I love musicals. Some of my earliest memories are listening to Cats [we named one of our cats “Tugger” after Rum Tum Tugger] or Phantom of the Opera with my mother. (Dad was classic rock on the radio or The Beach Boys). I took dance lessons for eight years and I started singing in church choir in kindergarten; I played the piano, flute, and viola. I would create my own dances in living room to songs as a kid. At one point I wanted to be on Broadway, but I hate practicing and I realized early on that I would have to be very lucky, no matter how good I was. I was fortunate to have good music instructors; the Ellenbergers as a child in church, Dr. Barr once I got to college. I fully support singing in the shower and my favorite part about driving is singing in the car. I’ve learned most songs without ever seeing sheet music or lyrics; just repeatedly listening. I remember music (well, more singing than actually playing) better than some school subjects. I always sing along to those “try not to sing” videos with musicals and love it when I know a song.
I was excited for high school since it meant I could be in musicals. Freshman year, I did not make it into 42nd Street, so I went on stage crew, which was fun in its own right. Sophomore year was Music Man, junior year South Pacific, and senior year was Brigadoon. I was always in the ensemble; which I was happy enough to at least be in the shows, but still stung a little, especially senior year. I joined choirs in college and wanted to get involved with the theatre, but I already had a double major (Creative Writing and History…like y’all couldn’t tell), and part of the Honors Program and after joining choir, I figured I wouldn’t have enough time to do everything.
I believe I have mentioned before that I was on cast at a local-ish (it’s an hour from my house) medieval faire one summer; and it was a blast. But I can’t always make that time commitment. I still appreciate the work the cast goes through every year. My community is lucky enough to have a volunteer chorale and theatre group, but working retail means I rarely have time to get involved. I managed to participate in the chorale for two years and then left, for reasons. Still love musicals, always will. I will probably still dance around my room. And now I share that love with all of you.
Some classic or well known musicals that are not entirely my favorites, but I figure deserve at least a mention.
West Side Story: This is an iconic show and Steven Spielberg is actually working on a new version, possibly due out this year. Features gangs in New York City in the 1950s, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and screenplay by Ernest Lehman (he’s also done the screenplay for Hello, Dolly and Sound of Music). The film won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and is a modern re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. I do not like Romeo and Juliet, so I’m not terribly fond of this story (it also ends really sad). But, I love the music and dancing. A lot of what the men do is a crossover between ballet and modern. America is my favorite number. As part of a choir, I have sung a medley of several numbers. Tonight is pretty, but schmaltzy, as is Somewhere (I vaguely remember singing that for high school graduation). Gee, Officer Krupke is a bit funny.
Fun note: the teacher at the dance played Gomez Addams in the 60s television series. Riff, leader of the Jets, is played by Russ Tamblyn, who we will see in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (for some reason, his character reminds me of Captain Kirk from the original series; I think it’s the hair and the fact he wears yellow). The film also famously stars Natalie Wood, and Rita Moreno (I was surprised to learn she voiced the titular Carmen Sandiego in the 90s educational cartoon Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? along with appearing in The King and I).
My Fair Lady: Julie Andrews starred in the original Broadway run of this show, but the part went to Audrey Hepburn for the film; Julie was cast in Mary Poppins instead (for which she went on to win an Academy Award). I don’t mind a couple of the songs, like With a Little Bit of Luck, but the show drags. I do imagine that it is hard for someone who has spoken proper English to spend half the show with a rough accent (maybe we should have studied this in my Historical Development of the English Language Class).
The King and I: A classic Rodgers and Hammerstein that tells the story of British (actually Welsh) Anna Leonowens traveling to Siam (present-day Thailand) as governess to the king’s many children in his effort to join the modernizing Western world. Of course, the two disagree at first, but eventually fall in love. It actually is a bittersweet ending, just when they both realize they care for each other (after avoiding each other for weeks due to an argument), the king dies. The story takes place in 1862, so mentions are made of Queen Victoria and the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln (the king wants to send elephants to aid the war effort). Slavery is brought up and the play based upon Uncle Tom’s Cabin that the one wife creates is…interesting.
The children are adorable. This time period also means that Anna wears large hoop skirts the entire time (a bit humorous when the Siamese ladies try to wear them). There are two songs in this production that I really like, Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance. The film stars Deborah Kerr as Anna, Yul Brynner (who created the role of the King on Broadway, along with playing Rameses in 1956’s The Ten Commandments) as King Mongkut, and Rita Moreno is back as Tuptim.
