Danny Kaye is reliably irritating in UP IN ARMS, a musical worth one great number. In this case, “Tess’s Torch Song” with Dinah Shore
Posts tagged ‘musicals’
A couple of worthwhile scenes from the 1946 Cole Porter biopic NIGHT AND DAY with Cary Grant.
First, an amazing tap number featuring a specialty named Estelle Sloan. If anybody knows, I’d like to find out if the spinning move is called something other than spinning-around-real-fast:
Then there’s Mary Martin doing her signature song “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” I think this was what was called “risqué:
Once you’ve seen these, you can probably skip NIGHT AND DAY.
Trivia: Mary Martin was the mother of recently passed actor Larry Hagman, I Dream of Genie and J.R. Ewing
Cant believe the synchronicity is this number. Fred Astaire w/Vera Ellen in Three Little Words. 1950 movie with vaudeville era dancing
Warner Bros musicals didnt have the celebrity names like MGM, but this is a great number from “The Time The Place And The Girl”, 1946. Very catchy
I think Gene Nelson was WBs version of MGMs Gene Kelly: dance, voice, looks, atheleticism, not to mentions Genes. This isnt the best production number, but it’s one of a kind
I also write with a soundtrack. My novel, Merrily He Rolls Along, theatrical musical comedy with fiction. In my iTunes I’ve even created a special playlist for each chapter. Sometimes I imagine the voice I want to convey through whatever lyrics. But mostly, as this blogger writes, it about how the music makes me feel as I write.
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by YA author Laura Pauling @laurapauling
To quote Randy Jackson from American Idol: ‘The transference of emotion is what the audience wants.’
Readers more than anything want to feel what we’re feeling when we put our hearts into a story. Whether it’s heartbreak, humour, revenge, sorrow…etc. And sometimes listening to the right kind of music, a certain song that pushes my heart to its limit, can transfer over to my writing.
Stories at your fingertips
So when I was writing A Spy Like Me, I…
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(cinema) Paradise Lost 3, Purgatory (d. Joel Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011) It’s been 16 years and two sequels since I saw the first Paradise Lost documentary at the Film Forum in New York City. I’m glad the wrongfully accused are set free but I still feel the truth rots a in dark, incarcerated place. I remember that the first documentary, a compelling story of wrong compounded by wrong, was also a frustratingly unthorough piece of journalism. The synopsis is that in 1993 three eight year old boys were murdered and thrown in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teenage boys, to be nicknamed the West Memphis 3, were convicted of the murders under highly questionable investigatory and judicial procedures. The first film fell well short for me in providing a sufficient account of the prosecution’s so called case. A year after seeing the first PL the friend I went to see it with called me up and said, “I heard those documentary guys made it all up to make the teenagers look good. When you hear the whole story they are totally guilty.” Really? What’s your source? None, really. Is there a whole story? I have always been convinced that the teenagers were railroaded. But after years of sequels, cult-like public outrage, websites, Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp I still have no idea what happened back in 1993. If the WM3 were not murdering cub scouts that night in 1993, where were they? None of these films have ever discussed an alibi. If a documentary is presenting itself as the balanced account of its subject matter and one side of the argument is being left out, there must be a reason. I can’t speculate the reason because facts in this case have always been overshadowed by emotions, self-righteousness on behalf of the WM3 supporters, stubborn obfuscation by law enforcement, and repeated attempts by the filmmakers to offer alternative accusations that frankly are as shoddy and irresponsible as the lousy case against the teenagers. There is another feature documentary ,West Of Memphis, in circulation as well as many tv magazine pieces which may provide more information. I’d like to know if there is more to know about what happened the night those young boys were murdered, and I’d like to know more about what the police actually had on the WM3. In Purgatory the defense has gone to all the trouble of pulling together world renown criminal profilers and DNA experts. Yet the new documentary doesn’t reveal one thing we didn’t already know. These films succeeded in calling attention to injustice perpetrated on the accused and the fact that the real killer will never be brought to justice. The Arkansas court system created an outcome in which the case will never be reopened. The whole story is fascinating and sad, but these movies aren’t very good either. ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Grey(d. Joe Carnahan, 2012) An airplane transporting ruffian oil workers
crashes in barren Alaska. The men must try to survive arctic conditions, interpersonal conflicts, and attacks by an aggressive pack of wolves. The wolves are of course metaphor for the organizational behavior of a pack of men on the brink as well as the haunting pasts that brought each man to this frozen Purgatory. The challenge includes lots of tense survival action and man-chewing wolves, but what keeps the film interesting are the metaphysical elements, both in the blurry camerawork and the cryptic storytelling. Is this situation real or are we in the self-exiled imagination of the central character? Not brilliant but an experience, however harrowing. ๏ ๏ ๏ out of ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… (theatre) West Side Story (RISE theater company at Stadium Performing Arts Center, Woonsocket, RI) I go to a lot of community theater and you might think I am fortunate to live in a place where there are