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Choreographing with Gene Kelly

Lawrence Bush
April 12, 2017

Film director and choreographer Stanley Donen, who with Gene Kelly codirected the movie musicals On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), was born in Columbia, South Carolina on this date in 1924. Donen began his career as a Broadway dancer, but by 1943 he was in Hollywood as a film choreographer, and he helped change the use of dance and songs in musicals from spectacles and stage-bound set pieces to naturalistic extensions of plot and character. Other films Donen has directed and/or choreographed include Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Funny Face (1957), Damn Yankees (1958), Charade (1963), Two for the Road (1967), and Blame It on Rio (1984). “[T]he Donen-Kelly team,” says the Turner Classic Movies website, “was one of the freshest and most innovative in Hollywood, and together, they were responsible for some of the genre’s most enduring classics. . . . So great was [Singin’ in the Rain’s] impact upon generations of viewers -- many of whom were moved to explore dance and musicals after seeing the film -- that it was later placed at #5 on the American Film Institute’s Top Films of All Time and the top spot on its list of 100 Greatest Musicals.”

“Had Stanley Donen stopped directing musicals after Singin’ in the Rain, his legacy would have been ensured for time in memoriam, but he continued to work on some of the form’s best efforts for the better part of the next decade. He directed Fred Astaire -- arguably the greatest of all musical film performers -- in two projects. Royal Wedding (1951) was his first turn as a solo director, and featured the spectacular “You’re All the World to Me” number, which saw Astaire literally dancing up the walls and across the ceiling of a room. It would later serve as the inspiration for countless scenes in other films and television shows, as well as the 1986 music video for Lionel Richie’s pop hit “Dancing on the Ceiling,” which Donen also directed.”

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.