BWW Reviews: GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY Offers a Very Personal Look Into the Life of a Hollywood Legend
Patricia Ward Kelly shares a quote from Magill's Cinema Annual that sums of the legacy of Gene Kelly: "As a choreographer and a director, Kelly explored the possibilities of dance on film in a way that transformed the musical and gave birth to a wedding of cinematic and choreographic techniques that remains unsurpassed. As a dancer, the man who once dreamed of becoming a shortstop brought the common touch to a profession that had long seemed ethereal and beyond the reach of everyday concerns. Ill-suited to top-hatted elegance, Kelly was the guy next door, clad in loafers and a sweatshirt and bounding through often dangerous routines with a combination of muscular athletic grace and irresistible Irish charm."
I could not summarize the experience of seeing GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly at the Pasadena Playhouse any better than that. Gene Kelly was a joyous performer. A legendary dancer, director and choreographer, he brought astonishing grace, athleticism and masculinity to the big screen. He continues to delight and captivate us, and now you can learn a lot more about him personally thanks to Patricia Ward Kelly, his widow, biographer and the person who knew him best, as she presents an intimate portrait of this dynamic and innovative artist who created some of the most memorable and iconic scenes in film history.
Patricia Ward Kelly's compelling presentation combines rare and familiar film clips, previously unreleased audio recordings, personal memorabilia, and insights culled from her hours of interviews and conversations with her husband whom she met in 1985 in Washington, D.C., where she was the writer for a television special about The Smithsonian for which he was the host and narrator. She was 26; he was 73. Soon after, he invited her to California to write his memoir. They fell in love, married, and were together until his death in 1996.
And the film clips are dazzling, showcasing Kelly's brilliant range of movement all the while making every step look effortless. The opening montage, put together by Kelly himself, includes clips from Singin' in the Rain, Three Musketeers, For Me and My Girl, It's Always Fair Weather, An American in Paris, Anchors Aweigh, The Pirate, Invitation to the Dance, Words and Music, and Brigadoon.
As the show progresses, we are treated to dance clips not often seen that were revolutionary and surely continue to inspire choreographers today. I have never seen "Newspaper Dance" from 1950's Summer Stock before and was truly amazed at how Kelly used a simple sheet of newspaper and a squeaky floorboard to enhance the theatricality of the dance. His athleticism and gymnastics training are showcased in "Construction Site" from 1947's Living in a Big Way, another movie I have not seen, nor have many people according to the hostess. Kelly literally flies through the air from beam to beam without any safety equipment in place! And what a treat it was to see his first self-choreographed dance number "The Mop Dance" from 1943's Thousands Cheer. He magically transforms mops and brooms into dance partners, just as this number magically transformed his career into one that sought to take dance into a three-dimensional medium on film.
But did you know that he was fluent in French, was a Shabbos Goy who spoke Yiddish, studied economics, memorized and wrote poetry, frequently read a book a day, did The New York Times crossword puzzle in ink? Did you know he was friends with John and Robert Kennedy and visited with them in the White House? That he respected and would take middle-of-the-night calls from a despondent Judy Garland? Do you remember that he directed Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau in Hello Dolly, along with a cast of thousands? These are some of the very personal facts Patricia shares with the audience as she takes personal souvenirs from boxes from Kelly's films, then showing the clips in which the props were used. Loved seeing the green hat from "The Hat My Father Wore" in 1949's Take Me Out to the Ball Game as an introduction to the number.
Patricia shares "Each time I do the show, I learn new things from the audience and am touched by the personal stories that people share with me when I greet them before and after. He inspired many; others moved by a particular number or the way it affected them at a certain time in their lives." And people certainly had stories to share with her in the lobby before and after the show! It is amazing how many lives have been touched and inspired by the genius of Gene Kelly.
Currently, Patricia Ward Kelly serves as sole trustee of The Gene Kelly Image Trust and as Creative Director of Gene Kelly: The Legacy, a corporation established to celebrate Kelly's artistry worldwide. She lives in Los Angeles where she is completing the definitive book about her late husband. I cannot wait to read it!
GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY, currently on tour in the U.S. and abroad, premiered at sold-out evenings at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and New York City's Lincoln Center. More details about Gthe production can be found at www.GeneKelly.com and at "Gene Kelly The Legacy" on Facebook.
The Pasadena Playhouse presents GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY, An Evening with Patricia Ward Kelly for two performances only - Saturday, March 1 at 8pm and Sunday, March 2 at 2pm.
Tickets are priced from $15 - $70. Also, available is a VIP ticket which includes a Preshow Meet & Greet with Mrs. Kelly and a reception for $150.00. Tickets are available online at PasadenaPlayhouse.org, by calling The Pasadena Playhouse at 626-356-7529 or by visiting The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101. For more information, visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.
With Donald O'Connor
Patricia Ward Kelly