Singin’ in the Rain: As with many other musicals on this list, I don’t mind a few songs. The titular song that Gene Kelly famously dances is a great piece, but I like Moses Supposes or Make ’em Laugh better. Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds also stars in the film.
Oklahoma: A classic that, like West Side Story, I am not fond of the story; it gets creepy at the end. The only reason we own a version on DVD is because it stars Hugh Jackman.
Yankee Doodle Dandy: An old musical, from the forties, in black and white, starring James Cagney as George M. Cohen, who wrote Over There, Give My Regards to Broadway, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and You’re a Grand Old Flag; all of which appear in the musical. I’ll sometimes watch it around Independence Day.
RENT: I have never seen the show, but I do like Seasons of Love and enjoy parts of La Vie Bohem. My friend Nikki likes the show (oh, and Idina Menzel appears in the movie version).
Sweeney Todd: Saw it once, against my will on a bus trip. Nope, nope, nope. Doesn’t help that it was directed by Tim Burton (I am not a Burton fan), and stars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew). Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and everyone in the most recent movie did their own singing. Angela Landsbury was the first Mrs. Lovatt, and ain’t that a way to mess with your mind. In case you are unaware, a major part of the musical, which is subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is two of the main characters bake people into pies. Hence why I didn’t want to watch it in the first place, but I was outvoted (so I hid), and why I will never watch it again.
Into the Woods: One of Stephen Sondheim’s most well-known shows. I have only seen the film version from 2014. It is a star-studded production with Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone (we’ll see him in Les Mis), James Corden, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and Chris Pine. I admit that Agony with Chris Pine was hilarious. I liked his character, until he turned out to be a jerk. All the performances were great, but it is a darker look on our favorite fairy tales – that’s the point, taking them back to their roots.
Wicked: I have not read the book it is based on, which tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz (I believe I have already mentioned, not a fan of the movie). But, I saw the show in Chicago while on a college choir trip. Idina Menzel really made her name for her role as Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) and played opposite Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda. The show explains the backstory of many of the supporting roles from Wizard of Oz and really makes Elphaba sympathetic. Stephen Schwartz composed the music and I have sung a medley of the tunes in choir in high school, such as One Short Day, For Good, and of course, Defying Gravity (I do like this song and is an awesome solo to belt out). What is This Feeling and Popular are hilarious. There are rumors of making a movie out of the show.
Chicago: I like All That Jazz and Cell Block Tango; I do not like the story. The 2002 film stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere.
Footloose: I actually prefer the newer one. The original starred Kevin Bacon (and included music, like the title track by Kenny Loggins, who also did Danger Zone from Top Gun). Big city kid moves to small town to discover they have outlawed dancing due to an accident several years ago. He hooks up with the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, who’s acting out against her father. Everything is eventually resolved and they do hold a dance at the end. The newer version came out in 2011 and starred Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars pro) as Ariel and Kenny Wormald (a professional dancer as well) as Ren. Dennis Quaid plays the town’s preacher. It was updated from 1984 and I like the newer dance moves, though it is a very close remake. There’s a fun country song by Big and Rich, Fake ID (I can stand country music, I will not claim it as a favorite). Ok, the demeaning way his friend talks about women sometimes makes me want to slap him.
Hairspray: The 2007 film was an all-star cast with John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Allison Janney, Brittany Snow, and Zac Efron. I enjoyed it for the most part, and I still remember all the words to You Can’t Stop the Beat (the ending of the movie is a lot of fun), which I sang as a freshman in high school choir [translating to over ten years ago].
High School Musical: I was in high school when these came out. It made stars out of Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, and Zac Efron, and was directed by Kenny Ortega. The original was better than either sequel. It was a bit funny when they featured it in an episode of Suite Life of Zach and Cody with the running gag that Maddie didn’t look like Ashley Tisdale (Ashley played Maddie). When I was in Disney senior year, my friends and I joined that Pep Rally they had going on and learned the dance to We’re All in This Together (so when ABC just did their Disney Sing-Along Night; which I loved period, it was fun to see the cast reunited and doing the dance). The soundtrack is a bit nostalgic.
Now, my experience in high school musicals was different than depicted here; a lot of my classmates were involved in the arts (our school supported students being well rounded with academics, arts, and athletics). Our marching band was over 200 strong, the lead guy senior year musical was on the football team (actually, football players had a habit of being in our musicals), track practices didn’t start until musical was done, a bunch of the kids were also in Advanced Placement courses…we were all just a bunch of overachievers. Yeah, we don’t Stick to the Status Quo. I do think this movie helped get more kids interested in musicals, making it more relevant to them.
Next: We will carry on with musicals, starting with Music Man. Let me know what some of your favorite musicals are.