It rained the whole time we were in Bintan this weekend. I think under normal circumstances, I would have been annoyed, because this is about the only time I get to try to get the pasty white skin a little rosier/tanner. But this time round, I was just so grateful to be given the chance to do nothing so I just read Gaiman/Murakami books to whisk myself into another world, had buffet breakfasts, drank a lot of spa drinks (lemongrass-ginger rocks) and walked along the beach under the drizzle.
Since we are on rain-related topics, I also managed to squeeze out a short essay just before the trip for a little anthology in tribute to my favourite musical, my wonderful childhood and good ol’ rain.
Singin’ in the Rain: What a Glorious Feelin’
My father, shower singer extraordinaire, strongly believed that watching American musicals was the best way to keep a pesky five-year-old from bugging him too much. At the same time, this also gave him a chance to refresh his line-up of warbly Bathtime Broadway renditions.
As such, my first memory of television is not Big Bird or Kermit the Frog. It is of a smiley Gene Kelly doing delightful tippity-tappity things in his signature song-and-dance performance of Singin’ in the Rain. One reason why this particular vignette sticks to me even up till today is because of how my father’s face just lit up when this scene came on. I remember him gustily singing along and bobbing about in the most Genekellyesque way possible from the sofa. The only other time I saw such a high-spirited expression on his face was on a family holiday to Club Med, where he was picked as one of the tuxedo-clad performers for a “Hello Dolly” guest number. There was never a happier middle-aged Singaporean man doing high kicks with a top hat.
With such a media diet from a young age, I soon discovered a dreamy escape outlet in the world of American musicals. Characters come to terms with their feelings by singing and dancing, it’s perfectly okay to rhyme, and the story is never complicated enough to be depressing. Sure, there are times when you have to fall in love, but with some breezy wind, strains of the violin and a couple of twirls, the deal will be sealed. You will live happily ever after.
Singin’ in the Rain, the well-loved MGM musical released in 1952 starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’ Connor, epitomizes the magic of the musical for me. With plenty of tap dancing (which makes me peppy), classic love songs (which makes me soppy) and over-the-top humour that only 1950s type of dramatic Hollywood acting can convey (which makes me giggly), this film is just one great endorphin boost. Unfortunately, very few movies fail to do that for me these days. Of course, there’s also Gene Kelly, whom I have had one massive, eternal crush on since his hallmark performance in that rain. While I know nothing about dancing, when I look at him on screen, I know that if I ever had to be made to dance, it would have to be with someone like him. Actors like him don’t seem to exist anymore – men who can prance around in umbrellas, sing cheesy lyrics about being “fit as a fiddle and ready for love” and still exude this charming manliness at the same time.
Here are some things I did after watching Singin’ in the Rain that fateful day: I watched it again and again over the next few months. I threw a tantrum and demanded my father sign me up for tap dancing lessons (he didn’t). I pretended to know how to tap dance, which involved a lot of thumping around the house with my mother’s stilettos. I pretended to know how to sing, which meant there was another tuneless shower singer in the family. I kept running out to the garden every time it rained, spinning myself around and around in the tropical shower, making it a point to splash every puddle in sight. My mother was convinced I would contract pneumonia, and deliberately got me a frilly pink umbrella to use during these rainy sessions, beseeching me to be more like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (after the makeover and grooming sessions).
Besides the half-baked imitations, I also created fantasy “filmlets” during my Singin’ in the Rain phase. I would pretend that I was Kathy (Debbie Reynolds’s character) and instead of girlfriend, I was actually the younger sister of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly’s character). Cosmo/Donald O’ Connor was my best friend and we’d sing the Good Morning song to each other before breakfast every day. The evil actress Lina Lamont was really that mean bully in my class who liked to pinch me. As much as possible, the three of us (i.e. Don, Cosmo and I) would have nothing to do with such a bad, bad girl. In fact, at some point, Don would do some half tap dance, half karate manoeuvre to give a nice purple bruise on her face.
Even as I grew older and toned down in my world of musical make-believe, the world of Singin’ in the Rain remained an intrinsic part of my life. When I was 12, I was made to take part in a school marching drill competition. I was hopeless in understanding Malay drill commands and dreaded going out in the hot sun just to walk around like a robot. However, that all changed one day when the drill leader commanded us to collect our marching shoes, and lo and behold, each of us were bestowed a pair of shiny, black shoes that made the exact same tippity-tappity sounds that Gene Kelly made when he danced in Singin’ in the Rain! I was over the moon, and once again terrorised my home with fake-dance tappy thumpings. And of course, marching didn’t seem so torturous anymore with the comforting tippity-taps coming from my shoes as I did the kiri-kenan-kiris.
When I watched the Singin’ in the Rain musical at the Esplanade Theatre in 2002, I finally realised why its movie version from the ‘50s has meant so much to me all these years. It’s about the values that underlie the act of singing in the rain. When it rains, people usually utter expletives, flee for shade, or walk gingerly around with their umbrellas. But then, there’s Gene, who just surrenders himself to the rain, and sings an infectiously chirpy ditty while at that. There’s just so something uplifting and liberating about this approach to life. This is why whenever I am feeling a little blue or tired, I just have to pop the DVD of my favourite musical into the player, and suddenly, “I’m laughing at the clouds/ so dark up above/ the sun’s in my heart/ and I’m ready for love.”