Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Musical’ Category

by John Greco

I’m singin in the rain

just singin in the rain

What a glorious feeling

I’m happy again

I’m laughing at clouds

So dark up above

The sun’s in my heart

And I’m ready for love

Is there anything more exuberant than watching Gene Kelly singin’ and dancin’ in the rain? Generally considered one of, if not, the grandest of all musicals, and whom am I to argue, “Singin’ in the Rain” is a joyous delight, celebrating movies, music, dance and the talent of a cast and creators who rarely were better. Critics over the years have been in agreement, from Pauline Kael who called it “the most enjoyable of musicals” to David Kehr, who said it is “one of the shining glories of the American musical’ to Roger Ebert who wrote, “There is no movie musical more fun as ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ and few that remain as fresh over the years.” Even New York Times curmudgeon Bosley Crowthers wrote at the time of the film’s release, “Guaranteed to put you in a buttercup mood.” And let’s face it, if a film can put old sourpuss Crowthers in a “buttercup mood” that my friends, is one hell of a movie! (1) (more…)


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by Sam Juliano

It is arguably the most beloved film ever made in this country. It was based on one of the most venerated children’s stories ever written. It launched the career of the greatest female thespian to ever appear in a musical film, and it remains the one film she is most reverentially identified with. The movie’s celebrated score is woven into our popular culture, and it’s unforgettable screenplay has produced lines of dialogue that are ingrained into the consciousness of anyone and everyone who has watched the film countless times, and have come to value it’s themes of home, family and friendship as cinematically conclusive. The film’s most coveted song is probably the most popular number ever written during the twentieth century, and has been covered time and again by renowned artists. The story of it’s changing directors and cast auditions remain as fascinating to movie lovers as anything else about the film, and more has been written on the making of the picture than any other in history. The story of the little people who appear early in the film in one of it’s most celebrated sequences, remains a stand alone curiosity for many to this very day, with the old age passings of this unique fraternity a major news item. Every supporting member of the film’s distinguished cast will eternally be remembered firstly for the role they played in this film, even with exceptional careers to their credit. No film has been more referenced in other movies, and the final black-and-white sequence set in the bedroom of a Kansas farmhouse may well be the most emotionally moving scene in the history of American cinema. With the advent of home video in the late 70’s the film became an incomparable favorite, and to this day has been released more often on the many video formats up to a recently-released blu-ray box set.  The smash Broadway hit Wicked is hugely indepted to the 1939 film.  While it has come to represent homespun family values and the most vivid realization of one’s dreams, The Wizard of Oz is imbued with humor and humanity, two qualities that more than any other have contributed to it’s enduring, even spectacular appeal over decades all around the world. Much like the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the day astronauts first stepped foot on the moon, many Americans will never forget the day, the month and the year they first remembered watching the film, and in whose company they were with. Just two years ago, the seventieth anniversary of the film’s opening was celebrated to national fan-fare, with the original city of it’s first appearance being honored – Oconomwoc, Wisconsin. (more…)

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by Tony d’Ambra

“Gone are my blues
and gone are my tears
I’ve got good news
to shout in your ears
The long lost dollar has come
back to the fold
With silver you can turn
your dreams to gold

We’re in the money
We’re in the money
We’ve got a lot of what it takes
to get along!
We’re in the money
The sky is sunny
Old man depression you are through
You done us wrong!”