many local companies. One has to approach community theatre with prejudice of lowered expectations. Some of the worst crap in the world gets to Broadway with multi-million dollar underwriting. Under what circumstances can one expect no-budget theatre to be any better? Surprisingly often the risk does pay off in community. I see performers all the time who have dedicated their lives to craft and not to making it big. But “big” took on new meaning for me in seeing this production of WSS when the curtain went up on a cast of teenagers who were mostly all overweight. I’m not kidding. I don’t know anything about casting a play in suburban area where your company may also be completing with a lot of other companies, but surely someone had to realize the absurdity. WSS is as much a dancing show as it is musical as no one wants to see roly-poly people rolling around on the stage floor. I will say that the lead vocals were excellent. But the show itself seemed out of the director’s grasp. The pacing was awkward, the actors were bad, and the choreography was an embarrassment waiting for wincing audience. Whoever you are RISE, you need to set your ambitions lower for now and find material that is appropriate for your acting pool.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know the author Bruce Jay Friedman. I came across his novel Violencia! (2001) while doing research for my own novel in progress. Friedman, now in his 80s, over decades has written a bunch of novels I never read, some off-broadway plays I never heard of, and the screenplays for movies made in the 1980s I couldn’t care less about, e.g. Stir Crazy, Doctor Detroit, Splash. If Friedman is a famous author I gather it’s because he’s supposed to be a master wit in hysterical fiction. Hysterical is a pretty good word for describing the mania of Violencia! A retired police precinct clerk is recruited to write the libretto for Violencia!, a Broadway musical based on gritty experiences observed in the crime fighting world. Despite knowing nothing about writing a musical and being a rather ordinary man, the clerk unwittingly becomes a swiveling node for the novel’s cast of neurotic producers, composers and theatre actors. They all see the dull clerk as an embassy for their vanities, character flaws, and harebrained ideas about art and audience. Violencia! follows the attempt to put on a big musical from it’s distasteful concept, to dishonest financing scheme, to pointless and vulgar production numbers, and then to calamitous road tryouts. The novel is intended as a satire on the affectations of backstage Broadway. Situations and characters in this book are clever I have to admit, but satirical comedy like this too often proceeds plausibility: the fatigued composer returns energized after vacationing in less than a day’s travel from New York to PuertaVallarta, no-nothing producers with hundreds-thousands of dollars at stake insist that Violencia!’s success is held in suspense by the script’s call for use of the word “doody.” This style of writing allows for comical leaps in logic and abandoned story detail. Friedman’s novel is creative but I also find the storytelling a little lazy considering it’s something he’s been doing for decades. This may be a good light read for someone in the mood for lampoonery; I take my comedy much more serious.
THE THEATER WILL ROCK: A HISTORY OF THE ROCK MUSICAL FROM HAIR TO HEDWIG (2006)
There does seem to be a common understanding that before the musical Hair there was nothing like Hair and that most of what followed Hair were flop imitations – Dude, Via Galactica, Rainbow. Though Hair became a classic, theatrical producers stopped throwing their money away on rock scores by about 1975. What Elizabeth Wollman’s through history brings forward is that Hair’s influence in musical theatre can be seen in decades of cultural tug-of-war between keeping rock music’s aesthetics authentic and produce musicals that have mass audience appeal. Hair’s long beautiful hair grew into Grease, and Les Mis, and Mama Mia but through the use of softer forms of rock music. We don’t really recognize how things of changed since Rogers and Hammerstein. Unlike any work I’ve read on the topic of musical theatre, or even in rock journalism for that matter, Wollman finally provides language for describing the variety of very different kinds of musical theatre that are too often lazily categorized as “rock musicals.” For once Hair is rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar is rock opera and Dreamgirls and Smokey Joe’s Cafe are other things too, well categorized here. I have a couple of quibbles. First, I think Wollman doesn’t emphasize that much of the failure in those fabulous post-Hair rock flops lies in being rushed to Broadway with big money backers and no existing source material. Most of the truly great shows in musical theatre are drawn from novels, plays or history. At least Hair had the huge benefit of a long and sometimes painful gestation period before finally coming uptown. The big rock flops of the early 1970’s were being made-up on the spot. Ironically two of the successful rock musicals from the same period, Your Own Thing and Two Gentleman of Verona were adapted from that rebellious beatnik Shakespeare. Next, Wollman makes frequent reference to off-off Broadway shows like House of Leather and The Legend of Johnny Pot which barely ever opened, meanwhile her research overlooks shows like Promenade (259 performances) and Salvation (239 performances). Finally, between her socio-historical chapters the author includes some short academic meditations on audience attitudes, marketing experiments, and musical aesthetics. These interlude essay are well written they do seem like step children, sections from a different book. If you are seeking musical aesthetics and composition for musical theater, you won’t find much here on the specific shows or songs. However this is excellent work on cultural commodification and the economics of Broadway over the last forty years.
