Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Bloated Broadway Post

First, just recoil in horror and get it over with.

Second, please know there's a reward at the end of this. And it will set you free.

Ok. There. Now ... on to my favorite movie musical!

Let me declare from the outset, with annoying conviction and self-righteous authority, that "Singin' in the Rain" is probably a high watermark of our civilization. If you've never seen it, then I envy you for getting to see it for the first time. A lot of haters might assume it's phoney-baloney pap, but it's not. Gene Kelly was a god among men (see "An American in Paris," especially this number). The added bonus for people who think they're too cool or emotionally jammed up for "Singin'": Watching it will make you realize how false, empty, talentless and post-All-Things-Good the age you're stuck in truly is, which is something you can revel in later, like a cynical ass smoking a French cigarette and sneering at everything. Meanwhile, you can suck on this.

All of which is to say: Last night I had the great fortune of meeting Stanley Donen, the 82-year-old choreographer who directed the dance sequences in "Singin' in the Rain." A gorgeous sight to behold: dressed all in black, a deep tan, Robert Evans-style 70s sunburst shades, a medallion around his neck. On his arm was Elaine May, the comedienne and movie director -- Stanley's live-in "roomate," I was told by a source. I didn't inquire further.

This was at a staged reading of a play by Larry Gelbart, the guy who adapted M*A*S*H for TV. If I were penning a gossip column for Golden Agers, I'd also have to note the attendance of Arthur Penn, the 84-year-old director of "Bonnie and Clyde," to whom I was also introduced. What I love about people like Penn is how casually awe-inspiring their biographies are: "Penn made his feature debut with a Western, The Left Handed Gun (1958). A re-telling of the Billy the Kid legend, it was notable for its sharp portrayal of the outlaw (played by Paul Newman) as a psychologically troubled youth (it’s telling that the role was originally intended for the archetypal troubled teen James Dean)."

New York City being a place of great serendipity -- and a place that wears its history more in the memory of its citizens than its architecture, which is always getting torn down for shinier stuff -- you sometimes encounter huge stars from bygone times just walking about without anyone noticing. It's a disorienting experience, a momentary shift in the time-space continuum. You find yourself ... retro-starstruck. There he is! Just standing there! The guy who told Gene Kelly to do this!

And this!

A couple of years ago, I also met Betty Comden, one half of the songwriting team (with Adolph Green) who wrote all the music to "Singin' in the Rain," plus scads of other legendary MGM musicals. There she was! What a Glorious Feeling! I'm Happy Again!

More antique namedropping: I also once had breakfast with Betsy Blair, Gene Kelly's first wife, interviewing her for a newspaper story. We met at the Plaza Hotel, where she told me about parlor games they used to play with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in their Hollywood manse. We walked out front to the Pulitzer Fountain, she lit a cigarette and showed me where Gene Kelly proposed marriage to her in 1940. They'd met during a Broadway production when she was a 15-year-old showgirl. Later she got in with European socialists and was blacklisted in Hollywood during the hunt for communists. Hard to believe this smile could be considered a threat to national security:

Yeah, so maybe it wasn't such a great time back then and maybe we're really, really blessed that all we have to contend with is a misbegotten war, a little wiretapping and Matthew McConaughey.

Which brings me to your reward for reading my bloated Broadway production: A track from the retro-metal outfit Early Man. This fetching number is called "Death is the Answer."

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