FORT WORTH Ultimately, it was more about the movie than the music. Or was it?
The Fort Worth Symphony performed a live soundtrack for the classic musical Singin in the Rain at Bass Hall on Friday night. This union of a specially prepared version of a film and the symphony has been done before, but it has seldom (if ever) been more thoroughly satisfying than it was Friday.
The surprising thing was how quickly the orchestra disappeared. That is the irony of film scores. The really good ones become so integrated with the visual elements that they disappear in a way.
And so it was with this live score. The orchestra, rather than being a distraction from the large screen (18-by-24 feet) hanging above it, was beautifully invisible. But because the music was so pure and immediate, the audience was still pulled into the film in a way no ordinary screening could have achieved.
The most conscious joy of the experience was being reminded what a funny, creative and artistic film this 1952 classic is. But that impact almost certainly had to be a byproduct of the more subtle experience of hearing the films superb score played by the symphony at its full force.
For those who do not know the film, it is a song and dance-filled romp about the transition from silent films to talkies in Hollywood in 1927. Gene Kelly stars as matinee idol Don Lockwood, a leading man who is somewhat stuck with his frequent co-star, Lina Lamont, played hilariously by Jean Hagen. All is well when their pictures cant talk. But after The Jazz Singer premieres, they are forced to keep with up the competition. The problem is that Lamonts voice sounds like Jennifer Tilly on helium. So a young hoofer, Kathy Selden (a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds), is recruited to provide Lamonts dialogue and vocals. The tensions that arise from this ruse make this movie as strong in its comedic elements as in Kellys amazing singing and dancing.
Among the things that hit you in being reacquainted with this musical in such a superior fashion is that Donald OConnor, as Lockwoods sidekick, Cosmo Brown, has never received his due. Also, you forget how many indelible show tunes were paraded through this movie. In addition to the title tune, its soundtrack pulled from multiple sources includes such chestnuts as You Were Meant For Me, Good Morning and Make Em Laugh.
The presentation could hardly have been better. The balance between the film and the lightly amplified orchestra was just about perfect throughout. It was also interesting to watch how conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya had to work. Conductors are always human metronomes but, when they are working from sheet music, they have some leeway. When a live film score is being mated with recorded vocals, though, there is no wiggle room. He had be almost machine-like in his control of the orchestra, and it was fascinating to see how different his approach was compared to what we see on a more typical night in Bass Hall.
So the overall experience brought back memories of when movie theatres had fewer than 30 screens. Maybe it was just being part of a large audience in an acoustically perfect room enjoying a film that most would agree is worthy of its status as the best movie musical ever made. But, in the end, you had to feel that the orchestra (which we stopped noticing much after the first several bars) probably had something to do with making it such a rewarding night at the movies.