Orchestra Will Be “Singin’ in the Rain”

MSO presents classic 1952 movie musical with full orchestral accompaniment.

By - Mar 17th, 2022 10:19 am
Singin' in the Rain movie with live orchestra. Photo by Emily Zoladz/Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Singin’ in the Rain movie with live orchestra. Photo by Emily Zoladz/Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Honoring the origin of the Bradley Symphony Center as the Warner Grand Theater movie palace, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra scheduled three films with live orchestra for the 2021-22 season. This weekend’s offering, Singin’ in the Rain, conducted by Resident Conductor Yaniv Dinur, presents the 1952 classic named the greatest movie musical of all time by the American Film Institute. Three performances will be held March 18-20.

The movie’s plot spoofs Hollywood’s transition from silent films to “talkies” (a few years before the Warner Grand was built in 1930). Noting the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, the studio that employs silent film star Don Lockwood (played by Gene Kelly) and his clueless, self-important leading lady, Lisa Lamont (actress Jean Hagen), decrees that their next movie will be a talking picture. But the production is a disaster, owing to technical ineptitude and Lisa’s awful voice and terrible diction. The movie is remade as a musical using the secretly dubbed speaking and singing voice of chorus girl Kathy Selden (a young Debbie Reynolds). The plot’s addition of a budding romance between Don and Kathy; dance numbers showcasing the talents of Kelly, Cyd Charisse, and Donald O’Connor; a big reveal, and a dozen songs created a film “guaranteed to lift the dolors of winter and put you in a buttercup mood,” according to the 1952 New York Times review.

For most films, music is written after the movie is shot and edited. But Singin’ in the Rain was created to showcase songs written years earlier by Naco Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Only two songs in the score were composed for the movie; the rest had been used in other films. That includes the title song, which debuted in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, the second full-length musical made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Dozens of orchestras around the world regularly perform films live in concert. The first such program was a 1987 showing of Alexander Nevsky as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Andre Previn, playing the score composed by Sergei Prokofiev. During the past decade, the practice has exploded. Writing in Variety, Jon Burlingame attributed the trend to “the built-in marketing hook provided by film titles, particularly classic pics. And the concert treatment is helping to bring overdue respect to filmdom’s finest scores,” he said.

Several American companies license the films and prepare tools used by conductors to sync the orchestra with the movie audio and video. These include video viewed by the conductor that shows when the music begins in each scene and “click tracks” that serve as a digital metronome. For musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, the original vocal tracks are preserved, and the orchestra has the additional challenge of accompanying the on-screen singers.

Steve Lindner of IMG, one of the largest firms supplying movies to orchestras, said the genre returns movie-going to its origins. “Silent pictures had either live orchestra, or they had an organ player, or they had some sense of live music,” he observed. “At the same time, film used to be presented in large spaces… Feeling the experience and feeling the reactions of people is unlike sitting at home on your couch and watching this film on television. There is just no comparison.”

The MSO has programmed film/orchestra performances since 2005. Its first was Bugs Bunny on Broadway, a concert musical featuring animated Looney Tunes characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd. Movies presented with orchestra since that time include West Side Story, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Home Alone, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, several films from the Star Wars franchise, and five Harry Potter movies, co-promoted with the Pabst Theater Group.

Local audiences have shown a keen appetite for films presented with live orchestra accompaniment and the Bradley Symphony Center renovation was designed to accommodate them, according to MSO Director of Marketing Kathryn Reinardy. She said the MSO chooses films based on their artistic quality. More than half have featured scores written by John Williams, the most prolific and successful American movie composer of the last 50 years. Gustavo Dudamel, the superstar conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, calls Williams “the Mozart of our day.” Erin Kogler, MSO Director of Communications, said movie music requires the best efforts of the orchestra. She cited the Sharks vs. Jets rumble in West Side Story. The three minutes of Leonard Bernstein-composed music in that scene required 45 minutes of orchestra rehearsal, she said. Reinardy notes that Willams compositions are “intense for our brass section.”

The programs are “a great way to introduce young people to live orchestra performance of classical music,” Reinardy said. The MSO uses these programs as an intentional audience-building strategy, following up with invitations to other types of concerts. And the film programs are meant to be fun; enthusiastic audience reaction is encouraged and appreciated by the musicians.

Singin’ in the Rain will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 20 at the Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. Tickets are available online and at the box office. The MSO no longer requires guests at the Bradley Symphony Center to wear masks and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

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