Ginger Rogers cute as a button hits the screen in medium close-up straight after the opening credits. She ain’t glamorous but she overflows with an effervescent charm that has you reeling as she bounces into ‘We’re In the Money’, one of the most ironic and catchy songs ever recorded on celluloid. The girl next door has rhythm!  After the camera moves away to a cheeky cavalcade of chorus girls greeting the audience in close-up, Ginger returns to set-off Busby Berkeley doing his thing abetted by the brilliant music of Al Dubin and Harry Warren. And what a thing! You just want to grab one of those bikini-ed babes and start dancing – big 1993 ‘coins’ simultaneously hide and focus attention on their ‘assets’.  The girls are rehearsing a number for a new Broadway show, but before they finish the Sheriff has raided the theater and confiscated all the girls’ accoutrements.  The producer has run out of dough and the girls are out of a job. Old man depression still has some life in him yet. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

The United States is a young country with an old history. Rising to the highest heights of power in the blink of an eye through rapid expansion across a broad land rich in natural resources, achieving unity more than 100 year before the much more ancient Europe even made a start at it, and now prematurely gray as it struggles to adapt to a global economy and a shattered self-image, the American story has been a tough one to tell. The mirrors held up to Americans have often been fractured and one-dimensional, and perhaps with the exception of the Great American Novel, Huckleberry Finn, no work of art has broken through as a wide-ranging reflection not only of who we want to be, but also of who we really are. So it may be a bold declaration to make, but if I had to pick the one work that has been and will continue to be the greatest telling of the Great American Story, it would be West Side Story.

The enduring legacy of West Side Story could not have been predicted based on its reception when it premiered at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York in 1957. It garnered generally good reviews and had a respectable initial run of 732 performances, but that was nowhere near the 2,717 performances of My Fair Lady during the same Broadway season. Its hold on the imaginations of an international audience would not be secured until it was in a form that could be disseminated widely. When the film, codirected by its theatrical director/choreographer Jerome Robbins and Hollywood veteran Robert Wise, came out in 1961, it was a smash hit, earning the equivalent of $300 million in today’s dollars in the United States alone and winning 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. The huge audience for the film has made WSS a perennial favorite of school, amateur, and professional theatrical companies the world over. What is it that has attracted so many admirers across time and continents to this musical? (more…)

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by Judy Geater

Many great musicals have plots packed with drama and unlikely coincidences. By contrast, on the surface anyway, ‘Meet Me In St Louis’ has almost no plot at all. However, there is far more to this holiday classic, starring Judy Garland in one of her best-loved roles, than meets the eye on first viewing. Producer Arthur Freed, director Vincente Minnelli and the team at MGM agonised over the ingredients just as the Smith household’s cook, Katie (Marjorie Main) worries over her homemade ketchup bubbling on the stove in the film’s opening scene.

Katie is afraid the ketchup may be too sweet. MGM’s powers-that-be saw the same danger in this adaptation of writer Sally Benson’s humorous ‘Kensington’ magazine stories, recalling her girlhood in St Louis at the turn of the 20th century. Various scriptwriters were drafted in and encouraged to add exciting plot twists, such as an unlikely blackmail plot involving a Colonel, to make the mixture a little stronger.

But in the end Freed threw out all this material, discarding the scripts piled on his desk and bringing in Irving Brecher and Fred Finklehoffe to write a simpler story, where the dramas are those stemming from everyday life. This decision proved to be the right one, as the film was one of MGM’s biggest box office successes at the time, while its nostalgic power has since only grown with the years. The greatest pull of the musical is Garland’s performance of its great songs, including ‘The Trolley Song’ and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. (more…)

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by Jon Warner

I sat down with my 3-year old daughter the other day and invited her to watch a dancing scene from Swing Time with me. She’s very interested in dance these days and taking a class (ballet) so I figured I would show her. It was the scene where Fred and Ginger are doing the “Pick Yourself Up” number, which is a boisterous dance. My daughter asked me a few questions about the movie at first as Fred and Ginger were talking, but she was mostly entranced and watched the scene with me in silence during the dance itself. I know it sounds simple, but I realized for the first time that dancing requires little explanation or greater understanding of context and/or plot to really understand it. It is truly a physical communication to those of us in the audience. Even small children instinctively know how to dance. It’s not something you have to teach them. Dancing speaks to us on an instinctive level, and there never was, nor will there ever be another dancing duo like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, whose chemistry and artistry remain unsurpassed.

