Nov / Dec 2013
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The Sound of Music Fiddler on the Roof Singing in the Rain Young Man With a Horn Phantom of the Opera Jane Eyre My Fair Lady West Side Story Carousel Once Meet Me in St. Louis Seven Brides For Seven Brothers The Band Wagon Wicked! Peter Pan
The Shadow Rayna‘s dreams are coming true... Kindle & Paperback Charity Bishop
Thornewicke What lurks in the Northern Woods? Kindle & Paperback Watching The Lord of the Rings With God: Kindle & Paperback I, Claudia: Kindle & Paperback
Nov 13: Hannah ● Nov 28: Camille Dec 30: Veronica
MUSICALS have a way of touching our souls, and becoming part of our identity in ways no other medium can. Music transcends mere dialogue and speaks directly to the heart. The musicals we grew up with influence our taste as adults. Many of us were raised on more musicdriven stories than we realize… after all, the Disney animated classics are all musicals! The musical went through a popular stage in the late forties and early fifties, then fell out of public interest for several decades… but once again has become popular. Broadway continues to turn out astounding musicals based on original ideas and literature. Wicked! tells the story of how the Wicked Witch became evil in The Wizard of Oz. Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and even Charles Dickens have all had musical Broadway adaptations of their work. There are sleazy musicals, romantic musicals, and musicals that don‘t fit anywhere except in the admiration of their audience. I grew up on many of the musicals included in this issue of Femnista, and discovered others as an adult. It‘s our hope that reading through this issue will bring back fond memories for you and maybe introduce you to one or two musicals that you haven‘t heard yet. Enjoy! XOXO, Charity
By Caroline Freeman
I didn’t watch many musicals growing up. My parents didn‘t enjoy anything where speech was replaced by song. We didn‘t go to plays, if the car radio started playing opera it was swiftly turned off and, to be honest, I inherited a hatred of singing when there ought to be talk. There was, however, one exception to the rule: The Sound of Music. The film depicting the story of the girl who wasn‘t a very good nun bringing love and laughter to a group of neglected siblings was a favorite for me. Maria was my idol and her beautiful voice could often be heard in the house as I sat enthralled by her whimsical songs. I dreamt of visiting the Austrian hills and towns I saw in the movie and wished for an entire wardrobe of dirndl inspired dresses. The story follows Maria, a young woman always late for chapel, as she becomes a governess to seven wealthy von Trapp children whose stern father has set very strict household rules. Based on a true story, Maria teaches the children to sing and shows their father how important it is to truly love and value them. The lovely, peaceful scenes soon become overshadowed by the threat of war with Germany and the family is eventually forced to flee Austria to seek safety. Through it all Maria proves to be an example of a beautiful and courageous person. Maria was a beloved heroine not only to me but also many of my friends. We could dance the ―Landler‖ and prided ourselves on being able to sing all of the songs. I can remember once finding out that a close friend had never had the pleasure of viewing The Sound of Music. This was seen as something of an outrage by my mother and was immediately dealt with. I was able to enjoy sharing it with my friend just a few days later. I can still see her sitting cross
legged on the floor of our play room, her eyes glued to the screen. Now my copy of the film has been passed down to my younger sisters and they love it just as much as I do. One day, after having watched both The Sound of Music and The Black Arrow in the same week, I found them playing at being chased by the Nazis and having to hide in the castle moat! It‘s such fun to watch them doing the same sorts of things I enjoyed when I was younger and hearing their sweet voices raised in the anthem of The Sound of Music. ♥
By Camille Gaffney
blissful, beautiful fantasy. I love their ability to allow us to dream about what might be or to enlarge the “epic-ness” of the current moment.
moments of comedic relief and outbursts of love of life. What I love about Fiddler is the genuineness of human emotions displayed throughout. Even as the music soars, a fine thread of authenticity is present to keep us grounded to the plight of the Jewish peasant in pre-World War I Russia.
They give us songs that provide escape from the trials of our world. Musicals of the Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang variety and most of the Rogers and Hammerstein productions are escape musicals, places of lovely frolicking and relaxation. Then there are the musicals that tread the line between fantasy and reality. They explore complex themes and ask hard questions, while striking a chord in the human soul through the music. Fiddler on the Roof is one such of these. It jumps between the harsh reality of a persecuted people, while alternating
Even the ―young maiden love song‖ of Fiddler has a twist differing from most musicals where a pretty young heroine sings a solo while dreaming of her blemish-free future (consider Jane Powell in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers serenading about her future while birds grace the trees and her groom looks on). In ―Matchmaker,‖ Hodel and Chava dream about prosperous, handsome husbands waiting to sweep them into matrimony… until the second verse when their older sister Tzeitel quickly brings them back to the dark possibility
Musicals are often fantasies…
that they could be locked into loveless marriages. Their family‘s economic status and the matchmaking process practically ensure that only old, worn men are available for matching. The irony of ―playing with matches a girl can get burned‖ is not lost on the audience. Often in Fiddler, you will find that everyone is singing, but the topics can venture into sober territory. For a moment, Tevye, the patriarch of our story, merrily stomps around the barn in ―If I Were a Rich Man.‖ We‘re entertained and ready to stomp around our kitchens; as the story unfolds, we recognize none of his aspirations will be achieved soon. His daydreams of servants, livestock, and a conspicuous seat in the synagogue, are just that—dreams. Shortly he‘ll have to leave his beloved home with only the belongings that can be carried or pulled by horse cart. While the film doesn‘t gloss over the harsh realities of life for our Jewish family, it also doesn‘t let too much negativity overpower it. Anti-Semitism spreads long shadows over the Russian village of Anatevka, yet Tevye and his family keep attempting to ―scratch out a pleasant, simple tune‖ of a life. At points, it appears the message of the film is to exhibit joy in spite of obstacles. In the celebratory song ―To Life,‖ the village men rejoice with Tevye over the recent engagement of his daughter. Between outbursts of ―be happy, be healthy, long life!‖ Tevye belts out ―God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor. How much more should we be joyful, when there‘s really something to be joyful for?‖ He repeats the Biblical command God gives us to rejoice in spite of our circumstances. The realism
and strength of the Jewish people is demonstrated in the village men‘s reply later in the song, ―and if our good fortune never comes, here‘s to whatever comes.‖ They will continue to press on in spite of their circumstances. Lest you think they speak in drunken clamoring, it should be noted that they make good on that promise. When forced to leave their village, their farewell song ―Anatevka‖ features remorse but also acceptance of a reoccurring theme. Fiddler on the Roof reminds us of the resiliency of the Jewish people, who constantly are requested to start afresh in new lands due to displacement. Fiddler also forces us to examine our definition of love. The ―free-love‖ culture of the 1960‘s and 70‘s (when the film premiered) is presented with a seemingly peculiar question: can two people grow to love each even if there is no initial attraction? Twenty-five years after his arranged marriage, Tevye asks his wife Golde, ―Do you love me?‖ After a few verses of contemplation, Godle replies, ―I suppose I do,‖ and it appears that even she is surprised by the revelation. We realize that not all love is driven by emotion; sometimes it is a choice to work beside another for a lifetime. Since Fiddler’s major plotline involves Tevye‘s daughters finding husbands through non-traditional methods, I‘d venture that the point of the film isn‘t that non-consensual arranged marriages are a formula for marital success. Rather, in our casual-dating culture, perhaps we should reexamine what lasting love truly entails. ♥
By Carissa Horton
