Los Angeles Theater Review: GENE KELLY: THE LEGACY (Pasadena Playhouse)

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by Mia Bonadonna on March 1, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Gene Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, is touring with her retrospective multi-media presentation of Gene Kelly’s life and work, Gene Kelly: The Legacy, which plays through Sunday at the Pasadena Playhouse. Since meeting Kelly in the mid-1980s, Patricia has concurrently been his biographer, historian, and lover—relationship facets that equally infuse her presentation with intimacy, GENE KELLY The Legacy, POSTERsentimentality, and academic breadth. For those unfamiliar with Kelly’s extensive body of work beyond Singin’ in the Rain, Legacy stands as a good, informal Gene Kelly 101 course. For already in-the-know geeks, this is an opportunity to whole-heartedly wallow in the dance, cinematography, audio clips, treasured personal effects, romantic memories, and lots of Old Hollywood stories with fellow Kelly-compatriots.

There is no need to critique Gene Kelly here. The man remains to this day an unmatched god of charm and nuance. Perfectly balancing grace and warm masculinity, Kelly innovated a particularly American dance aesthetic on film, wrought from his melting pot experiences. Ward Kelly knows this and curates him proudly in Legacy. Through mostly lesser-known film clips, she explicates performances which are charged with a dynamic that is expressed through elegant physicality, long balletic lines, delightful humor, bold use of color and sound, deviceful creativity, charismatic wit, cinematic novelty, and—often—profound longing. Kelly elevated the populist corn-ball mantras of his day to beautiful, nectarous works of art.

Gene_Kelly_The_PirateWith that said, Gene Kelly: The Legacy as a production in and of itself, is a neatly organized, fact-filled tribute buttressed by sweetly romantic and affectionate nostalgia. Patricia begins her presentation by telling the story of how she came to know, love, and eventually marry Kelly. She moves into a long, curated segment with clips of Kelly’s work, carefully explaining why each is historically and artistically significant. She closes the evening with a show-and-tell of personal effects that are meaningful to her, including Valentine cards and the only known score for Singin’ in the Rain. She sometimes looks as though she may cry while recalling her own personal memories of her husband, but recovers with subtle humor. She even jokes about the hordes of men and women that bombard her at every Legacy performance to proclaim their lust for her deceased spouse. (This reviewer believes her: Kelly was blessed with a perfectly winning smile, after all. And there are web pages, memes, and social media entirely devoted to Kelly’s perfect derrière.)

gene-kelly-in-singin'-in-the-rainPatricia’s encyclopedic knowledge of Kelly the professional artist is nicely complimented by an obviously unselfish love for Kelly the man. She has the appeal of a professional lecturer and never overshadows her subjects: art, dance, cinema, and Kelly’s social context. She does not acknowledge the publicly-aired tensions between her, his children, and ex-wife Betsy Blair, or even mention them at all. This gives Legacy a bit of an elephant-in-the room quality, especially after lengthy discussion of his dedication to his friends and childhood,  but it is clear that her mission is not to spew overly-personal negativity, rather to focus on his lasting artistic legacy of dance, song, athleticism, direction, and choreography gifted to posterity through film. It is hard not to love Gene Kelly: The Legacy. It is tasteful not tacky, audience wowing, and seems to make all who see it genuinely happy. Kelly can still elicit oohs, aahs, and applause for his choreography well beyond his passing.

Gene Kelly: The Legacy
Pasadena Playhouse
scheduled to end on March 2, 2014
RETURN ENGAGEMENT: April 18 & 19, 2014
for tickets, call 626-356-7529 or visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org
for more info, visit www.GeneKelly.org

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