Singin’ the praises of Gene Kelly

Patricia Ward Kelly brings her one-woman show to Balboa Theatre on April 15

The Kellys: Patricia and Gene
  • The Kellys: Patricia and Gene
  • Image by Albane Navizet

She was 26 when first they met, he was 73. He just happened to be showbiz royalty, one of the most recognizable hoofers on the planet. The ten years Patricia Ward Kelly spent with her husband is the subject of the one-woman show, Gene Kelly: The Legacy, coming April 15 to Balboa Theatre.

Past Event

Gene Kelly: The Legacy

  • Saturday, April 15, 2017, 2 p.m.
  • Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Avenue, San Diego
  • $25 - $45

When Gene Kelly famously sang about having a smile on his face, he wasn’t kidding. Whether singin’ below a drainpipe in mid-downpour, so dazzled by love he doesn’t realize the roller skates are still keyed to his shoes until long after he’s left the rink or high on a Scottish hilltop when that bell-peeling feeling hits, Kelly’s grin was irrepressible. But the real smiles come from the impact he had on the musical genre, the seeming ease with which he forever altered the look of dance on film.

If asked to pick one Kelly film to accompany me in the casket, without hesitation I’m packing It’s Always Fair Weather. It was the third, final, and my personal favorite of the actor’s collaborations (On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain) with co-director Stanley Donen.

“I Like Myself” (Cinemascope Version)

In the “I Like Myself” number (aka Gene Kelly Tap Dancing on Roller Skates) Kelly and Donen do their best to recreate on the Culver City backlot the realistic rhythm of a bustling New York rush hour.

The film was a major topic of discussion during a recent phone conversation with Patricia. "The roller skating number was something he did in his youth," she began. "It's based on an act he performed for Amateur Nights in Pittsburgh. It was a much more aggressive, athletic version than what he does on film. Gene's skating towards the camera adds a sort of kinetic energy that creates a sense of a third dimension. The camera operators did not know how to move the camera to musical beats. Gene was very conscious of that and the distances he was covering. When he set up the shots, he made sure to tap and glide in every take so you can see that none of it is tricked. It's all real. The wheels are definitely going."

During a screening of the film in March of 1989, Kelly confided, "I think that may be the best job I ever did with a song in playing a scene. All that love came through to me. Usually I'm dissatisfied. I think you can see in my face exactly what I was saying. It was much harder to do than Singin' in the Rain... to convey this enthusiasm and joy." 

Though Kelly is almost always center-frame, I’ll argue that this as a brilliant justification for the invention of the anamorphic lens. There’s always some bits of expertly choreographed business going on in the margins. Watch the way the onlookers react to a man skating his way down the makeshift streets of Manhattan, making every turn of the CinemaScope slalom a sight to behold.

It finally dawns on the lovestruck Kelly that the reason he’s attracting onlookers might have something to do with his four-wheeled footwear. Instead of ditching the rollers, Kelly tops himself by showing the crowd how to tap dance in skates. Oh, yes. Note the permanent grin. It’s a glorious feeling!

This is just one of the films to be covered in the 140-minute presentation, Gene Kelly: The Legacy. In addition to the glittering array of film clips, Ms. Kelly promises previously unreleased audio recordings, personal keepsakes, and stories her husband shared with her over their decade together.

The show begins at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $27.50. For more information visit sandiegotheatres.org.

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Comments

One of my fave Gene Kelly movies was What a Way to Go, in which Kelly co-starred and was the choreographer. I've seen it twice, and could watch it again. I give it a 9.

Seeing this is a first for me. No loafers and white socks, but roller skates! Amazing.

I'm sure it says a lot about me, but my 2 favorite M-G-M musicals — "The Band Wagon" and "It's Always Fair Weather" — a both downers.

Scotty, thanks for telling about Mrs. Kelly's program at the Balboa Theater. Who knew Gene married someone 50 years his junior? That's gotta be a record. Also, we hate to think of you feeling "down,"as you contribute so much to movie-lovers everywhere. What else are you planning to put in your casket?

Nope, not a record. Tony Randall also married someone 50 years younger. She was 25, when he was 75. They had two children together.

He was 73 and she 26!!! Day-um! Where are all the feminists yelling "perv"???

But seriously, right on dude, you rock! Kinda like when Frankie dated Mia!

When I go, I wanna go like Hank Miller. 80 years old with Brenda Venus sitting on my lap!!!

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