Posted on Monday, November 23rd, 2009 by Russ Fischer
This takes some balls. Joseph Gordon-Levitt did his first gig hosting Saturday Night Live this past weekend. He took the stage looking like a guy who could barely contain his excitement, and proceeded to launch into a recreation of one of the most famous song and dance numbers from any film musical: Donald O’Connor‘s ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ from Singin’ in the Rain. And he nailed it!
OK, so ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ is pretty much ripped off wholesale from Cole Porter’s ‘Be a Clown’, but you can’t deny the landmark status of the O’Connor performance from Singin’ in the Rain. When I was young, the physicality of O’Connor’s routine was a big part of what made me look differently at the movie musical. Between his mugging and the amazing presence of Gene Kelly, I started to see musicals as venues for brilliant displays of physical ability. I love big chunks of Singin’ in the Rain in exactly the same way I love the setpieces from classic ’80s Jackie Chan movies. The spirit of those performances is almost exactly the same.
The bumper image above was a pretty dead giveaway that Levitt was going to do a Singin’ in the Rain routine, but to see him tackle ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ live onstage, complete with the wall-flip ending, was damned impressive. I wonder if more of the studio audience knew the number than he expected — if so that actually raises the bar, because there were some expectations. Regardless, I think he did a great job. It’s a lot of fun to see someone almost breathlessly excited to be doing the gig.
How could this have gone down? Look what happened when the great Tim Curry did it at the Oscars a few years back.
Normally I’d embed the presentation from Hulu here, because it would be high quality. But they cut out the number entirely — maybe a rights issue? — so here’s a less visually glorious YouTube presentation instead. Below that is the original Singin’ in the Rain version; watch the two in series and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance stands up. No small feat, to be stacked against O’Connor.