(cinema) Deep In My Heart, d. Stanley Donen, 1954. This is a tall tale biography of 20th century composer Sigmund Romburg. MGM did this same type of movie for Jerome Kern (Till The Clouds Roll By) and Rodgers & Hart (Words and Music) where the biography is manipulated into the connective tissue for a review of musical set pieces highlighting the artist’s career. The idea is to also employ a parade of big stars doing cameos. Deep In My Heart includes fabulous stage productions with Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Rosemary Clooney, and my favorite hot-as-lava dancer Miss Ann Miller. But the Oscar goes to Jose Ferrer playing the role of Romburg. Ferrer was not famous for being a singer, but if you watch five minutes of this picture go right to the Jazza Doo number. Ferrer is brilliant and hysterical. He actually only got a one Oscar for something else. But he puts a tremendous performance into the otherwise dull bio sections. 3 movie spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Vortex.” Odo transports back to the Gamma Quadrant a prisoner who claims to have knowledge of a colony populated by other shapeshifting Odos. I think this is the first Odo-centered episode and it’s excellent. The evolving relationship between Odo and the prisoner characters from enemies to allies is well written and the space chase through the vortex is genuinely suspenseful. 3 1/2 spotlights. “Battle Lines.” Commander Sisco is giving the Pi Opaka (she’s sort of like the Bajoran Pope) a tour through the wormhole when they crash land on an abandoned penal colony. The colony’s prisoners are condemned to fight a bloody war in which nobody ever dies. It’s a cool sci-fi concept but kind of a mouthful for 45 minutes. More backstory would have been more interesting to me than the opportunity to see Kira (Nana Visitor) overact. 2 1/2 spotlights.
The Last Sweet Days of Issac is about a guy trying to make it with a girl in an elevator and then, in the second act, the same guy, in jail, trying to make it with a different girl through a television screen. I don’t think we’re in Oklahoma anymore. The play appears to be Brecht inspired and the music is the definite offspring of Hair. Issac was a decent off-Broadway hit in 1970. The show’s creators were the female-female team of Nancy Ford (composer) and Gretchen Cryer (lyrics and mother of actor John Cryer). Ford and Cryer got what ever they needed to bring another show to Broadway called Shelter. Shelter flopped, but after that they had their biggest hit I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It Out on the Road. The songs in Issac are so much like Hair you could transfuse “I Want to Walk to San Francisco” and “Herein Lies the Seeds of Revolution” into the Hair lineup and not know they’re from different shows. That’s a compliment. I love Hair, and I love a lot of the rock ensemble pieces in Issac. This show has its pretentious clunkers, but it also seems to have its own point of view about living life to the fullest. I would love to see this show revived somewhere. 3 gramophones.
The vinyl copy I found has some distortion, especially during the louder tracks on side two. I think it’s an issue with the pressing rather than the recording. I’ve seen this soundtrack in the record swap bins a couple of times so it’s not hard to find and it should be cheap.
(cinema) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, d. David Fincher, 2011. A character in this movie says that society in Sweden hides behind the shiny veneer of Ikea furniture. Behind the European setting and slick filmmaking lies a silly, and totally predictable story. When you take away the heavy down parkas the mystery is as thin as its undernourished heroine. I liked GWTDT but probably in total only about 60%. 2 and 1/2 spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Captive Pursuit.” The crew rescues the representative of a new species who turns out to be the hunted prey of his bloodsport pursuers from the Gamma Quadrant. Sisco must balance his moral conviction with his responsibilities to uphold the prime directive. Like the best episodes of past Star Trek series, often the right thing to do is not what is best decision. This is a very sophisticated script for the being only the 6th episode. 3 and 1/2 spotlights… The Golden Girls, “Three On A Couch.” Are relations really so frayed around the GG house that they all need to a group therapy hour with a psychiatrist? Not, really. The session is just a flashback device to some recent, disconnected comic incidents, none of which seem important enough to take in for service. A watchable but unmemorable episode. 2 spotlights… (theater) Blood Brothers, screening of 1989 London cast w/Kiki Dee. Music, lyrics and book by Willy Russell. Twin brothers are secretly separated as infants into rich and poor upbringings. Circumstances raises them as best friends but both of them are doomed to a young, violent death. The story is inspired by The Corsican Brothers and the music obviously by A.L. Webber’s popular rock theatricals of the 1980s. I found the play to kind of sputter until finally getting interesting in the last half of the second half. The music to me sounded like the same two songs over and over, alternating between the gloomy one and the peppy one. There are some good elements but overall: skip it.