In the midst of a rainstorm, a man kisses a woman on her doorstep, followed by the most iconic scene in musical history where Gene Kelly dances in the rain. It doesn‘t matter if the rest of the movie makes sense. It doesn‘t matter if any of the musical numbers actually fit the story. What matters is that moment of pure genius when Kelly waves his driver on, folds up his umbrella, and waltzes his way through an absolute deluge of raindrops. The 1950s was notorious for purposeless musicals. Songs were tossed helter-skelter into the mix with little care given as to their actual importance in advancing the plot. As a child, this never bothered me, but as an adult, I like a little logic in my musicals, just a little. The reason I keep watching Singin’ in the Rain is not because of Cyd Charisse‘s dance number with Kelly in the dream sequence (what were they thinking?). And it certainly isn‘t for the blasé ―You Were Meant For Me‖ piece with Kelly and Debbie Reynolds that was filmed solely to show off Kelly as a romantic lead. No, what I love are the moments when Singin’ in the Rain achieves its goal of being a brilliant masterpiece. Some of that brilliance simply stems from the casting choices. Donald O‘Connor and Jean Hagen are two shining stars of the show that nearly overshadow the actual leads. Anyone can love the hero and heroine, but those secondary goofballs are crucial to making a story work. Have you ever seen anyone run up a wall, for real, without any wires and strings or special affects? Donald O‘Connor did it three times in his
hilarious ―Make ‗Em Laugh‖ number that never fails to tickle my funny bone. And despite the stupidity of the ―Moses Supposes‖ number, it showcases O‘Connor‘s and Kelly‘s talent so completely that it is my top favorite number in the entire film. As for Jean Hagen, this is Lina Lamont we‘re talking about here. She is the anti-heroine of the story; the harsh, grating Hollywood starlet contending with the wide-eyed innocence of Debbie Reynolds‘ Kathy Selden. Don‘t get me wrong. I love Reynolds. She is a pure delight to watch, particularly her first encounter with Don Lockwood where she mistakes him for a criminal. But it is Jean Hagen who steals the show. When I think Singin’ in the Rain exactly two moments come to mind. One is, naturally,
the rain number. The second is Lina Lamont screeching ―I make more money than Calvin Coolidge… put together!‖ She is a conniving little backstabber who truly keeps one of the finest musicals of all time from being altogether bland and boring. Without Lina or O‘Connor‘s character Cosmo Brown, there would be no movie, at least, no movie to speak of. Overall, there is no important revelation to be culled from Singin’ in the Rain. Talkies have come on the scene of Hollywood and it‘s time for the film industry to change with the times, taking Don Lockwood, Cosmo Brown, and Kathy Selden along with it while leaving Lina Lamont in the dust. Actually, I think that‘s one reason why I like Lina best of all the characters. Sure, she‘s a bit of a spoiled brat, but the spoiled brats of the entertainment world make movies, well, fun. Isn‘t that their purpose? So, while she is a backstabber, I also grieve to think of her disgrace. After all while everyone else is singing ballads or dancing in bizarre dream sequences, she is making me laugh. She‘s someone normal, surrounded by people launching into song at the drop of a hat. Truly, Jean Hagen is the secret to Singin’ in the Rain’s success. Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds played themselves. I‘ve never seen Gene Kelly play anyone other than himself, and I‘m fine with that because I love him, but Jean Hagen is a brilliant actress who played a terrible one with a screechy voice that reminds me of nails on a chalkboard. She stepped outside herself and
became somebody else entirely. Maybe that‘s why Hagen was nominated for best supporting actress at the Oscars for Lina Lamont. She didn‘t win, but none of the other actors were nominated… just her. In some ways it feels like the writers threw a bit of everything at the script. Bits and pieces of songs and dialogue stuck to the canvas, and what didn‘t make sense, they decided to use anyway as a splash of extra color. Sure, I might wish that some of those musical numbers had been chopped to leave more room for the actual plot, but beggars can‘t be choosers. What I see is what I get, so I‘m left with the choice of either never watching Singin’ in the Rain or taking it along with all its extra weight. I‘m good with the latter choice, thank you very much. If I wasn‘t, then I would miss out on some of my favorite dance routines, quotable moments, and songs in all of musical history. While Singin’ in the Rain might not be perfect, its moments of sheer genius overpower the weirdness of a geeky Gene Kelly making like George Jetson on a moving walkway. Lucky for the writers, Kelly‘s rain sequence won my teenage heart so completely all those years ago that nothing will make me give up my absurd infatuation with a musical that, in the long run, really makes no sense at all. Ah well, love is blind. ♥
By Patti G.
I’m not a betting person, but if I was, I‘d wager that when the vast majority of people think about musicals, it‘s warm, fuzzy, feel-good romantic comedies which come to their mind. Rarely, does anyone expect a meaty, hard-hitting, incredibly-acted drama to fall within the musical genre. Yet, with 1950's Young Man with a Horn that is exactly what we get—a powerful drama, brilliant acting, and terrific music, all without one bit of fluff. Starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day, this Michael Curtiz-directed film is not only loaded with music, it has a riveting plot brought to life through sensational acting, especially that of Kirk Douglas. Featuring Hoagy Carmichael and Juano Hernandez in supporting
roles, Young Man with a Horn is easily a 4-star, ―like it a lot‖ film for me. Rather neglected by the older sister who has been raising him since his mother died, little Rick Martin (Orley Lindgren) finds what he's looking for in music. Fascinated by the piano in a local mission church, Rick teaches himself to play by ear. Before long, though, needing a more affordable instrument (and, unlike the piano, one he can carry with him), he transfers his interest to the trumpet; under the tutelage of blues musician, Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez), Rick quickly masters the beautiful brass piece. As the years go by and young Rick becomes a man (Douglas), his love for music becomes his all in all. He's a passionate, intense man, not
much interested in having friends or a social life… just in hitting a note that has never been hit before. Landing a job in a dance orchestra, he has a hard time adhering to the rigid rules of the bandleader, desiring instead to shake things up a bit with some jazzier tunes. The band's singer, Jo Jordan (Day), and piano man, Smoke Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael), are able to look past Rick's driven, hard-to-get-along-with personality to become good friends with him. When Rick's rebellious ways get him fired from the band, Jo helps him land another gig; however, Rick's passion for his music and his desire to do something that has never been done before continue to consume him. After getting involved with and marrying a troubled medical student (Bacall), Rick's life and career spiral downward, ultimately taking him to rock bottom. Only with the love and support of true friends, Jo and Smoke, will this tortured soul be able to pull himself up from the gutter and get his life in order. How it all plays out is the balance of the film. Young Man with a Horn is a completely riveting film and it provides an opportunity to hear the lovely voice of Doris Day perform four different numbers. Kirk Douglas's acting is absolutely sensational. Up until about a year ago, I would have said that I didn't much care for Mr. Douglas. Since that time, though, I've seen a few of his films (including two which were among my 5-star film discoveries of last year), and I have been completely blown away by the performance he
routinely gives. With my appreciation for Douglas having grown by leaps and bounds, I've recently begun including him on my favorite actor list. Here, he is so into the role that there are times the obsessive glint in his eyes is positively maniacal—completely intense and in definite keeping with his driven character. Although Mr. Douglas's trumpet sounds were provided by Harry James, his playing looked authentic to me. Appropriately hard and cold, Lauren Bacall plays her unlikable character to perfection. Miss Bacall was 26 years old here, which is nearly impossible to believe—she looks significantly older, like 35 or 40! Doris Day is her usual lovely self and is very solid in her role as well; having a chance to hear her sing is always a delight. And Juano Hernandez is wonderful! I loved his character, and I think Juano brought him to life beautifully. The music of the film is the icing on the cake— there is lots of it, and it is terrific, all made available in a separate soundtrack. Since it‘s now out on DVD, Young Man with a Horn should be easy to track down. Fans of Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, or jazz music ought to really enjoy this one. ♥
By A. G. Porter
Andrew Lloyd Webber has had one of most successful careers in musical theater history. Even those unfamiliar with musicals recognize his name when it‘s mentioned. During his career, he‘s won numerous awards for the musical productions he has created and written for, and many of them have stood the test of time, such as Cats and Evita. However, his most famous work is The Phantom of the Opera. He wrote the music and Charles Hart did the lyrics with additions from Richard Stilgoe. The original cast included Sarah Brightman as Christine and Michael Crawford as the Phantom. It surpassed Cats as the longest running musical on Broadway, and became the first Broadway musical to surpass 10,000 performances on February 11, 2012.
