It’s June 13. ROBIN and I are happy you joined us to comment about the Lucky 13 Film Club topic, MUSICALS. From the stage to the screen or made for the film, musicals have been a part of cinematic history since 1927’s The Jazz Singer. Once theaters were wired for sound, silent films added pre-recorded scores and songs, and it only took a few years before the infant heartbeat boomed with enthusiasm by the end of the 1930s.
What I’ve noticed about musicals are the intense reactions you get when you talk about them. I happen to like Chicago. Others can’t stand it. I happen to like Les Misérables and others claim it’s atrocious. Really? Hugh Jackman sang his heart out. What more could you want from an entertainer? Please don’t make me watch Meryl Streep in Into the Woods or Mama Mia. However, Robin, my co-host, likes it a lot. I’m one of the few out there who yawns during Disney animations. Yes, even The Lion King. Why is Frozen so beloved? I never liked Beauty in the Beast. When it comes to musicals, my favorite decade is the 1970s. I was a teenager and thought the rock musicals were cool. However, my favorite musicals come from the 1960s: West Side Story, Cabaret (1968/72), and The Sound of Music. Still, I prefer the voice of Barbara Streisand over Julie Andrews. Besides our subjective tastes, can we all agree Bob Fosse transformed the musical more than any other director/choreographer? Probably not.
Bob Fosse: His trademark featured dancers posing on mundane props like chairs, steps, and ladders. Dancing duos and trios, quads or the entire chorus linked visually in silhouette or by movement with exact precision. His staging used the extremities like hands and fingers to stress a beat. His sexual vision blended humor and acrobatic mastery. Whispers and pillow talk built to fortissimo eruptions that sparked the imagination and claimed the senses. He made sex on the stage and the screen artful, funny, and interesting.
West Side Story: The choreography paired with the orchestral music of Leonard Bernstein is so powerful, I’m simultaneously energized and drained every time I experience the magic expressed by the two opposing gangs. The bold jewel tones worn by the Sharks contrast with the gang’s reserved, cool demeanor. The washed out colors of the Jets contrast with their boisterous, brash personality. Their dancing reflects that duality. There’s nothing better than the opening segment of the musical choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
What are your favorite musical scenes?
The film, A Chorus Line (1985) was an entertaining adaptation of the Broadway production. The story is about how people who are singers and dancers end up in lesser parts as in a chorus line rather than the leading singer or main character. Sir Richard Attenborough took the screenplay and gave it a few boosts of energy while some say he took away the homosexual entendre and watered it down. The plot includes a director played by Michael Douglas in his handsome prime, who interviews a diverse cast of various ages and ethnic groups. The book was made into a screenplay by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante.The music was written by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban. While it was nominated for Academy Awards, Tony’s and Golden Globes but was “beat out” by great competition in 1985.
I enjoyed exploring John Kenrick’s MUSICALS101.COM to gather dates and information about the history of musicals in film. It’s impossible to break down the decades and give a summary worthy of the genre. Therefore, here’s a hodge-podge overview, omitting many classics, many actors, many directors, and trends. The purpose of the following list is to trigger your memory and to offer an impetus for discussion.
1930s. Busby Berkely makes the camera move with the dancers. 42nd Street revives interest in the musical. 1930 Production Code censors films in general. MGM owns Micky Rooney and Judy Garland. RKO claims Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Walt Disney‘s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The Wizard of Oz.
1940s. Shirley Temple, Danny Kaye. Bing Crosby & Bob Hope’s Road series. No one topped MGM’s star Judy Garland during the decade with sixteen musicals and fourteen feature films. Her marriage to top director Vincente Minnelli propelled her talents. Gene Kelly was at the top of his game and so was Frank Sinatra.
1950s. Says John Kerrick: “The 1950s were both the brightest and the saddest years for the Hollywood musical. The genre reached its zenith, with two musicals winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. At the same time, television drew millions of customers away from movie theatres and sped the death of the studios that had made lavish screen musicals possible. How sharp was the change? In the mid-1940s, 90 million Americans went to the movies each week – by the late 1950s, that figure had dwindled to 16 million. This coincided with the U.S. Federal courts forcing the studios to sell off their nationwide theater chains. Shaken by these changes, a long-profitable system fell apart with amazing speed. By the decade’s end, the major Hollywood studios disbanded most of their full-time employees, from the rank and file tech crews to the stars, writers, and directors.”
20th Century Fox: Rogers and Hammerstein classics Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific.
MGM Greats: An American in Paris, Singing in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Gigi.
1960s. Julie Andrews and Elvis Presley. The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night. Adapting Broadway musicals to the screen: The Music Man, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Funny Girl, Sweet Charity, What a Way to Go. Oliver!
1970s. Bob Fosse‘s Cabaret and All That Jazz. Rock rules: Jesus Christ Super Star, Quadrophenia, Tommy, The Rose, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Grease. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
1980s. The Blues Brothers. Footloose. A Chorus Line. Purple Rain. Yentel. The Muppets. Little Shop of Horrors. Victor-Victoria. Hairspray. The Little Mermaid.
1990s. Disney’s New Golden Age. Beauty and the Beast. Alladin. Pocahontas. The Lion King.
2000s. Chicago collects the Oscar for Best Film, 34 years after Oliver! in 1968. Moulin Rouge. 8 Mile. Phantom of the Opera. Rent. The Producers. Sweeny Todd. Mama Mia. Dream Girls. Walk the Line.
2010s. Les Misérables. Frozen. Into the Woods. Jersey Boys.
What are your favorite musical scenes?
What songs from any musical are seared into your heart and mind?
Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber?
The best musical pioneer?