Friday, May 19, 2017

My experience at Gene Kelly: The Legacy

(My program cover)
As some of you know, I have been on a quest since the beginning of the year to watch classic movies before my time.  I felt like there was a huge portion of pop culture I was missing out on and I was right.  Xanadu was one of my favorite movies before it was cool to call it "cult."  Part of it was because I had a major girl crush on Olivia Newton John but the other was I fell in love with the older guy in the movie...some guy named Gene Kelly.  At the time, I didn't know his impressive history, hey, I was six.  All I knew is I loved how funny he was and how expressive he was with his eyes and smile.  When I watched Singing in the Rain for the first time a few months ago (I know, I know), I recognized that adorable older man but as a young, virile man who was talented in basically every way someone could have talent.  The way he looked at a woman was like he was etching her every detail into his mind.  The way he held a woman with one arm as he twirled her showing off his athleticism.  That look of pure joy and happiness when he danced even if in reality he was working his tail off to make it appear so easy.   The smooth, velvety tones as he sang that induced a million swoons making every girl (and probably even some guys) wish he was singing to them.   What can I say?  I was hooked.

When I began trying to soak up any available info on him I could find, I stumbled upon Gene Kelly: The Legacy's page.  The page is run by his wife, Patricia Ward Kelly and the sweet stories and anecdotes I found truly warmed my heart.  I felt compelled to message her and tell her how much her husband meant to me both as a child and how I am discovering his true body of work as an adult.  I figured even if I never got a response, I just felt like I wanted to share what he meant to me and how much I appreciated the stories she shared.  Surprisingly, within the hour, I received a sweet response from her and she said she'd be in Toronto at the end of the month if I'd like to come to the show.  I checked with the Mr the next day and saw there were still some good seats available, it was for a worthy cause and since we rarely do anything spontaneous, we went for it.  I checked our credit card rewards and we had enough cashback to cover our hotel room, I used birthday money to buy the tickets because I was kind of dragging the Mr to something he had no clue what to expect so there wouldn't be much out of pocket for us.

We went to Queen Elizabeth Theatre downtown, got a program and sat in our seats.  The stage had some prop boxes on one side.



As the show began with a beautiful clip montage from some of the movies of his I have seen like Singing in the Rain, The Pirate, An American in Paris, For Me and My Gal, The Three Musketeers and ones I need to see like Brigadoon, It's Always Fair Weather and Words and Music.  I sat there with a big smile on my face.  There he was, larger than life.  Those eyes.  That smile.  The scar.  All of his glory on the only way that does him justice, the big screen to match his big personality and talent.  His wife Patricia came out and began talking about how they met including a funny story about how she schooled him as he was testing her knowledge on pretty much any subject out there.  It was presented in a way that had it been done to me, I probably would've had a few choice words for him.  But I love that she was able to answer his every question and wow him on an intellectual level.  It was the beginning of their love story including a vivid description of her outfit when she first met him that had me cracking up.

The first thing you realize about Patricia is not just how much she loved him and how much of her was tied to him but more importantly what a fabulous woman she is on her own.  With all sincerity, that dame is #goals for sure.  She is smart, funny, endearing, vulnerable in a way that touches every part of your heart and mind and just oozes this worldly way about her.  She and Gene fell in love over Etymology or the origin of words.  She related a story where someone asked Gene what they should study (they were referring to dance) and he said "everything!"  Dance, art, poetry and other subjects in the pursuit of being a well rounded person.  I have to say that really inspired me even as a middle aged woman.  Part of my quest to watch the classics was to be well rounded in pop culture but yes, it would behoove me to take Mr. Kelly's advice as well.

There were about 15 clips from his movies and each one came with an introduction by Patricia with some detail or story about what Gene experienced that was relayed in a way that felt like Gene was telling you himself.  It makes sense given they were married but she has an uncanny way of delivering these stories with such depth, emotion and ease that it's hard to remember that she wasn't actually the one that was there.  It was also interesting to gauge the audience reaction when certain clips came up.  You would think that Singing in the Rain or An American in Paris would be the big attention grabbers and they both did get applause when they appeared.  But you could tell the sentimental favorites of this particular crowd.  When she talked about how people run hot or cold with the movie The Pirate, I was actually relieved to hear that.  Because while I think his performance is amazing in the movie, that horrible hairdo they gave him really distracts me.  She shows a clip of one of my favorite songs from the movie, NiƱa.  (Sadly that is audio only so it takes away a lot of the charm of the number which is seeing his facial expressions and moves.  So I suggest you rent it, if you haven't seen it because he and Judy Garland have great chemistry in it.)  When that number came on, there was a collective sigh of happiness from all of us and a lot of laughter and hootin' and hollarin' at his pole dancing.  Another movie that got that happy sigh and laughter was just the mere mention of the film Summer Stock.  I haven't seen that one yet but have heard I need to because yet another great performance by he and Judy even though she was not in a good way personally during that time.  Just seeing the scene for "You Wonderful You" and the "Newspaper Dance" was enough to put it on my rent list.  The stories she tells regarding this film are a true testament to not only Gene's talent but his loyalty and empathy as a friend and human being.