What is it about the musical genius with a dangerous obsession for the beautiful soprano that captures the imagination of millions? Is it the music, the lyrics, or the actors? The Phantom of the Opera is set in Paris, 1881. The Phantom, a disfigured musical genius, has taken refuge in the Opera Populaire since escaping from a traveling freak show. There he works on his music and begins teaching the young and orphaned Christine Daae, a beautiful and talented soprano. When Christine‘s childhood sweetheart, Raoul the Vicomte de Chagny, becomes the new patron to the Opera Populaire and reinserted into Christie‘s life, the Phantom stakes his claim on her, which leads to a disastrous outcome.
To understand the music and lyrics of the musical, it‘s important to dig deeper into the two main characters, The Phantom and Christine. The Phantom is a lost and lonely soul. Like with most geniuses, there is an underlying level of madness that he can‘t control. He‘s forced to stay hidden because of his disfigurement (in 1881, differences were not as well accepted in society). Christine is his creative outlet and only connection to the world he so desperately wants to be a part of. He‘s drawn to the world of light but prisoner to the ―music of the night.‖ His love for Christine is twisted when it‘s threatened by Raoul. He wants to claim and control her instead of love her. With lyrics like ―from the moment I first heard you sing, I needed you with me to serve me, to sing,‖ and ―Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation,‖ there isn‘t any doubt the Phantom is completely smitten by Christine. His love for her is actual love, but he allows his madness, pride and fear to take control and he ultimately losses her. Christine is in awe of the Phantom when she thinks he‘s the Angel of Music. There is a slight sense of fear but only because she doesn‘t want to disappoint him. We see this when the Phantom chastises her for letting Raoul nearly persuade her to go out to dinner instead of staying in and working on her craft. Her eyes are opened to who her ―Angel of Music‖ truly is through the terrible things he is capable of. She feels foolish and betrayed that she gave her mind and soul over so freely to a man as diabolic as him (―Angel of Music… you deceived me… I gave you my mind blindly‖). She loves the Phantom on a certain level and proves this when she‘s reluctant to help capture him. Plus, she‘s afraid of what he might do. His world is dark and dangerous; she doesn‘t want to go back to it, but she doesn‘t want to betray him either. Here are a few lines of song that express Christine‘s conflict over
her feelings of The Phantom: ―Can I betray the man who once inspired by voice? Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice? He kills without thought; he murders all that’s good. I know I can’t refuse, and yet, I wish I could. Oh God if I agree, what horrors wait for me in this, The Phantom’s Opera…. but his voice filled my spirit with a strange sweet sound. In the night there was music in my mind. And through the music my soul began to soar… and I heard as I’ve never heard before.‖ Yet she is in love with Raoul, willing to give her life for his. She knows he‘s a good man who has saved her from the darkness. Her compassion for the Phantom is what gives her solace when she decides, in order to spare Raoul‘s life, to stay with him (―Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you, you are not alone‖). What if Raoul had never come into Christine‘s life? Would she have been attracted to someone else with the same result? Perhaps the Phantom would have made himself known to her and their relationship could have developed in a healthy way. Is it possible that Christine would have had time to slowly bring the Phantom out of the darkness and into the light? ♥
By Charity Bishop
Have you ever despaired of ever seeing a ―perfect‖ adaptation to one of your favorite stories? Jane Eyre is one of those over-filmed classics. Every decade or so, a new screenwriter tackles the gothic romance full of insanity, devotion, and a choice between faith and desire. Yet, no adaptation has ever truly captured the nuances of the book, except for a little-known, short-lived (fortunately, available as an audio CD) Broadway musical. There, audiences can find the richness of Jane‘s character, her desire to ―wander,‖ and feel her raging indecision over pursuing the wishes of her heart and abiding by her moral integrity, set to music. Nearly every adaptation of this wonderful tale removes the faith at its forefront, either deliberately or in such a way that it is simply under-played. As a believer who enjoys that aspect of the book (it is, after all, Jane‘s only reason for leaving Rochester), I find that difficult to forgive. In the musical, faith is at the forefront of Jane‘s decisions. She cries out to God on many occasions, as does Rochester in the end, who finds redemption in the closing lyrics, as Jane says, ―we acknowledged with full hearts that God had tempered judgment with mercy.‖ One of the most memorable songs is ―Sirens‖ and its reprisal, where Rochester likens Jane to a siren, luring him to a watery death if he can‘t resist ―the darkness that invades my soul, it sucks my blood, it takes control.‖ Jane saves and condemns him for he knows in pursuing her, he‘ll be damned. While Rochester sings of Jane‘s hold over him, Jane sings a prayer for him: ―God, save him if he can be saved, free him if his soul is enslaved, clear the clouded refuge of his mind,
quell his anger, calm his storm, let his spirit be reborn, help him gather sight where he is blind!‖ In the reprisal, Jane considers running away with him and whether she can live with the shame of not sharing his name, while he tries to lure her back into his arms. The reprisal continues as a prayer, with Jane asking God, ―Lord, is this what you would have me do, break my sacred vows to you? Destroy the laws of heaven here on earth?‖ In the chorus, the lyrics reverse (―let me sail away, and make this vow, that what my heart wants, I will not allow...‖) and Jane flees her temptation, unlike Rochester.
Charlotte Brontë‘s themes of religion and true faith are explored in the lyrical style of different characters. Jane represents the true believer, devoted to faithfulness to her Lord above all. Helen represents another selfless kind of love, in her encouragement for Jane to have faith during their time at school. Eventually, Rochester cries out to God and admits ―the purifying flame has washed us clean… [in a] miracle of God.‖ It‘s only in the latter half of the story that the subtleties of Brontë‘s over-reaching theme are apparent. Many of the lyrics are direct quotes from the novel, so the foreshadowing of Rochester‘s blindness is startling. He and Jane reference his figurative blindness on many occasions, in an allusion to his later loss of literal sight. And when vocal references to blindness aren‘t present, it‘s still a constant undercurrent, such as in ―The Gypsy,‖ where Rochester masquerades as a fortune-teller to discern Jane‘s affections for him—and she can‘t see through his façade, just as she can‘t see past the larger deception that envelops Thornfield. Even though the story is a serious drama, it has moments of levity and amusement as well, such as the duets with Mrs. Fairfax, who objects to certain things only to be softened toward them with a little persuasion. Even though portions of dialogue are missing, all the most important plotlines are set to music, which means the fullness of the story is experienced, right down to Jane‘s unflattering comparison of herself to Blanche as she ―pain[s] a portrait.‖ It plays out as beautifully musically as the book does for an engrossed reader; the music transcends and enhances the emotion of the story in such a way that we truly feel the intense emotional despair in them both, particularly as Rochester rages to the heavens over Jane‘s departure.
