by Michael Meigs
Gotta sing! Gotta dance!
Those could be the rallying cries for the Georgetown Palace Theatre. Under the years of Mary Ellen Butler's artistic direction, this community institution in the elegantly refurbished movie house off the courthouse square sees very little down time, given its eight-show season and its classes for adults and for young people. The staff and the unpaid actors and tech folk send familiar musicals and plays, down the chutes one after another to their loyal and enthusiastic weekend audiences.
Singing in the Rain, the 1952 musical film from MGM, has been an enduring success, a work that was one of the last and finest examples of the the American film studio tradition of musical cinema. That art form originated with Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, the very first nationally distributed "talkie," flourished through the 1930's and 1940's with Arthur Freed, Vincente Minelli and others, and then died away in the mid-1950's. Just as the talkies had put an end to vaudeville, the new medium of television drained away much of the audience for studio musicals. The standardization of network broadcasting in full color was a factor in families' decisions to stay home in the living room almost every weekend rather than to attend movie houses such as the Georgetown Palace. Hollywood continued to produce musical films but they were expensive spectaculars such as West Side Story or adaptations of Broadway shows such as The Sound of Music. Almost none had the assembly line directness and simplicity of the Gene Kelly - Debbie Reynolds - Donald O'Connor vehicle.
In 1974 Tinseltown put together the nostalgic anthology film That's Entertainment, a low-cost assemblage from the MGM library directed by Jack Haley, Jr., featuring narration by recognizable ageing stars including Astaire, Kelly and Bing Crosby. It was such a success that the studio got Kelly to direct and narrate That's Entertainment II just two years later. By that time a more truthful title might have been That Was Entertainment.So it's a special pleasure to see this accomplished live theatre production of Singing in the Rain take place at the re-glorified palace where it surely must have played 60 years ago. And to be entertained within it by Rich Simms' full-screen video re-creation of a 1920's swashbuckling black-and-white silent film in the best wild old style.
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