ET 15: Singing In The Rain Musical Numbers

Posted: March 25, 2012 in ET Blog Essay

                 “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain!”  When I was about 11 years old, my best friend back then went to watch the musical and came back with two souvenir’s for me. The first was a pocket calendar picturing the casts of the musical on the front (which I believe I still have) and the second, the chorus of the all-time famous “Singing in the rain” song in which its tune I’ve never forgotten till this day. I never got around to watching it although I always told myself to try and get a copy of it. I was ecstatic when I learnt that I would be viewing it as part of the Film 101 course. Finally!

The musicals back then (as I’ve come to realize) have so much more depth and meaning as compared to the musicals done these days. Each song tells of a story but in such a poetic and ingenious way of rhyming that I wonder, are good writers a dying breed? Hence, every song in this movie has an important plot point that explains either the background of the story or foretelling what is about to occur. Numbers like “Fit as a Fiddle (and ready for love)”, “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Moses Supposes” are such important plot points with specific and dramatic functions that sew the story together.

“Fit as a Fiddle (and ready for love)” is the first musical number we see at the beginning of the film (excluding the “Singing in the rain” introduction by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynold and Donald O’Connor) and is a crucial one. This musical number is part of a history shared between Don Lockwood and his best friend Cosmo Brown as they both struggled to survive in the entertainment industry with their yet undiscovered talents. The song that they sang and danced together interprets their boyish-ness as they are still young, inexperienced and untrained in their professions. The word “fiddle” has many meanings; one of which is to play a tune on the violin (which they are), another is to touch or move something in small quick movements and lastly, to get money by producing false records (Microsoft Word Dictionary). Basically when they are singing this song they are saying that:

  1. We’re fit and ready to be played like this violin. We’re musically gifted and talented in the performing arts and we’re ready to shine.
  2. We’re big boys now. We’re ready to have some sexuality in our lives and we’re ready for “love”.
  3. Lying is a way to get to the top. Such as in this case where Don who is now a famous movie star, lies about his entire life and even says his one motto is “dignity”.

“Dignity, always dignity” 

The costumes worn by Don and Cosmos are like one of a strolling player’s costume – cheap, bright and colourful. With happy bubbly music, we see them dancing on a stage that’s most likely to be in a bar or a cheap theatre for poor townsfolk to go to that’s found in every state and town. Even the dancing depicts a sense of boyish-ness with Cosmos walking directly behind Don, legs kicking in the air like a bunch of kids with big cheerleader smiles all the way.

Immature behaviour that we don’t see in Big-O stylo Hollywood. No one respects them as the audience jeers and mocks them after their performance. This immaturity gives a background to Don’s live as we see that until he meets Kathy, he is merely that boy dancing in a green striped costume.

“Make ‘Em Laugh”, a solo by Cosmos (Donald O’Connor) is one where he is trying to cheer Don up as well as enlighten him that movies needed a change and a new direction, one that would make the audience laugh perhaps. In the beginning of the scene we see Don getting all touchy when Cosmos repeats what Kathy told Don; “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” referring to the pictures in which Don is regularly casted in. Cosmos then enquires about his friend’s confusion over this unknown dame, Kathy who’s appeared to turn Don’s world upside down. To cheer him up, Cosmos starts singing and dancing beginning with the most hilarious lyrics that are by far my most favourite:

Short people have long faces

Long people have short faces

Big people have little humour and

Little people have no humour at all

Which is an irony in itself as Cosmos is what we’d consider as “little people” and yet he himself has plenty of humour. It is in this scene we see a sort of predicament of the future that when change happens, all sorts of calamities occur before it is perfected. With this, Cosmos performs this number with a clown-like character and actually making people laugh during this scene whilst causing calamity around him.

He gets carried by a log, hits the wall and makes faces, has comical dance moves and a cheeky face throughout. He plays with a human figurine pretending it to be a girl he fancies, does tumbles on the ground, runs and does backflips on the sets and even runs through the wall. At the end we see him dancing on the floor and finally ends singing “Make ‘em laugh!” and flops back to the ground.