Like many audio presentations, merely hearing the music allows us to create a rich visual world in our imagination, populated with images from the book rather than specific faces from various adaptations. Jane, for the first time, is a passionate, emotional character rather than stoic, a perfect match for Rochester‘s tendency to become ―lost in [his] pain.‖ Even though you may never see this musical (except as a high school production), you can still listen to it in all its original Broadway glory, and that is a blessing, considering it‘s the first and only adaptation that, for me, captures the true themes, passions, secrets, perils, foreshadowing, and emotional intensity of the book. ♥
By Gina Dalfonzo
My mom introduced me to the 1964 musical film My Fair Lady when I was eleven years old, via our old Beta player. The movie had always been one of her favorites, and she had a feeling that I would love it too. She was right. From the first time I saw it—the first of many, many times—I wanted to live in the world of that movie. I was entranced by everything: the music, the performances, the costumes, even the sets. (To this day, Professor Higgins‘s house full of overflowing bookshelves is my idea of the perfect house.) But most of all, I think, I was entranced by the words. Words—their power, their beauty, and their importance—are, after all, at the very heart of My Fair Lady. It‘s all about ―taking a human being and changing her into a different human being by creating a new speech for her,‖ as Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) says of his pupil, Cockney flower-seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn). And then, as Higgins discovers to his shock and chagrin, realizing that she really is a human being, not a mere automaton to practice his theories on. A human being capable of attracting a man who had thought he was above all that sort of romantic nonsense.
But I‘m getting ahead of myself. We‘re talking about words—big beautiful words that I loved before I could even understand them. Higgins‘s gift for words lends him an attractiveness that helps one overlook his arrogance and enjoy his character. (Harrison‘s undeniable charm doesn‘t hurt, either.) Even the uneducated Eliza, though she can‘t approach his facility with words, has a knack for turning a phrase.
I used to say the lyrics and the lines to myself in season and out of season, savoring the feel of them in my mouth. Take ―This verbal class distinction by now should be antique...‖ Or ―She‘ll have a booming, boisterous family, who will descend on you en masse/She‘ll have a large Wagnerian mother with a voice that shatters glass!‖ Or ―One day I‘ll be famous, I‘ll be proper and prim/Go to St. James‘ so often I will call it St. Jim.‖ Or ―How poignant it will be on that inevitable night/When she hammers on my door in tears and rags...‖ Or the rapid-fire dialogue of Higgins and Eliza‘s climactic argument in the conservatory. Much of this went right over my eleven-year-old head but it didn‘t matter. I loved every bit of it. I watched and re-watched it, and memorized it, and repeated it softly, over and over again. This movie helped give me a real love for words that has stayed with me my whole life. How did lyricist Alan Jay Lerner know he could get away with these sophisticated and intellectual lyrics, with all their internal rhymes and antiquated references, in a musical comedy? Of course, the fact that he was adapting a play by the great playwright George Bernard Shaw must have done quite a lot to push him in that direction. Still, it must have felt like running a great risk. Other lyricists had written sophisticated songs before, but no songs quite like these. Lerner clearly respected and honored Shaw in his work, although he deliberately went against Shaw in bringing Eliza and Higgins together in the end.
And thank God for that, because any fool can see those two belong together. The fiery Eliza would be utterly wasted on Freddy EynsfordHill (Jeremy Britt), her good-natured but drippy suitor. In the published My Fair Lady script, Lerner wrote: ―Shaw explains how Eliza ends not with Higgins but with Freddy and— Shaw and Heaven forgive me!—I am not certain he was right.‖ Lerner‘s instincts were spot on. Though we see them together at the end, ready to make up, it‘s difficult to imagine exactly how the woman -hating Higgins and the strongwilled Eliza would break down the final barriers between them and admit to their feelings for each other. But of course it must have happened somehow, after the words ―The End‖—there‘s no doubt in my mind about it. There never has been. I picture Higgins and Eliza, living contentiously yet happily ever after in that lovely house among all those splendid books, with their quarrels and their reconciliations enhanced and made transcendent by all those delightful words. After all, if there‘s one thing My Fair Lady taught me, it‘s that where there are lots of big, beautiful words, there must be happiness. ♥
By Rachel Sexton
When a story becomes a classic, the implication is that its quality has been established over time. Its popularity lasts over generations. Such a story then becomes the basis for variations as culture shifts. The universal and timeless aspects of the story are retained as it is presented in a new way relevant to the current time. Works don‘t get much more classic than the theatrical works of William Shakespeare, and his plays are among those stories that get recycled and adapted as the years go by. His Romeo and Juliet became the basis for a classic in another medium. West Side Story excellently transposes a Shakespearean tragedy into a modern musical masterpiece. As the premiere playwright of the Elizabethan era of the late 1500‘s through the early 1600‘s in
England, Shakespeare needs no introduction. Romeo and Juliet was one of his earliest tragedies and was written between 1591 and 1595. The play details the love between teenage Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, whose family feud lead to their deaths. Over the years the play has been staged countless times and numerous film versions have been made since that medium was invented. The most recent was released just this year. In 1957, choreographer Jerome Robbins collaborated with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim on a musical version of the play that would become a towering achievement of its own, titled West Side Story. In 1961, the musical production became a film starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as Maria and Tony, which would go on to win 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Obviously, the similarities between the two works are many. The central plot of two young people falling in love across opposing sides of a violent feud is the fundamental characteristic that signifies one is an adaptation of the other. Deaths of corresponding characters also appear in each work, and the thematic resolution of the deaths of one or more of the main characters healing the feud for good is the effective conclusion of each narrative. Also, corresponding characters share the same defining personality traits— Juliet‘s Nurse and Anita are both boisterous, for example. Finally, both the play and the musical do a remarkable job of presenting young love in a way that resonates with the audience. The differences are where West Side Story really gets interesting as an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. The most conspicuous change is the setting. The setting has been moved from Renaissance Verona to the streets of ‗50s Manhattan. Instead of two prominent families at odds, the fighting occurs between street gangs, one Anglican and one Puerto Rican, called the Jets and the Sharks. This change lessens the involvement of adult characters—where Romeo and Juliet had many adults, West Side Story only features the ineffectual Officer Krumpke and Tony‘s kindly boss Doc. Small but important changes are made to the plot as well. Tony and Maria don‘t legally marry like Romeo and Juliet, but they have a pretend ceremony that is just as serious to them. Tony comes to believe Maria is dead not due to a drug, like Romeo, but due to a lie Anita tells the