Then comes the part where she shares what it was like the day he had a stroke.  Like many of us who have had a devastating event occur in our lives, she remembers dates and times.  She shares them with glassy eyes, a lump in her throat and a gratefulness of being able to have that last year with him. When she describes what it was like to lose him, my tears were simply too much to be stopped so I don't even attempt to wipe them away.  It was futile because for five minutes, I was not a woman watching a performance, I was a wife sharing in the unfathomable heartbreak of losing the person that you would do anything for.  As she rolled a clip, I felt compelled to keep my eye on her.  As she looked up at his image on the screen from her dark corner, she turned to the side and wiped her nose with a tissue.  If I didn't think I would've been dragged to jail, I would've gone up and put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her.  Her warm and funny personality instantly draws you in and her carefully crafted, loving tribute to a man everyone there loves and admires makes you feel a little protective of her for his sake.

Remember those boxes?  Well, she shares some personal props and mementos from his archives.  Some of you may remember the scene from Take Me Out to the Ball Game where he sang "The Hat My Father Wore" and she has the hat!  She also has some of his old Irish hats (or "dude hats" as I called them when I was a kid).  She shared a note he wrote on their wedding day as well as one of many Valentine's he'd shower her with on Valentine's Day.  (Cue swooning from all the ladies in the audience.)   A few other amazing things were shared but I don't want to give it all away. It was so kind of her to share these personal and professional effects to give us a little more of a peek into the man.

I know this sounds kind of weird but as someone who has dabbled in video and knows what it takes to write and produce a project, her thought and detail to not just the stories she tells but the props, lighting and delivery are perfection.  It not only honors her husband and his legacy but creates one of her own as a champion to keep his significant contributions to the arts in the forefront.  As the newest generation comes up on La La Land and gets inspired by the dancing and style, it is no doubt they will stumble upon Gene's name in their thirst to acquire more knowledge about something that inspires them so much.  If they only knew what they were in for once they do begin their path on discovering the facets of talent Gene had not just as a singer, actor and dancer but as a choreographer, director, trained acrobat, gymnast and athlete.  I know I'm pretty green on my knowledge about him but her show helped me understand so much more about him.  The Mr was humoring me by attending (as all good husbands should!) but came out with an immense respect for the renaissance man Gene was.  He was already impressed by the stuff in front of the camera but it was her showing the clip of him directing "Hello Dolly" that really sealed it for him.  So you don't have to be a huge fan in order to come away with an appreciation for the extraordinary person Gene was.

We both commented on how it seemed that maybe he wasn't convinced that he had left that big of a mark on the arts and what it said about his being humble.  Patricia commented that he didn't like to be called a perfectionist because he likened it for going to a surgeon...you don't want the sloppy guy, you want the best.  It's so true when you phrase it like that and it should inspire us all to put that kind of expectation on the things that represent who we are.  This show isn't just about the life of a great man but it's a love and life story on how we should strive to be as we make our own contributions in this world.

I was sad when I thought of how little time they got together but when I relate it to my own grandpa finding love with his third wife before cancer took him, they had 10 years together as well.  He was never happier than he was with her to hear him tell it and I get the feeling it was the same with Gene and Patricia.  Despite a 46 year age difference that became the focus of Hollywood scuttlebutt, but the press were missing the most important part of their story...love.  Because it is very clear, their love is here to stay.  (Sorry, I had to.)  Seriously...when she talks about him and the way he still makes her smile even today, that age difference means nothing and I mean nothing.  I've seen write ups where she's referred to as his widow and while it's technically true, I don't feel comfortable calling her that because it is very evident their love endures.  We should all be so lucky to experience a love story where two souls who were meant to find each other did and when you do, no amount of time is ever enough whether it is ten years or seventy years.  But the time they did have together, it is obvious they loved a lifetime's worth.

That night, I had a dream.  I dreamed I was on a movie star tour, got bored and hopped off to take pics and began wandering the neighborhood.  Off a side street, I saw an older gentleman retrieving his mail and a rolled paper fell out of his hand and into to the street.  I ran to pick it up and handed it to him...Gene.  I knew who he was but wasn't going to let on.  He said he hadn't seen me in the neighborhood before and I told him I deserted my tour to look at the beautiful architecture of the homes.  He began telling me stories about the homes in the area, the people who lived in them and how glad he was people were preserving them.  I mentioned how lovely his home looked from where I was standing and how beautiful he kept it.  He thanked me and asked my name and he said "I'm..." and I said "oh I know who you are!"  He smiled and said "oh, you do?" and I said "yes, you're Fred Astaire!"  He stopped for a moment shocked and I couldn't stop myself from smiling and he let out a huge laugh, put his arm around me and said "come on in kid, that was a good one, you're having lunch with me!"  I have a sneaking suspicion this wouldn't have been far from the truth having a little more insight into his personality thanks to Patricia's wonderful show!

You can go to www.GeneKelly.com and sign up for updates or the Facebook page to subscribe and get info on when Patricia Ward Kelly may be coming to your area with this outstanding production.  If it's within a day's drive, go on a little side trip, it's worth it to see this.  If you're unable to make it, she is very active on the Facebook page and shares some lovely stories there for fans to enjoy.

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3 comments:

  1. I am so glad we went and I am happy to say it made me a fan of his work as well. He was truly a one of a kind person. He did it all, stunts, dancing, choreography, singing, tapping and even directing and did them all extremely well. He raised the bar for all those things and is a great role model even today. I highly recommend that people check out his work and check out this show if they get the opportunity.

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  2. Hahaha that dream was awesome. I love me some Gene Kelly

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  3. What an awesome experience you had! It's like you were taken back in time and witnessed a life of pure joy in that man. I think it's marvelous his wife is doing this tour and keeping his legacy alive. Very, very special indeed.

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