'Top Hat' Turns 85, And A New Video Pays Tribute Irving Berlin's classic musical turns 85 this year, and a group of artists are paying tribute with a brand-new video version of one of its songs, "Isn't This A Lovely Day (To Be Caught In The Rain)?"
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Isn't This A Lovely Day For A 'Top Hat' Tribute?

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Isn't This A Lovely Day For A 'Top Hat' Tribute?

Isn't This A Lovely Day For A 'Top Hat' Tribute?

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There's a new dance video out set to an old song - not a '70s disco single or a '50s doo-wop hit. No, we're talking about a Depression-era song from the Irving Berlin musical "Top Hat," one of my faves. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, Irving Berlin's estate is hoping the video, released on the 85th anniversary of the movie, will help a younger generation connect with his music.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Two female dancers huddle together at night in a dark cobblestone tunnel. As the music begins, they start to let go of each other, as if maybe it's safe, then quickly embrace again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISN'T THIS A LOVELY DAY (TO BE CAUGHT IN THE RAIN)?")

THE POWDER ROOM: (Singing) The weather is frightening. Thunder and lightning are having their way.

BLAIR: In a video that's just over two minutes, dancers Courtney Crain and Jordan Betscher capture the yearning to be joyful with moments of confined desperation. Their movements are at once tender and spry. Choreographer Al Blackstone says his ideas for the piece came directly from the music, a rendition of Irving Berlin's "Isn't This A Lovely Day (To Be Caught In The Rain)?" by the band The Powder Room.

AL BLACKSTONE: It's so moody and so passionate, and I just immediately felt that it really connected to also just a deep sadness and uncertainty, particularly for dancers in New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISN'T THIS A LOVELY DAY (TO BE CAUGHT IN THE RAIN)?")

THE POWDER ROOM: (Singing) As far as I'm concerned, it's a lovely day.

BLAIR: There isn't a touch of sadness in the original number from the 1935 movie "Top Hat." Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire take shelter from the rain under a gazebo and dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOP HAT")

BLAIR: "Top Hat" was a musical that lifted spirits during the Great Depression. Blackstone is a huge fan of Irving Berlin's and Fred Astaire's. He and videographer Pierre Marais were determined to shoot their dance film in one take.

BLACKSTONE: Because that's how Fred did it. I think there's only one cut in the original, so we really wanted to just do it all in one take, no edits, and preserve the dance as much as possible and preserve the moment as much as possible. But, of course, that means that we had to do it many times.

BLAIR: Dancer Courtney Crain, who hasn't danced professionally since the start of the pandemic, didn't mind doing it as many times as they needed to.

COURTNEY CRAIN: I was thinking to myself how special it was that, you know, we were getting to do something that a lot of people aren't getting to do during this time because there aren't auditions happening, and there aren't shows happening. And it was just a really special moment for me right before we did it the very last time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISN'T THIS A LOVELY DAY (TO BE CAUGHT IN THE RAIN)?")

THE POWDER ROOM: (Singing) The turn in the weather will keep us together, so I can honestly say, as far as I'm concerned, it's a lovely day.

BLAIR: Crain and Betscher are roommates who've been quarantined together for months, so they didn't have to wear masks when they performed. Crain says she thinks their friendship helped them embody characters who lean on each other during this difficult time. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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