“What we make do/ with an ol’ bamboo/ makes everyone applaud”

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Actually based on a book by Ian Fleming.  Yes, that Ian Fleming, the one who wrote all the James Bond books that the movies are based on.  Roald Dahl, the famous children’s author, was the screenwriter.  Desmond Llewelyn, famous as Q in James Bond, appears as Coggins in the beginning.  Gert Fröbe, aka Goldfinger, is antagonist Baron Bomburst.  The film also stars Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins) as Caractacus Potts and Benny Hill appears as the Toymaker.  The Sherman Brothers also wrote the music for this film, though it is not a Disney film (though we all kind of assume it is since it shares many elements).  This was another of my brother’s and mine favorite movies as young children; our mother didn’t mind too much, aside from the repeated watches and the long run time.

The film actually begins in the dark, with just car engine sounds, then reveals Edwardian car races.  The main car wins several Grand Prix races in Europe between 1907 and 1908, until it crashes and burns in its last race after swerving to avoid a child.  Now it’s a wreck on a lot, though two children are happily playing in it.  The junkman wants to buy it as scrap and seems to dislike children.  But they race home to tell their father he can buy it, though they narrowly avoid being run over by a young woman.  Truly reprimands them for running in the road, and not being in school, so she takes Jeremy and Jemima home.  Their father is Caractacus Potts is an inventor and we first see him trying to propel into the air with rockets.  His experiment doesn’t go quite according to plan and while the children laugh at their father’s antics, because they’re children and don’t quite realize the danger, Truly throws water on him to put him out.  He’s annoyed and is not at all bothered by the fact that his children were not in school.  Truly tries to reason with him, and is marginally impressed by his other inventions housed in his windmill workshop.

Potts uses a series of machines to cook sausage and eggs for dinner, sweetly telling his children that they are his reason for being.  “Someone to care for/ to be there for/ I have You Two.”  They’re joined by Caractacus’s father, who tries to bring his son’s head out of the clouds; though he is known to go out to a small shed and say he is off to India, or Antarctica.  Caractacus decides to try to sell his whistle sweets (they make noise through the holes when you blow in them) to a local sweet factory, run by Lord Scrumptious.  He’s aided by Truly, Scrumptious’s daughter.  Caractacus calls in invention Toot Sweets, “the candy you whistle/ the whistle you eat” and soon the whole factory joins in dancing.  But all that whistling has brought several dogs into the sweet factory.

Jeremy and Jemima are selfless children and offer their father their “treasures” as me ol bamboomoney for his inventions rather than their beloved car.  Their father sings the lullaby Hushabye Mountain to them to encourage sweet dreams.  Then he decides to try one of his inventions at the evening’s fair.  The haircut machine unfortunately fails and Caractacus is chased through the fair.  He hides amongst a dancing troupe and has to join in on Me Ol’ Bamboo (this is such a fun song).  He does well and is surprised by the tips that are tossed into his hat.  He surprises his children the next morning by bringing home their car.  Then spends the next several days closed up in his workshop, fixing the car.  And when it finally comes out, it is a sight to behold.

The trio go on a picnic and pick Truly up on the way when they accidentally run her car off the road into a pond.  Caractacus offers to carry Truly in her pristine white dress out of the pond and she is even intrigued by the car.  And the unusual sound its engine makes: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  “Oh you/ pretty Chitty Bang Bang/ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you…near, far/ in our motorcar/ oh what a happy time we spend.”  All four spend a happy day at the beach.  The children are extremely fond of Truly and she seems fond of them as well.  Jemima comments that Truly’s name fits her well, Truly Scrumptious, for she had to be called something lovely.  Jeremy and Jemima wish together that their father would marry Truly.

Caractacus begins a story for his children about pirates, led by Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria, who has heard of the marvelous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and wishes to have the car for himself.  And the story comes to life.  Chitty is in fact a magic car and air bags come out so Chitty can float away.  They stow as it drives back onto dry land, after avoiding the Baron’s ship.  The Baron sends spies ashore to capture the car, or Caractacus.  The family takes Truly back home and she sings on her estate how she has fallen in love with a Lovely Lonely Man.  (It’s a pretty song, but rather forgettable.  I just remember the swing at the end for some reason).  The spies do not do a good job of their mission, though they are rather funny.  They manage to capture Truly’s father instead of the family.  So the two spies pretend to be gentlemen to visit the Potts’ home and they come across the grandfather, thinking he’s the inventor.  They call in the Baron’s zeppelin and lift the small shed, with Grandpa Potts inside.  His family spot him and follow the zeppelin in Chitty.  Except they drive off a cliff, almost into the sea.

