Two posts today! And like Meet Me In St. Louis, this other musical started as a movie and was later developed for stage. With absolute classics in music and even an actor’s pose, this film and play has made history and top lists for decades.
“Oh what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again” to be talking about Singin’ In The Rain and the historical setting of this musical.
You’re forewarned – there are spoilers ahead!
A Brief Plot Synopsis
It’s the 1920’s in Hollywood, California, at the primere of Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont’s new silent film. Don reflects on his journey to Hollywood and stardom while purposely keeping his co-star away from the microphone. After the film showing and while on his way to a party, Don’s overeager fans mob him from a broken down car and he escapes, meeting the love of his life – a wanna-be actress, Kathy Seldon – who drives him to the party. Intrigued by Kathy and frustrated with Lina who thinks she’s in love, Don leaves the party and spends several weeks moping around, trying to find Kathy who has lost her job due to Lina’s prompting.
Cosmo Brown – Don’s best friend and the piano player who sets the mood for the silent scene filming – tries to cheer Don, insisting that show business is all about “make ’em laugh.” Eventually, Don finds Kathy; they reconcile from a previous argument and start seeing each other secretly so diva Lina doesn’t find out and quit the current film project.
Talking pictures – called “talkies” – take Hollywood by storm. Voice teachers have lots of work, especially with Lina who speaks in a high, squeaky voice and totally lacking the poise and polish her fans imagine she has because of the silent films. When the new talkie releases, disaster ensues and Don and Lina become the laughstock of Hollywood. Cosmo, Kathy, and Don invent a new idea – film a musical and use Kathy’s voice to voice-over Lina. After taking Kathy home, Don is so exciting that he starts “dancin’ and singin’ in the rain.”
Through many difficulties and an almost media scandel, the new musical film is produced and is a smashing success. At the premiere, Lina gets angry about the voice-over and insists she will “make her own speech” which promptly reveals to the audience that Kathy had saved the day and the film. The musical ends happily with Cosmo, Kathy, and Don headed for Hollywood success.
In Film & On Stage
The film Singin’ In The Rain released in 1952 and starred Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner, and Debbie Reynolds. Though the movie had moderate success at the box office, it won several awards and eventually became one of the most famous musical films in Hollywood history.
On stage the production first appeared in London, then on Broadway in 1985. The Broadway run last for 367 shows, and the musical has been revived several times in recent years.
Some of the hit songs include:
- Singin’ In The Rain
- Good Morning
- Make ‘Em Laugh
- Moses Supposes
- Would You?
The Talkies & Hollywood
In 1927 the first motion picture with sound appeared: The Jazz Singer. It revolutionized the Hollywood film industry since in the past silent films simply ran the dialog on the screen and a live musician played appropriate music for each scene. After The Jazz Singer, movies needed sound and music, and studios rushed to keep up with the new trend.
Singin’ In The Rain actually mentions The Jazz Singer and later describes the basic process for recording voice with the film.
By the 1920’s Hollywood was flourishing as a film center and the movie star culture was well in place. Fans mobbed the premieres and their favorite actors or actresses, and “big films” were starting to attract block-buster crowds. Though not yet at its classic “Golden Age,” Hollywood was the place be for aspiring “moving picture” actors and actresses in the 1920’s.
The “Roaring 20’s”
The decade of the 1920’s is often called the “Roaring 20’s,” referring to the faster pace of life and “roaring ahead” of pop culture, compared to previous decades. Following World War I, culture and society was changing. The decade was a time of fun, decadence, and looser morals.
Fashion changed dramatically, especially for women. The Charleston hit the dance floors. Speak-easys appeared in reaction to the prohibition on alcohol. Some of the most infamous gangsters ruled the big cities. Jazz became popular.
This cultural revolution continued at its fast pace until the stock market collapse in 1929 which marked the beginning of the Great Depression.
Inspired By History
Singin’ In The Rain is not meant to be a history lesson, but if you watch closely, it does reflect culture and the history of the talkies rather accurately. From mentioning the Jazz Singer and basing the plot around the talkies, to entering a speakeasy, driving new cars, and dancing the Charleston, the musical captured the feeling of the Roaring 20’s.
Personally, I love the humor, songs, and dancing in this musical, but I was delighted to discover the accurate elements of the era woven into the masterpiece.