It seems weird to think of opera singers as Hollywood celebrities. Although operatic musical conventions are frequently still borrowed on Broadway – Rent, Spring Awakening, American Idiot – and at the movies – Evita, Moulin Rouge, Repo! A Genetic Opera. Staged opera in popular perception is thought to be entertainment for the affluent, the culturally elite, public television viewers, and the age 60+. Some artists crossover – Sarah Brightman, Il Divo, Andrea Bocelli, even Josh Groban – but even they are not, well, rock stars. In mid-20th century Hollywood film there was a call for talented operatic singers who happened also to be young and sexy. The golden age of Broadway musicals occurred roughly between 1940 and 1970. There was a market in Hollywood not just for musicals turned into movies, but to provide an additional product, adapted in form and content from traditional opera, the movie operetta. An operetta is a light opera. It has more acting than an opera and more singing than a musical. The stars of this era were usually better singers and worse actors.
The Desert Song (1953)
In Desert Song, Gordon McCrea’s acting performance is characteristically frigid and Kathryn Grayson’s singing is, I think, tremulous. But she is gorgeous. In the story McCrea lives a double life as a docile anthropologist and as the secret leader of a rebellious Arab tribe. Kathryn Grayson is a French general’s overindulged daughter who finds herself an unwitting pawn in the local Arab war. Intended to capture vast Saharan mystery and danger, the scope of the musical looks and feels small compared to similarly set epics of the period. Yet, I have to admit that there is an almost inexplicable charm. Part of it is the sophisticated musical score (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein). The other part is that the cast seems to take their participation in a ridiculous story quite seriously. I want to believe.
That Midnight Kiss (1949)
Less ambitious is That Midnight Kiss. An aspiring opera singer seeks theatrical greatness for herself and her talented, truck-driving boyfriend. What’s lacking in scope is made up for in singing. The singing does seem like the central entertainment purpose. This was the first film role for the great tenor Mario Lanza. His voice is magnificent and his acting is convincing, if a bit too enthusiastic. Kathryn Grayson stars in this one to, and she’s less affected.
These aren’t great films overall, but I enjoy the format. Outside of revisiting movies from this era, it’s a type of movie experience that is gone forever.
Pajama Game (1957)
An excellent book I read on the history of American musicals – Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre – divides mid-20th century shows into roughly two groups: the social message shows, such as Show Boat or West Side Story, and the “diversionaries” like Annie Get Your Gun or Pajama Game; pure entertainments. And Pajama Game, despite looking at a glance about labor union strikers in the garment industry is, in fact, about absolutely nothing. There is a flimsy love story, and perhaps an accidental excursus on sexual harassment in the workplace. But the production numbers are so diversionary and separate from what storyline there is, that it’s more similar to the Busby Berkeley musical revue movies of the 30s than it is to Rogers and Hammerstein. That said, the score and the production numbers are very good. Below is a scene depicting “the entertainment” that takes place at the so called labor rally (Note the signature Bob Fosse choreography. He was the best!):
I’d like to see a real Broadway production of P.G. The film, by the way, is very G. They take out all the damns and hells and randy sexual innuendo that were in the original stage show (And in my sister’s high-school production back in the 70s. There they set “Hernando’s Hideaway” as a disco!). I wouldn’t rank it a necessity among films or stage shows. I don’t make requirements for these diversionaries as a whole, but there are much better ones, e.g. Gypsy. Everything from Pajama Game worth your time is on YouTube.
Step-Up 3 (2010)
To enjoy musicals you have step up willingly into a compromised role as viewer. You must be willing to believe for a couple of hours that it’s normal to break into inconspicuously-orchestrated song as a means of expression, be it exuberant or despairing. Step-Up 3 is in every way a musical without singing. The story is preposterous, the acting is histrionic, and life effecting conflicts are resolved mutually by organized dance-offs. In between the silliness, is some really amazing dance talent. The “whys” of the film are endless: why are all the lead characters white and Jewish kids while the secondary cast is mostly made up of better dancing minorities? Why isn’t it considered a suspicious cult or maybe Communist that a bunch of teenagers live together in nightclub without any blemish of alcohol, drugs, arguments or sex? Why would an engineering student enroll at NYU while an aspiring film student needs to leave New York? Again, here I’m patschkieing around. Step-Up 3 is 3D, it’s fun, and the dancing is fantastic. That’s about all there is to say, but it’s also probably all there is to know.