot follows suave leading man Don Lockwood (Kelly) and acid-voiced leading lady Lina Lamont (Hagen) as they make the transition from silent films to sound in the late 1920s. “Rain,” which came out 25 years after the first talking picture (“The Jazz Singer”), reminds us of the travails that accompanied the switch: Hidden microphones, unwanted noises, hideous sounds coming out of lovely throats.
Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, who played Kelly’s love interest and comic sidekick, never did better work again; Technicolor never looked more beautiful; Cyd Charisse, who had her breakthrough role in a wordlessly luscious duet with Kelly, never looked more alluring.
And I doubt you’ll ever enjoy the soundtrack more than you can here. Except for one moment where conductor Albert-George Schram and the orchestra got behind (during the title number, alas), they played with brio and accuracy.
The CSO produces a sweeping sound in the big numbers, of course, but listen for melancholy cellos underlining a moment of Lockwood’s loneliness or nose-thumbing brass snorting in “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
‘Singin’ in the Rain’
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
RUNNING TIME (of film): 103 minutes.
DETAILS: 704-372-1000, charlottesymphony.org.