Saturday, October 19, 2013

ISO nurtures "Singin' in the Rain" into full bloom at Hilbert Circle Theatre

The full glory of the Hollywood musical rests in part on the symphonic scoring of the music, with the heritage of the stage musical bringing to the fore both the brashness of Broadway pit bands and the smooth string-section writing characteristic of the operetta.

Gene Kelly gets  happily wet in cinema's most exhilarating downpour.
"Singin' in the Rain" (1952)  is among the classic examples of the genre to be screened in recent years with concert-hall accompaniments, and this was what the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra offered to a packed Hilbert Circle Theatre Friday night.

Jack Everly conducted the orchestra in a re-creation of the instrumental part of the soundtrack, fitting it closely to the voices in Nacio Herb Brown's songs. It was evident from the overture how much of a boost a live orchestra can give to a film good enough to sell itself on its own merits: When the ISO moved on from the title tune to "You Are My Lucky Star," a vaunting countermelody in the horns welled up magnificently.

"Moses Supposes," a masterpiece of staging and comic timing, was the only place where at first the screen action didn't seem as tight with the orchestra as needed. It jelled well before the end, however. "Good Mornin'," the trio sung and danced by Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly after a long night of discussing how to rescue the film they fear will be a flop, found the close coordination between screen and stage restored.

An extended showcase for the orchestra, nicely emphasizing the strings, was the "Broadway Melody" ballet, with Kelly and the sensuous, leggy Cyd Charisse. There were well-met challenges of balance elsewhere, such as when a small ensemble had to replicate the background music a hired orchestra offers at a movie mogul's glitzy party.

"Make 'Em Laugh," despite the difficulty of focusing attention on anything but O'Connor's comic virtuosity, gave evidence of the ISO's capability to function as a pit band. The sound was properly boisterous and scrappy, after the manner of the circus bands in which many a 20th-century wind instrumentalist got his start. I sense new principal trumpet Ryan Beach revels in this kind of playing.

Under Everly's baton, the orchestra's flexibility with tempo changes was admirable; it never failed to negotiate the quicksilver shifts in mood that "Singin' in the Rain" comprises. The high level of the ISO's performance made this event more a celebration of enduring popular art than a mere exercise in nostalgia.