Jets after they treat her horribly. This heightens the feeling of the tragedy. The most significant difference, though, is that unlike Juliet, Maria does not kill herself at the end. Somehow, that feels like the right ending for this incarnation of the story. West Side Story being a musical is unique, and what music it is! The fact that Bernstein and Sondheim are the minds behind the score and songs should give you an idea of their quality. From the snappy opening of ―When You‘re a Jet‖ to the stunning ―Tonight‖ and finally the wrenching ―Somewhere,‖ there isn‘t a forgettable tune in the entire film. The songs have permeated popular culture in such a way that those who haven‘t even seen West Side Story will have probably heard something from this production. Gap even did a series of commercials featuring the songs once. West Side Story is a masterpiece in it‘s own right and as an adaptation of a classic work Shakespeare is a major example of a writer who crafted stories of such quality that over time, they became classics. This leads to many variations and adaptations as various cultures appropriate the story for their own time. Shakespeare has had this happen to his other works as well, such as the musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew called Kiss Me Kate. No doubt West Side Story isn‘t the only iteration of Romeo and Juliet the world will ever see, but it is one of the best. ♥
By Hannah Price
When I first saw the film Carousel (1956),I was surprised at the serious tone of the story and the dark plotlines running throughout it. I was expecting something along the lines of Oklahoma or even The Music Man, two other movie musicals starring Shirley Jones that I had seen and loved. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed at first. Now I can see Carousel with different eyes, eyes that can understand it much better after journeying through other melancholic movie musicals over the years. Carousel is a story set apart from the other happy-go-lucky musicals of the era. It deals with serious matters like marital strife, abuse, death, robbery, bullying, emotional scarring, social ostracizing, and if you look at some of the aspects in the original stage musical that were toned down in the movie, suicide and implied premarital sex. This certainly isn‘t light and fluffy material. The male protagonist and main character of the story isn‘t even a likeable guy. Billy Bigalow is a carnival barker, a man who doesn‘t really believe in love or marriage but manages to find both anyway with a girl who likes to hang around his carousel. Julie Jordon is a sweet girl who proclaims not to believe in love either, but falls for Billy despite his gruffness. The two marry soon after the story begins, but their relationship is filled with turmoil right from the beginning. Billy‘s boss, a tough business woman named Mrs. Mullin who owns the carousel (and who secretly fancies Billy), fires him when she finds he has married. Billy isn‘t skilled in much else and cannot find a job afterwards. He and Julie end up living off of her Cousin Nettie‘s generosity. Frustration and
irritation fester inside Billy until life is miserable enough for him to consider leaving Julie to return to the carousel upon Mrs. Mullin‘s manipulation. However, Julie‘s revelation that she is pregnant unexpectedly sparks new life and motivation into Billy. He turns down Mrs. Mullin‘s offer and takes up a monetarily promising and dangerous one from criminal lowlife Jigger Craigin. A robbery gone wrong results in Billy‘s untimely death, and he spends the next fifteen years polishing stars outside Heaven‘s gates. He retains his unapologetic and brusque attitude throughout
and refuses his right to return to earth for one day. That is, until he learns that the daughter he never met is in trouble because of his ―wife beater and thief‖ legacy. Billy returns to earth to set things right and give his daughter and widow the courage they need to carry on. Billy isn‘t a likeable hero throughout most of the film, for his gruff and rather harsh exterior hides his true feelings. He truly does love Julie, fully embraces the idea of being a father, has grave misgivings about committing a robbery, and is willing to set things right in the end (even though it takes him 15 years to work up the nerve). But those good qualities can‘t quite outweigh the bad persona he exudes. The main area that should cause the audience to dislike him is the fact that he a ―wife beater.‖ Much ado is made about the fact that Billy has hit Julie during an argument (a fact blown out of proportion by local gossips). Julie chooses to forgive her husband, but moves forward with understandable timidity and fear. The story doesn‘t glorify spousal abuse, nor does it skim over it lightly, showing the far-reaching and generation bridging consequences. Billy‘s lack of obvious repentance makes it hard to swallow the attempt at reconciliation he makes upon his return to earth. The biggest tragedy in the film is foreshadowed in its best-known song, ―If I Loved You,‖ a duet sung by Billy and Julie. In it they sing, ―If I loved you, words wouldn‘t come in an easy way… wanting to tell you but afraid and shy, I‘d let my golden chances pass me by,‖ referring to the fact that neither has the courage to verbally express their feelings in their time together. Julie manages to choke out her emotions over Billy‘s dead body and Billy reveals his love only when he is an invisible ghost. In the midst of this tragedy comes the lesson that we all need to express love, not hold it in. There will always come a point when it will be too late, sometimes long before we expect it. In the case of Billy and Julie, they loved one another but let their
―golden chances‖ of telling one another pass by. Perhaps they intended to let one another know one day, but Billy‘s death kept all future chances from happening. In the end, Billy does get a last chance to set things right on earth before passing through the pearly gates into eternity. He gets to see the daughter he never knew and miraculously gives her the courage she needs to face her fears and move forward with her life. Billy also sees his widow one last time. Even though they never speak and Billy doesn‘t let Julie see him, he is still able to impact her in the same miraculous way that he helps their daughter. Not exactly theologically sound, but still a hopeful end to an otherwise depressing story. Thankfully, there are moral lessons to be learned by both the audience and the characters despite the mistakes the characters make, and just enough of hope‘s light to keep the darkness at bay. ♥
By Laura F.
