Our writers are (lovingly) foisting pop-culture favourites on their unsuspecting nippers. Here, Abigail Burdess and her children find the classic musical laden with surprisingly bittersweet life lessons.
Singin’ in the Rain is about a jaded silent movie star (Gene Kelly) who’s forced to return to his Vaudeville roots when TALKING PICTURES make his Valentino schtick old hat. Alas, his awful co-star Lina Lamont (a hilarious Jean Hagen) has a voice pitched high enough to keep teenagers away from off-licences. So talented unknown Cathy (an iridescent teenage Debbie Reynolds) volunteers to be her voice. But when the show’s a hit, evil Lina tries to force Cathy into singing servitude and Gene must expose the deception, for true talent will always find its light (Singin’ in the Rain’s first lesson). It’s just wonderful.
My childhood was spent on my toes in front of its Technicolor beauty, aping Gene Kelly’s asymmetrical pirouettes. I planned to use Lina’s line, “If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we know our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothing’,” as my Oscar acceptance speech when I, you know, won an Oscar.
So I may have pushed it at my kids a little young. I figured they’d like the songs. They did. They were transfixed ‘til the final scene, in which the curtain is pulled back to reveal who’s really doing the singing, and it turns out, a few other things too.
Peppa isn’t actually played by a talking pig. Frozen’s Elsa isn’t voiced by a blonde superhero. “But is she even blonde, Mummy?” No, she’s not blonde. Pause. “But does she even have ice powers?” In for a penny, I thought. If you really want to fry a kid’s brain tell them that in real life it is Jean Hagen who voices Cathy’s songs. By now I was seriously worried about whether, in revealing Lesson 2 (true talent will not always find its light), I was doing the right thing.
But Lesson 3 was about to commence. My eldest kid’s a big Star Wars fan. I told her Cathy is Princess Leia’s mother. That’s where it really kicked off. Of course, she wanted to go to their house for tea. “What”, she then asked, “does Cathy look like now?” And, God forgive me, I showed her.
Debbie Reynolds looks beautiful. But she’s 82. For my five year-old, who’d been struggling with mortality, it was just too much to take in. She burst into tears.
“I want,” she wailed, “to climb inside the TV and live in the movie where nobody gets old and nobody dies”. I told her so did Woody Allen. “Can I, Mummy?” she asked. “Can I climb inside the TV and stay with beautiful Cathy for ever and ever?” I really thought about it. “No my darling,” I said. “No you can’t.”
Lesson 3 of Singin’ in the Rain is, “You are going to get old and die and the only consolation is art which doesn’t, all things considered, quite take the edge off.”
I kind of wish I’d stuck with Peppa Pig.
Abigail writes comedy for the telly, radio and stage. She is also sometimes allowed on them. But not so’s you’d notice. @AbigailBurdess