Swing Time is arguably Fred and Ginger’s greatest film. I know that Top Hat (1935) has lots of admirers (myself being one) but I think Swing Time has a bit more emotion working for it and in that way, is a bit of a departure. Director George Stevens may have had something to do with the film’s different feel compared to the Mark Sandrich films. But, like all the Astaire-Rogers films, Swing Time has a plot that is mostly fluff, and usually only serves to get the stars from one song/dance number to the next. In this one, Astaire plays John “Lucky” Garnett, member of a dance troupe, who also has a penchant for gambling. On his wedding day following a dance show, his friends hold him up, causing him to miss the wedding, whereby he is told by his father-in-law-to-be, that he must make it big in the dance business and only then will he allow him to marry his daughter. With his friend, “Pop” (Victor Moore), they ride the rails to NYC, where through a chance encounter on the street, Lucky meets Penny (Ginger Rogers), who is a dance school instructor. Most of the film that follows is filled with the usual contrivances: mistaken intentions, love triangles etc. It’s all second fiddle anyway to the song and dance in the film. (more…)

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Cabaret (no.7)

by Allan Fish

(filling in for Sam, who wanted to write a piece but Mother Hellcat Nature deemed otherwise)

(USA 1972 123m) DVD1/2

Come hear the music play

p  Cy Feuer  d  Bob Fosse  w  Jay Preston Allen  novel  “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood  play  “I am a Camera” by John van Druten  ph  Geoffrey Unsworth  ed  David Bretherton  md  Ralph Burns  m/ly  John Kander, Fred Ebb  ch  Bob Fosse  art  Rolf Zehetbauer, Jürgen Kiebach  cos  Charlotte Fleming

Liza Minnelli (Sally Bowles), Michael York (Brian Roberts), Joel Grey (MC), Helmut Griem (Maximilian von Heune), Marisa Berenson (Natalia Landauer), Fritz Wepper (Fritz Wendel),

By the time Cabaret was released in 1972, the popularity of big budget stage musical adaptations was running rather thin.  Such ventures kept musicals alive when the studio system collapsed and took with it their studios within a studio that churned out musicals for fun.  Yet of such adaptations, only The Pajama Game, West Side Story and The Music Man were really of interest cinematically.  The first of those was probably the most dynamic and was choreographed by none other than Bob Fosse, who later gave the musical its last great flowering fifteen years later in this classic representation of Weimar Berlin.  It never won best picture as it was unfortunate to run up against The Godfather, but it’s interesting to note how relatively extinct the musical has since become and how such a comparatively stage bound film as Chicago could win best picture exactly thirty years later, with nice photography and performances (from Queen Latifah and Richard Gere in particular), but little style.  It can only be mourned that Fosse himself was never given the chance to direct that Kander-Ebb piece in the seventies, but at least we still have Cabaret, the first musical masterpiece since the MGM glory days of the early fifties.  (more…)

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I’ve never met you, yet never doubt, dear;
I can’t forget you, I’ve thought you out, dear.
I know your profile and I know the way you kiss,
just the things I miss on a night like this.
If dreams are made of imagination
I’m not afraid of my own creation.
With all my heart, my heart is here for you to take.
Why should I quake? I’m not awake.
Isn’t it romantic?
Music in the night
by Tony d’Ambra

Love Me Tonight, is an enchanting romantic musical comedy, which has you enthralled from the opening scenes of a Paris suburb greeting a bright new day where the syncopated sounds of a waking humanity build to a musical overture that encapsulates not only the charm of the story to follow, but also the antagonisms of city and country, of modest circumstances and fabulous wealth, and of social barriers conquered by love, to the insouciant finale where the girl on horse-back chases the departing lover who is on a train steaming out of her life.  Maurice Chevalier is in his element as a debonair tailor from Paris who falls in love with Jeanette McDonald a charming young princess. The jubilant musical score by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart features such memorable songs as the amorous “Isn’t It Romantic?” and the saucy serenade “Mimi.” Spontaneous musicality with a rare grace and joi-de-vivre, transport the audience to a higher place of movement and abandon.  On the way we are distracted by the risqué antics of Myrna Loy as a randy cousine, and the  endearing farce of older men up-staged by gorgeous young femmes.