Once, an Irish musical released in 2006, tells a delicate story of what happens when some of life‘s possibilities are left unexplored. No one can do everything, and everyone must make choices that shape their lives. As in many musicals, Once‘s protagonists fall in love—but, ultimately, not with each other. They complement each other very well in personality and talent, but rather than indulging their developing attraction, they find that they work best as friends who use their common love of music to help each other find the love they thought they‘d lost. The story spans just over a week in the lives of two musicians—an unnamed Guy and Girl—whose interaction begins and ends abruptly but gives them both the push they need to find fulfillment in their lives. Because music is such an integral part of their characters, it‘s one of the first things Guy and Girl share when they‘re getting to know each other. They begin collaborating immediately and the first song they perform together contains a line that defines their relationship: ―Games that never amount to more than they‘re meant will play themselves out.‖ Even though they‘re not meant to be together romantically—or even as friends—forever, they help each other through a crucial period in their lives before going their separate ways. When they meet, Guy works in his father‘s Hoover repair shop, playing his guitar and singing on the streets in his spare time, pining over his lost love and not making any real progress toward
becoming the musician he wants to be. Girl, a pianist and songwriter, is a recent immigrant to Ireland and spends her time working odd jobs to support her mother and daughter, who live with her. She has befriended the owner of a music shop who lets her play the pianos during the shop‘s lunch closure, but she has no aspirations for fame with her music. By the end of the musical, Guy has gone from fixing Girl‘s Hoover to fixing her marriage and the Girl has helped him go from singing on the streets to pursuing a serious career in music. While Once differs from traditional musicals in that the songs are sung by musicians in realistic contexts, the songs are no less useful in telling
Guy and Girl‘s stories. Guy‘s songs speak of love and longing (sometimes humorously, such as in the impromptu ―BrokenHearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,‖ sung for Girl on a public bus when she asks about his ex-girlfriend) and Girl‘s songs speak of dissatisfaction with her current life and the hope for something better. As they play music together, Guy and Girl learn about each other‘s histories—Guy‘s ex-girlfriend cheated on him and so they ended the relationship; Girl married her daughter‘s father when she found out she was pregnant, but has since separated from him, leaving him behind in the Czech Republic when their differences seemed irreconcilable. Guy still loves his ex-girlfriend and Girl doesn‘t want her daughter to grow up without a father. Following this revelatory period, Guy and Girl work together to create a demo album for Guy to use when he moves to London to pursue his music career. During this time, the plot plays with the greatest possibility for Guy and Girl to become involved romantically—Guy propositions Girl multiple times, they‘re working together on a subject they‘re passionate about, and they‘re learning about each other in a close and intense fashion. Each time the subject arises, though, Girl refuses with some version of the line, ―I have responsibilities.‖ Throughout, Girl honors her responsibilities to her daughter and to her marriage but it is her interactions with Guy that make that responsibility something more than drudgery. His support for her music (where her husband has been unsupportive in the past) gives her the courage to accept the artistic side of her life and attempt to have it coexist with her practical side. By the time she invites her husband to come live with her in
Ireland, she accepts herself more than she ever has before. Guy, on the other hand, has no questions about who he is—he‘s a musician, albeit one who can‘t seem to get past working in his dad‘s Hoover shop. Girl challenges his heartsick lethargy and joins forces with him to help him make his demo. Once she moves him past his inaction, he‘s able to take charge of his own life and move to London with his father‘s blessing, where he intends to pursue his music career and to reconcile with the ex-girlfriend he still loves. In a way that is very true to life, Once captures the idiosyncratic tendency of relationships. Guy and Girl meet by chance—she hears him singing in the street and stops to listen. They work toward a common goal, but once they achieve that goal, their lives take separate paths. The story repeatedly underscores their compatibility and how much they could enjoy life together; however, their hearts lie elsewhere in the end. Because of her time spent with Guy, Girl gets a second chance at a relationship with her husband, her daughter gets a father, and she is able to make music an everyday part of her life because Guy buys her a piano before he leaves for London. Guy, also, gets a second chance at his relationship with his exgirlfriend as well as the chance to become a professional musician. The script chose not to make Guy and Girl‘s relationship ―more than [it‘s] meant,‖ so it ―played itself out‖ with a peaceful resolution for all parties involved. The story leaves a lingering sense of longing precisely because of its unexplored possibilities, but seeing Guy and Girl go their separate ways is refreshing, too. They were perfect for each other, but they were perfect as friends. ♥
By Veronica Leigh
It is 1944 and America is in the thick of WWII. Faced with tragedies and trials on the home front, people flock to the movie theaters for a momentary reprieve. Two hours of pleasure rejuvenates the soul. When MGM and its new director Vincente Minnelli conceived the idea of Meet Me in St. Louis, not only did they wish to tell a coming of age story, they wanted to take their viewers back to a simpler time. An idyllic era before both world wars, when family and friends were at the forefront of a person‘s life, in the midst of the St. Louis Fair of 1904. It was based on a series of vignettes by Sally Benson, inspired by Bensen‘s childhood of how
her family left their beautiful life in St. Louis and moved to New York City. As a visionary, Minnelli imagined that movie should be separated into the four seasons, marking off each one with a painting that would come to life. The reds would be redder, the blues bluer… it wouldn‘t be life as it is, but as how the audience perceives it to be. To make the set and production authentic, Minnelli hunted for each and every prop, from all pieces of furniture down to the doorknobs, to ensure that everything would be period correct. The movie deviates from the book by shifting the point of view from the youngest Smith child, Tootie, to the middle daughter, Esther. While the closeness between the two sisters is evident, the movie became the perfect vehicle for Judy
Garland. She, however, had other plans. MGM had permitted her to take more grown up roles so she loathed the idea of portraying another boy-crazy girl. As time passed, the wholesomeness of the Smith family won her over and Esther became one of her favorite roles. Famous for her belting voice, the story of the Smith‘s was transformed into a musical and the scenes were linked together by musical and dance numbers. Not only did it further her career, despite their rocky start, a romance also soon bloomed between Garland and Minnelli and they married a year later. As the film opens, many of the cast members sing ―Meet Me in St. Louis,‖ a popular ditty written in 1904 to celebrate the fair. Esther notices that a young man, John Truett, has moved next door. While watching him from the window she croons about ―The Boy Next Door‖ and invites him to a party she and her sister Rose are hosting. Through various schemes, Esther manages to be alone with John after the party. Despite a few awkward moments, they turn out the lights together, silhouetting the attraction between them. The following day on a trolley ride, as if inspired by the jolly little trolley, she sings about her love for him in ―The Trolley Song.‖All of her hopes are dashed when her father announces that he is moving the family from their beloved St. Louis to the large and noisy New York City. To make matters worse, John nearly misses the Christmas Eve ball when he is without a tuxedo. After much persuasion, he convinces the tailor to open up shop late at night and is able to arrive in time to dance with Esther. Esther comes home happy and finds her little sister Tootie by the bedroom window, looking out at the snowmen she made earlier. Sensing her sister‘s sadness about the upcoming move, Esther sings ―Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,‖ which became one of Judy Garland‘s standards and a Christmas classic. There‘s a funny story behind the
creation of that song. Hugh Martin originally wrote the verse as, ―Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past.‖ The lyrics were so depressing that Garland demanded it be rewritten. She said she‘d feel like a monster singing that to little Margaret O‘Brien (the actress who portrayed Tootie). Hugh Martin put up a bit of a fuss until co-star Tom Drake (the actor who portrayed John Truett) convinced him to do it. When the song comes to a close, Tootie runs outside and hysterically destroys her family of snowmen. Though Esther comforts her, and tries to persuade her that they can be happy in New York City, their father overhears the commotion and is left with a perplexing decision. The move to New York might bring the family wealth, but it won‘t necessarily bring them happiness. The viewer comes away from the movie/musical truly believing that home is where the heart is. ♥
By Ella Gardner
I have to be in the mood for musicals. The singing, dancing, and sheer utter happiness is either a recipe for warm and fuzzy feelings, or will trigger my gag reflex. After all, no one really breaks out into song as easily as they do in the movies. I have yet to see anyone launch into a tune while out in the rain. Oh wait a minute. I‘ve done that. Never mind. However, no matter what mood I‘m in, I always enjoy viewing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It isn‘t known as one of the more serious musicals. It has all the unbelievable moments, and even ridiculous and predictable dialogue you expect… yet no matter how long I go without seeing it, I can still quote it. It‘s just one of those movies that one remembers.