Even the sound effects in this scene play a huge role in making it comedy-like with sounds of knocks and gears twisting. This plot point explains a change in the cinema world when ‘talking pictures’ is invented instead of the previous silent films. This turns Monument Pictures Studio upside down (just like Cosmos flipping upside down in the number!) as the main actress, Lina has a terrible voice. In a way, Cosmos is trying to tell Don not to be rigid but to loosen up and find another way to reach the audiences instead of what Don usually does.

This musical number is also one of Cosmos trying to cheer Don up from his worries of Kathy (who is also a little person that disrupts Don’s world and changes him into a man). We see all of this in Cosmos movement where in the beginning he’s rigid and stiff and slowly loosens himself till he finally let’s everything go.

Lastly, “Moses Supposes” is a number that is actually my personal favourite as its originality stands out tremendously. The song “Moses Supposes” was actually one of the only songs specifically written without the help of Arthur Freed (original composer of all the numbers in this musical, made for other musicals). This number serves as a plot point of the process of transformation as both Hollywood and Don Lockwood are transforming into different characters slowly. As the Studio learns to work around the technology of sound, the actors are required to prepare as well with diction’s and their pronunciation. Don is having no problem with this and aces all his dictions perfectly till it comes to the tongue-twisters. Here, his comical friend Cosmo enters the room and helps Don in both loosening himself and the diction coach as well as helping him get through the tongue-twisters.

Moses supposes his toes are roses

But Moses supposes erroneously

Moses he knowes his toeses aren’t roses

As Moses supposes his toeses to be.

This number is the beginning of Don’s “loosening” from the person he is. It is also like a mockery to being prim and proper, minding your “P’s” and “Q’s”. We see Don is once again trapped in a stuffy room having to sharpen his diction by an equally stuffy coach. In comes Cosmos in the nick of time to save his friend from the mundane teachings and setting him free (time and time we see Cosmos turning Don’s world upside down and helps him be free). He encourages the coach to continue on with tongue-twister after tongue-twister but is in fact making fun of him. Don immediately joins in the fun and together they become like the two boys from “Fit as a Fiddle”. They start singing a song about Moses Supposes, a tongue-twister, making it into something that hardly makes and sense but fun to say.

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Gestures like throwing the book away and loosening the tie of the coach all symbolize the throwing away of old, the structured and what is expected of us and instead embracing a different way of learning. The usage of curtains as costumes and dancing on chairs and tables – things that society, especially men, do not do. They are indeed breaking out from the stuffy Hollywood world just as Hollywood and Don are both changing on the inside. The ending is epic with them singing the vowel, “A” as if to have a last laugh at the English language and its perfections.

The dancing and music in this sequence is superb as it is energetic, lively and very athletic. As a dancer myself, I believe that this dance requires plenty of stamina and control as it is a long number in which both Don and Cosmos are constantly moving about with their feet, hands and bodies. I admire them both for this number as I belief that this is a tiring dance routine but is rehearsed so well to look effortless. The amount of positions to perfect synchronously amidst vigorous dancing is certainly a task but is done so flawlessly. With such an upbeat music and rhythm that changes halfway through the song, it makes it such a unique and fun number in the midst of a stuffy boring classroom. This musical number and many others makes me want to get up my seat and join them in dance as well.

Singing in The Rain is definitely a musical one cannot forget. With its musical numbers that are needed as particular plot points, the use of song and dance to express aspects of characters or plot situations, it is no wonder it is well remembered till today. My only hope is that Hollywood would continue to create many more well-produced musicals such as this in the years to come and not let it be just a “dying breed”. As for me, I would definitely show this to my kids when I do have them in the future!

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Comments
  1. adprosebud says:

    This is a wonderful essay. Make sure to show it to your kids after they’ve watched SITR 🙂 You have a superb overall thesis, but you don’t make it explicit 😦 That is, the undoing of Don’s hypocrisy and formality by Cosmo. You trace that process through the three numbers, but never say it in so many words! Still, your keen perception, not only about the music and lyrics, but about the mise-en-scene and choreography, is excellent!

    8/8

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