Film writer Mark Cousins chose the following words from Arthur Koestler to preface his book ‘The Story of Film’: “The measure of an artist’s originality, put in its simplest terms, is the extent to which his selective emphasis deviates from the conventional norm and establishes new standards of relevance. All great innovations which inaugurate a new era, movement or school, consist in sudden shifts of a previously neglected aspect of experience, some blacked out range of the existential spectrum. The decisive turning points in the history of every art form… uncover what has already been there; they are ‘revolutionary’, that is destructive and constructive, they compel us to revalue our values and impose new sets of rules on the eternal game.” [1] (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note: The following is an interview conducted over the summer at the Happy Dale Nursing Home in Des Moines, Iowa with 86 year-old Agnes Ferber, niece of celebrated writer Edna Ferber. Ms. Ferber is professor emeritus at Drake University, specializing in theatre and cinema studies.  Ms. Ferber, who retired in 1987, has spoken about her aunt’s work at a number of universities across the country, and has more than an affectionate regard for James Whale’s 1936 film version of ‘Show Boat,’ which is based on her most celebrated work.   The loquacious and fecund scholar magnanimously agreed to share her opinions on the film’s music, historical context and artistry for the musical countdown.

SJ:  Hello Ms. Ferber.  I want to thank you for agreeing to impart your vast wealth of information, experience and insight into your aunt’s most famous work and the famed stage and film versions that widened it’s cognizance worldwide.

AF: Young man -or I can call you that compared to where I have progressed to- the honor is mine.  I understand you are doing some kind of a musical countdown, and the 1936 version of Show Boat is expected to do quite well.

SJ: Thanks so much my friend.  Yes I do expect the film to do quite well with the seven-member panel.  I have placed it quite high on my own ballot, and consider the Kern-Hammerstein score one of the greatest in Broadway history.  I always thought James Whale was the only director to get it right. (more…)

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by Judy Geater

There’s a Western musical number in one of Fred Astaire’s least-known films, Let’s Dance (1950), where a TV set is seen on the wall, showing a cowboy film. Astaire eyes it disbelievingly for a second – then whips out a gun and shoots the screen. A slightly less drastic method of getting rid of the competition is used at the start of another Fifties film musical, Young at Heart (1954.) Here, an elderly Ethel Barrymore is sitting watching a boxing match on television, but the commentary is deliberately drowned out by her musician brother (Robert Keith), until she switches off – and the message is driven home by a wry comment that he “won the fight”.

In real life, however, the fight wasn’t so easy to win.The audience was falling away to television, and the writing was on the wall for big-budget Technicolor musical extravaganzas. When The Band Wagon was released in 1953, MGM’s Arthur Freed unit, which had made so many great films, was facing a struggle for funding, and Astaire’s contract with the studio was coming to an end. It’s hardly surprising that, despite its lavish musical sequences, including Astaire and Cyd Charisse’s romantic Dancing in the Dark, the film at times has a sad, wistful feeling about it compared to the high spirits of Singin’ In The Rain the previous year.

These two movies are often compared, as both are backstage stories featuring great songbooks of musical standards. (The songs for The Band Wagon are all by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, and some had featured in Astaire’s 1931 Broadway musical with the same title, though the story is completely different). Also, both The Band Wagon and Singin’ in the Rain had scripts written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, loaded with many satirical references . However, as David Parkinson points out in The Rough Guide to Film Musicals: “Whereas Gene Kelly’s confident classic was an optimistic paean to talking pictures, Fred Astaire’s underrated homage to the stage was shrouded in a pessimism that implied that the days of old-time show business were numbered.” (more…)

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