How could anyone forget the tale of Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), the heavily bearded backwoodsman who comes into town looking for a wife? Once his eye falls on Millie (Jane Powell), a sweet girl who dreams of her own home and family, you just know he‘s going to take her home. You also know that Millie will be all for the idea. What Millie and the audience don‘t know is that in addition to Adam, there‘s Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, and Gideon at home. Poor Millie! What she gets herself into isn‘t something I‘d wish on my worst enemy. Who wants to go to a place with seven disrespectful bachelors who are only interested in a woman‘s cooking abilities?! Millie doesn‘t care for this arrangement and decides to marry the brothers off. She teaches them manners and gets them gussied up, so that
they can meet six girls and fall in love with them at a barn raising. They become lovesick and Adam convinces the brothers to go down into town, grab the girls, bring them back and make them their wives. What ensues involves avalanches, singing in undergarments, and shotgun weddings. Yes, I know. As I describe the plot, it doesn‘t make any sense from a rational standpoint. Why doesn‘t anyone put up a fuss when Millie marries Adam? Why doesn‘t Millie ask questions about his family first? Do people really sing songs called ―Going Courting‖? Since when do barn dances become a test for who can jump the highest and longest? And that scene where Caleb is swinging an ax like no one‘s business… didn‘t anyone teach him the basic safety rules involving sharp objects? Perhaps this is why the powers of MGM weren‘t completely on board when the film came out. The studio was known for the abundance of musicals they released each year. In 1954, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was the only one scheduled. One of the other standouts was Brigadoon, a fantasy musical starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. All of the stars involved were considered box office draws and the movie going public loved Kelly. Sure, they loved Jane Powell and Howard Keel as well, but Gene Kelly had the ―it factor.‖ So as Jane Powell documented in her autobiography, The Girl Next Door, MGM slashed the budget for Seven Brides and transferred the money to Brigadoon. But Seven Brides for Seven Brothers got the Best Picture nomination—not Brigadoon. It is also #23 on the American Film Institute‘s Best Musical
List, while Brigadoon is nowhere to be found. And it did well at the box office, unlike its higher-priced fantasy-musical sibling. This only proves there‘s magic in this film. The different era manages to enthrall. The catchy songs (try to deny it all you will; once you‘ve seen it, you‘ll remember at least one of the tunes) warm your heart. And the ending makes you smile no matter how hard your heart is. I grew up with this film. My family can launch into singing ―Bless Her Beautiful Hide‖ at the oddest times. I can close my eyes and picture the ending without any problem. It makes me smile just thinking of it. I‘ve been known to sing the songs at the top of my lungs while jumping on a trampoline or listening to the Pandora station at work. And that is when I realize something: that is what a musical is supposed to do. Musicals are supposed to be predictable, hokey and unrealistic. Singing about being a June bride in your undergarments doesn‘t belong in most movies—except in a musical. Musicals give the characters license to express their emotions through song and dance; in the real world, we can‘t. Musicals give us a chance to escape and if we don‘t, well, there‘s something wrong with our viewing. I continue to get older but I keep returning to this film. One day, I‘ll pass my enjoyment onto my kids. Clean, wholesome viewing is something to be enjoyed, savored, and passed on. I‘ll just have to remind them that when they‘re around axes, they don‘t swing them around like a baseball bat! ♥
By Ruth Anderson
Musicals have always been a part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in front of the television, entranced by the color and spectacle of a song-and-dance extravaganza. As I grew older, I came to love the stage-born genesis of the musical movies whose color, romance, and joie de vivre were knit within the very fabric of my being from childhood, when I stood in awe of Gene Kelly‘s exuberant dance in the rain or Fred Astaire‘s effortless elegance. I have a special affinity for ―backstage‖ musicals, Hollywood‘s attempt to peek behind the curtain and reconcile the long-standing tradition of live entertainment with the ever-evolving film medium. The go-to musical in that case is Singin’ In the Rain but there‘s another backstage musical just as dear to my heart (if not more so): The Band Wagon. It‘s arguably one of the sharpest analyses of the musical form in its attempt to bridge and thereby cancel out the disconnect between live and recorded musical performances. Although only a modest box-office success when initially released, it has since emerged as a recognized classic of the genre, a sharp, witty analysis of the genesis of a Broadway musical as well as a tribute to and a deconstruction of the Hollywood musical format and formula. The Band Wagon is a brilliant synthesis of script, song, and stars, but the film wouldn‘t work nearly as well without a star of Fred Astaire‘s caliber and history in the lead role. Astaire is quite literally the embodiment of the musical and its stage-to-film evolution, having begun his career on the famed vaudeville Orpheum Circuit opposite his sister Adele, to stages of Broadway and London, and culminating in a twenty-plus year Hollywood
career, among which The Band Wagon is a shining testament to his longevity and relevance. The film opens with a shocking image: the top hat, gloves, and cane that defined Tony Hunter‘s career (and his portrayer Astaire‘s) are up for auction and no one wants to purchase them. After two decades in Hollywood, Hunter‘s career has ground to a halt – a fact driven home by his reception in New York being hijacked by the arrival of Ava Gardner on the same train. But plans are in the offing to revive Tony‘s career, courtesy of writer friends Lily and Lester Martin (played by the effervescent Nanette Fabray and the delightfully prickly Oscar Levant). The Martins want Tony to star in their new musical, but Tony has a bad case of stage fright,
having been disconnected from live audiences during his sojourn. The Martins pin their hopes for funding on Tony‘s star power and the directorial talents of Jeffrey Cordova, a theatrical ―genius‖ currently starring in a much-lauded revival of Oedipus Rex. Tony reluctantly agrees, and is quickly thrust into a comedic musical disaster in the making, as Cordova‘s concept of ―high art‖ clashes with Hunter‘s persona and the Martins‘ script, turning their frothy musical into a heavyhanded reworking of Faust. It isn‘t until Cordova‘s high art version turns out to be a spectacular flop that Tony takes the lead in reclaiming and reinventing the show and his career into the type of show that plays to his strengths and the Martins‘ original vision – a frothy, entertaining love letter to popular music and the classic song-and-dance man. One of the most fascinating aspects of this film is how liberally it quotes from its Astaire‘s prefilm career. Many of the Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz-penned songs were originally from the 1931 stage musical (and Astaire vehicle) also titled The Band Wagon and found new life in Comden and Green‘s script. ―Dancing in the Dark‖ becomes the method via which Tony and his classically trained, would-be leading lady Gaby (Cyd Charisse) reconcile their disparate views on art and reach a gorgeously-rendered accord via dance, no words required. The folksy ―I Love Louisa‖ signals Tony‘s acceptance of his role in musical entertainment and his successful attempt to reconcile with the current company and his past success. And finally ―New Sun In the Sky‖ signals Gaby‘s artistic rebirth from classically trained ballerina to star of the popular musical stage.
While The Band Wagon spends much of its runtime extolling the virtues of popular entertainment versus ―high art‖ (i.e., Oedipus Rex and classical dance), the film‘s goal is a marriage of the two and a celebration of art‘s ability to connect with its audience, no matter the medium. This synthesis is gloriously celebrated in the final act, ―The Girl Hunt Ballet,‖ a jazz ballet. Where An American in Paris culminated in an epic, sixteen-minute classical ballet, The Band Wagon marries dance with hardboiled detectives and dangerous femme fatales. There is something distinctly American in this sequence‘s blend of classical dance with the tropes of a noir crime thriller, and is the perfect capstone to a film that so brilliantly deconstructs the making of a musical via both the stage and screen mediums while celebrating decades‘ worth of the industry‘s storied history. The song ―That‘s Entertainment‖ was written for this film and serves as an apotheosis of not only The Band Wagon, but musicals in general. This film succeeds in paying tribute to film musical‘s vaudevillian roots while raising the format to new heights of sophistication and innovation. If all entertainment is cyclical in nature, as Jane Feuer argues in The Hollywood Musical, The Band Wagon is a glowing example of the genre‘s ability to not only quote from its past, but remake itself, celebrating its history while looking to the future and in the process, becoming a classic for the ages. ♥
By Lindy Abbott
Many wholesome, God-fearing folks didn‘t need to look deeper. The title of the wildly popular musical ensured that those who could never associate with anyone wicked (much less dare to imagine they could be wicked) wouldn‘t give this worthy musical a second glance. Thankfully, I‘m over my do-not-open-the-cover, fearful days of classifying things quickly as good and evil. Wicked: The Untold Stories of the Witches of Oz was warmheartedly wonderful; I‘m so grateful I took my young teen daughter to share this experience of musical art with me. The musical is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a parallel novel to L.
