Monday, July 31, 2023

Summer Musicals: Summer Stock and Gypsy

Corbin Bleu and the dancers in Summer Stock. (Photo: Diane Sobolewski)

Summer Stock, released in 1950, followed a particularly unhappy time in Judy Garland’s life and career – after the deterioration of her marriage to the director Vincente Minnelli, after she made her first suicide attempt and was committed to a rehab center, and after M-G-M replaced her on Annie Get Your Gun with Betty Hutton. Yet it feels like a breather for her: though her weight fluctuated during the filming (in her last big number, “Get Happy,” she’s strikingly trim), her performance is ebullient and unstrained. It was her third and final pairing with Gene Kelly – the others were For Me and My Gal in 1942 (his film debut, after he’d conquered Broadway in Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey) and The Pirate, for Minnelli, in 1948 – and his warmth and virility, his earthiness and easy jocularity, always brought out an appealing vaudevillian quality in her. None of her other co-stars was so ideal a vocal match for her, and though it’s great to see her with Fred Astaire in Easter Parade (1948), especially in the “Couple of Swells” number, when she and Kelly dance together they seem to belong to the same club. Summer Stock (which Charles Walters directed) is lightweight, and there’s nothing much in the George Wells-Sy Gomberg script that hadn’t been done in previous backstage movie musicals like the ones Garland and Mickey Rooney co-starred in, or Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn. Garland plays Jane Falbury, who’s struggling to keep her farm from going under, and Kelly is Joe Ross, who persuades her to let him produce a show in her barn. But it never pushes the sweetness or the rural Americana, it has a fine supporting cast (except for Gloria De Haven as Jane’s self-centered sister: her acting is really awful), and Garland and Kelly’s scenes together are endearing.