Tuesday, 3 April 2012


DAY 3: Greatest Movie Musicals Numbers 10-6
10:   Chicago
Director: Rob Marshall
Year: 2002
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere
Chicago as a movie musical is something of an oddity in how it both improves upon and lessens the stage show from which it was adapted. Whilst the plot is given some much needed elaboration and character beats in the third reel particularly (the film manages to intertwine both leads and their plights into the final court case much more effectively whilst also making it far less abrupt and farcical than it is on-stage), nonetheless some of the invention, rawness and fire is lost in the process despite some excellent choreography and costume design in particular. Fortunately the film boasts a soundtrack full of genuine crowd-pleasers and broadway classics, and whilst Renee Zellweger is horribly miscast and far too spineless and doldrum as Roxie Hart, Catherine Zeta Jones brings plenty of fire, vim and zest to proceedings and the narratives’ biting satirical look on the fickle and manipulative symbiosis of press and celebrity remains as relevant and entertaining as ever.
Encore!: “All That Jazz”, “The Cell Block Tango”, “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “Mister Cellophane”
Steals the Show: Catherine Zeta Jones dominates as Velma Kelly, though John C. Reilly puts in a sympathetic, downtrodden turn as Roxie’s hapless husband Amos. Christine Baranski is great fun in her few scenes as reporter and radio personality Mary Sunshine.

9:   The Little Mermaid
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Year: 1989
Starring: Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Pat Carroll (voices)
After a meandering few decades of inconsistent output, Disney returned to spectacular form by once again reuniting its merging of existing fairytale with musical extravaganza. The Little Mermaid put Disney firmly back on the map and kickstarted the animation houses glorious renaissance of the 1990’s and in quality, tone and masterful application of music as a narrative device transcended even the works of Uncle Walt himself. As well as constructing a deeply human narrative focused as it was on issues of identity, belonging and even burgeoning sexuality, The Little Mermaid was also a remarkably accomplished feat as musical - boasting not only a broad palette of different musical offerings from Ariel’s tender signature ballad ‘Part of Your World’ through to the reggae inspired croonings of Sebastian the crab in ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Kiss the Girl’ and villainess Ursula’s empirical act I closer ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’, it is a musical which does not waste a single beat or note in advancing plot or revealing character whilst simultaneously being a supremely energetic and enjoyable experience to boot.
Encore!: “Part of Your World”, “Under the Sea” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls”
Steals the Show: Pat Carroll in bringing such clout, presence and palpable venom to Ursula in a gloriously theatrical and bombastic performance. Repeat after me... ‘don’t underestimate the importance of.... body langauage..ha!’
8:   My Fair Lady
Director: George Cukor
Year: 1964
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway
My Fair Lady is in many ways the perfect musical - timeless in the simplicity of its story, endearing, memorable and iconic characters performed by accomplished musical stars in their prime and a soundtrack that has stood the test of time with vigour. The original story of Pygmalion, the origin play of Eliza Doolittle and her transformation with the aid of Henry Higgins is wittily and beautifully adapted with a lightness of touch and wit of execution which prevents it being a preachy or overtly judgmental study of class. And whilst the ever-resplendent Audrey Hepburn does ham it up as Eliza, and her singing was famously dubbed, she is the perfect foil to Rex Harrison’s Oscar-winning turn as Henry Higgins, with the mutual journey of change and discovery they both go on being the charming core for a classic and supremely entertaining movie musical which never takes itself too seriously and is proudly bursting at the seems with an almost incomparable amount of true musical classics.
Encore!: “I Could Have Danced All Night” , “On The Street Where You Live” and “Get Me to the Church on Time”
Steals the Show: Stanley Holloway brought all his trademark comedic timing and prowess as Eliza’s drunken opportunistic father Alfred P. Doolittle.

7:   Mary Poppins
Director:  Robert Stevenson
Year: 1964
Starring: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson
The 1960’s were arguably one of the golden era’s for the movie musical, and it is unsurprising that Disney were the ones to produce one of its finest and most enduring offerings. Based on the book series by P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins was a bold and inventive blending of live action and animation with visual and practical effects throughout. Structured mostly into a series of vignettes in which the titular nanny attempts to teach and entertain her two wards - from tidying up the bedroom to a chalk drawing holiday to the story of the bird lady to a ceiling tea party through to the rooftop shenanigans of the chimney sweepers - the level of invention and imagination is impressive by even todays standards. Julie Andrews came to superstardom (and an Oscar) in her now inimitable performance as the ‘practically perfect’ nanny, and whilst much has been said of Dick Van Dyke’s atrocious cockney accent, he is a warmer, more grounded counterpart as chimney sweep Bert. Though there are times when the musical numbers have little purpose other than to be there and entertain (particularly ones such as ‘Feed the birds’, ‘Stay Awake’ and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’) they are infectious, memorable and executed with panache and gusto by all involved. Weave into the mix an overarching plot which focuses on a fractured family and a distant father coming to value and understand one another, and a sweetly bittersweet ending and you have a musical which will doubtless continue to appeal and speak to audiences of any age for generations to come.
Encore!: “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “Chim Chim Cher’ee” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”
Steals the Show: David Tomlinson takes his character of stuffy, disciplined George Banks on the biggest and most empathetic arc over the course of the film and gives in many ways its most layered and effecting performance. 
6:   The Wizard of Oz
Director: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, King Vidor
Year: 1939
Starring: Judy Gardlan, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton
In many ways the progenitor of so much of what was to come in the world of movie musicals, The Wizard of Oz holds a very special place in cinematic history, and whilst it was not (as is commonly believed) the first motion picture released in colour, it was certainly one of the most prolific and demonstrative of the impact the technology could have. It’s also surprising to look back and note that the film was originally a box office failure despite glowing reviews, but fortunately this has been eclipsed by the countless re-releases and the films continuing success in home video release. Everything about the film, its performances, story and soundtrack are truly iconic and engrained so deeply into the tapestry of our cultural consciousness that it seems pointless to go into any notable detail about what remains a glorious, joyous and heartwarming tale of one girl (and her little dog) trying to find their way home from outlandish circumstances and wonderous locations. It rings true on so many archetypes and primal storytelling techniques that it is small wonder it carries such a prestige and legacy not only in the world of movie musicals, but motion pictures as a whole, and in the likes of ‘Over the Rainbow’ in particular, contains some of the most oft-covered and timeless music ever committed to film.
Encore!: “Over the Rainbow” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”
Steals the Show: Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton provided two of the most recognisable, iconic and imitated female performances in motion picture history and created the definitive movie heroine and villain of their time.

NEXT BLOG:  Greatest Movie Musicals Numbers 5-2

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