Frank Baum‘s classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Wicked debuted in 2003 and by the end of 2012 it had played for 4,123 performances. When this musical production toured for two years from January 2011 to the last week of 2012, my daughter and I caught its appearance in Nashville, TN. I must confess that about a decade ago while homeschooling I began to read Baum‘s classic to my three little children. I was into the story a page or two when my middle child asked, ―Why are we reading a story about a witch?‖A little taken back by my prophet-minded son, I stopped to ask myself the same question (―Why am I reading a story about a witch to my young, innocent children?‖). Without a good reason to explain why, I closed the book and moved on to the next book.
My children and I both now firmly understand that fiction is fiction—make-believe, magical, creative and not the ―gospel‖ reality of the mirror image of how we should live. So much can be learned from fiction! And deep enjoyment can be found in allowing yourself to be enveloped with all your senses in a world unlike your own. Anyone who attended Wicked was given joy with such an fantastical experience. Wicked tells the story of two witches who are parallel opposites in personalities and viewpoints: Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (the Good Witch of the North) face the rivalry of the same loveinterest, the corrupt Wizard government and, in the end, Elphaba‘s fall from grace. Wicked was written with the intention of making the reader really think about what it is to be ―wicked.‖ This is ironic since so many who think they clearly know what wicked is and isn‘t won‘t dare to venture into the story! ―Are good intentions with bad results the same as bad intentions with bad results?‖ is the overriding question. Wicked opens with the story of Elphaba‘s illegitimate birth conceived by the governor‘s wife with a mysterious man fond of a green elixir. The baby is born with green skin and thus shunned by everyone. Many years later, the serious and deep Elphaba becomes roommates with Glinda, a popular, shallow beauty, at college. Through their friendship, we learn to see goodness in Elphapa, in spite of others‘ belief that she is only ―evil.‖ Much happens in this playful story before the end (political upheaval, the back story of the Lion, the
Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, and the reveal of Elphaba‘s father‘s identity). Both witches must choose the path their life will ultimately take. Is this not what we all must do in life? Regardless of how our story began or what truths we discover along the way, we choose the path our life will take. Our circumstances can change us, but we‘re still the ones who set our own course in life. The strength of the story is in the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda, who choose different paths but both calmly accept and understand the other‘s choice and wish the best for each other. The last time they embrace, they recognize that they‘re two women who have both made mistakes in life and forgive each other for all grievances. They acknowledge that they are who they are because they‘ve known each other. Of course, all the drama ties so nicely together in a fictional fairytale. Life (the reality in which we live) isn‘t so neatly resolved. We don‘t have warm-embraced happily-ever-after endings to our complicated stories. And still, we can experience the art of a well written, scored and preformed musical with another person and together make a new memory. For me, sharing an exceptionally good musical with my daughter is the reason Wicked will always be warmly remembered in my heart. ♥
By Caitlin Horton
“As soon as Mr. and Mrs. Darling were out of the house, the smallest of the stars in the Milky Way screamed out: Now Peter!‖ —Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan When Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie set pen to paper in 1902 and wrote The Little White Bird, he probably didn‘t imagine the small character of Peter Pan who had only a few pages of story would become so beloved across the world. Of course, many know because of the film Finding Neverland that Barrie's first stage play of Peter Pan arrived in 1904, with an expanded and adapted novel following in 1911. The stage version would yield to the cinema, with a silent picture appearing in 1924, Walt Disney's animated movie in 1953, Hook in 1991, an animated sequel to Disney's film in 2002, and finally, a live action movie in 2003. If you looked up this list, you‘d find men or boys playing Peter's voice or the actual role, which is now the norm in every sense. The exception to the rule is the first film. The silent picture's Peter was played by a woman, as was the first and many following Peter's on stage! But that's not all… you see, while plays can sweep an audience into an unknown and amazing world, musicals can add vibrant voice to the storytelling. So what better medium is there for the epic tale of an immortal boy who fights pirates and flies than as a musical? The conversion crackled with life! Mary Martin successfully sang the role in 1954, a version my mother fondly remembered watching on TV as a child.
on the children, converses with Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys, and dances with the Indians is like seeing the book come to life in front of you. Perhaps it is more than the book, it is what J. M. Barrie dreamed of when he put it down as a play and fiddled with it over many years, taking and adding elements willingly. It is not a story set in stone, therefore music and singing is the perfect addition, and the entire cast does a superb job. A particular favorite is Smee, who is at least a head shorter than Hook and does a charming tarantella while plotting to poison the Lost Boys.
Then… I found it. The smash hit Broadway Peter Pan story/musical/movie to end all versions, according to me, that is. Nothing can supplant the vibrancy, the energy of Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan. The way she swoops and soars, flicks fairy dust
It‘s also one of the highest quality musicals I‘ve ever seen, either live or filmed, on par with ALW‘s The Phantom of the Opera by way of sumptuous sets and props. The costumes make the characters, rather like icing on a cake, and
one can‘t help but be awed by Captain Hook‘s impressive red bejeweled coat and matching feathered hat or Peter‘s oak leaf ensemble that glitters with gem dewdrops. But above and beyond, what makes the whole musical work is the cast‘s efforts to be the characters. Every person is memorable, down to the mermaids who have a brief scene, and they can all out-sing most pop stars of today. It‘s as if someone opened the book Peter Pan and Wendy over a stage, shook it and this filmed stage musical fell out. It is exactly everything one wants from Neverland and Peter: a swashbuckling good time with a positive ending. Perhaps even more positive is what J. M. Barrie did with his legacy. He left the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormand Street Hospital, a children‘s hospital in England. This hospital could collect the royalties from the play and derivative works and use the undisclosed income to further their good works. By now, the copyright, at least in America, has expired. Peter Pan is public domain and continues to be a well loved story time and again. But while it was fully held by the Hospital, it did a world of good for children just like Wendy, John, Michael, the Lost Boys, and even Peter. Even without someone owning it, Peter Pan continues to bring life to the world, as a story where grown-ups can revert to being children again for just a few hours and children can envision a place where anything is possible. After all these years I don‘t know where I fall in that category, because I still remember that part of me that jumped off a dresser and tried to fly at age six (don‘t worry, I landed on the bed). I remember clapping my hands for Tinkerbell to live and repeating ―I do believe in fairies!‖ I remember wishing that Peter Pan would come to my bedroom window and take me to Neverland to be his mother. And I remember it all as clearly as if it happened yesterday instead of seventeen years ago. Sometimes, you never do grow up, and all for the better, too.
Peter Pan may never join the ranks of the most artistic musical, the most cleverly written novel, or the most exciting play, mostly because there‘s always at least one grouchy adult critic who will never like it, but that doesn‘t matter. What matters is that musical or live action film, stage or TV version, Peter Pan is a story that will outlast the rest of the ―here‖ and the ―now‖ stuff because of one singular fact: it‘s the magical story that urges every person to find their inner Peter and remember the fun of childhood. And what better way to do that, I say, than to pull up a comfy chair, make some popcorn, and pop Cathy Rigby‘s fabulous musical into the DVD player. You won‘t regret it, I promise. ♥
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