And…Intermission!  Of course, Chitty saves them, because Chitty is magic and can fly.  Grandpa Potts is now not in immediate danger and rather enjoys traveling in Posh style.  The zeppelin does lose altitude, which gets Grandpa Potts a bit wet until they toss out the two spies.  It’s a long flight to Vulgaria, but Chitty knows the way.  A castle greets the Potts family (Neuschwanstein).  The Baron in turn is mainly a large child; he rides a toy horse to his meetings.  He demands Potts makes a car float.  Potts senior despairs, but the other tinkers locked in the basement cheer him up with The Roses of Success, “up from the ashes/ grow the roses of success…from the ashes of disaster/ grow the roses of success.”

When Chitty lands, the villagers are not terribly helpful and they stare at the foreigners.  Truly realizes there are no other children about.  A horn sounds and the villagers scatter.  A toymaker begrudgingly takes the family inside and hides them. And explains there is a law in Vulgaria that children are not allowed; the baroness hates them.  A creepy man, called the Child Catcher comes through the square, claiming he can smell children.  The Potts and Truly disguise themselves as Jack-in-the-box in the toymaker’s basement.  But Chitty is captured.  The toymaker takes Caractacus to view the castle’s defenses.  Truly is left in charge of the children, but she goes out to get food and orders Jeremy and Jemima to stay put.  But the Child Catcher comes back, gaily bedecked and claiming he has lollipops and ice cream.  And well, children are easily attracted to lollipops and ice cream; except his wagon is a cage.  Some of the villagers try to warn the children, but he makes off back to the castle with them.  That evening, the toymaker shows Caractacus and Truly where the villagers hide their own children underneath the castle.  Caractacus tries to give the children hope by singing them Hushabye Mountain, though Truly has to finish.  Now, he has a plan.

The next day is the baron’s birthday.  He starts with a visit to his wife, whom he actually can’t stand.  The previous day, he had gleefully aimed a shotgun at her full skirt when Chitty launched her into the air, only slightly claiming it as an attempt to get her down.  He does hit the skirt and she falls into the lake, unharmed, to his disappointment.  Today, she’s in some odd lingerie and very long braided pigtails.  To a child, their funny nicknames of Cootchie Face are cute and the baron keeps trying to kill the baroness, though as a kid, didn’t fully realize that.  His later celebration is full of elderly purple-wearing court members miserably dancing.  The baroness orders the toymaker in with a surprise; two lifelike dolls.  (Actually, Caractacus and Truly in disguise).  Truly is a Doll on a Music Box, Caractacus is a clown doll.  He eventually joins in with the harmony of Truly Scrumptious.  They distract the baron and the children sneak in.  A few drop a hook from the ceiling and lift up the baron.  A net is dropped, trapping the court and the children get a bit of revenge, even trapping the Child Catcher in a net.  Caractacus, Truly and the toymaker search for Jeremy and Jemima and get them out.  The villagers also enter the castle to save their children.  Baron Bomburst and his baroness try to escape, but are caught in the cage by the children.  Grandpa Potts emerges from the cellars and Chitty drives itself in to rescue its family.  The whole family flies out and Vulgaria is now a free country.

The family is on the beach again and Jemima and Jeremy eagerly finish the story that their father and Truly get married.  Caractacus doesn’t say much, just drives Truly home.  Then tries to pass his children’s notion off as silly and puts his foot in his mouth.  They discover Lord Scrumptious at the Potts home, happily playing with Grandpa Potts, who was his batman most likely during the Zulu wars (a batman was a solider assigned to a commissioned officer as his personal servant).  Lord Scrumptious offers Caractacus a contract to produce his “Toot Sweets” for dogs.  It will make him rich.  Before he signs the paperwork, Caractacus races out to find Truly, running her off the road again.  It’s now no longer ridiculous for him to marry Truly and she readily agrees, so he kisses her.  Grandpa Potts refers to his son as an eccentric, and has no idea where he could have gotten it from (hmm…).  Caractacus and Truly fly off in Chitty, passing over the house where their family waves to them.

chitty

I adore the theme song for this movie.  The car is magical and I just smile at it.  I see a lot of my brother and I in the Potts children (though we diligently went to school), but playing together and making up stories together.  They are sweet children and though Caractacus may not be the best father, he is kind and loving and is even potentially willing to put his own dreams on hold to take care of them.  I think the part in Vulgaria is funny; still nostalgic.

And interesting note: Peter Jackson owns one of the Chitty cars.  He showed it off on the set of the Hobbit when they were filming Old Took’s birthday scenes.  The young children were not interested, but the adults clamored to see it.  I would be one of them!  It’s revealed during the behind the scenes appendices…I forget at the moment if it’s with the extended edition or the theatrical edition.

Next Time: The beloved Mary Poppins

“Anything and everything/ a chap can unload/ is sold off the barrow/ in Portabello Road”

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

A Disney live-action film from 1971 that mixes in animation like Mary Poppins did.  It is based on a book by Mary Norton and is a beloved movie from my childhood.  It stars Angela Landsbury (the original Mrs. Potts and star of Murder, She Wrote) as Miss Eglantine Price, David Tomlinson (the father in Mary Poppins) as Professor Emelius Browne, and another Mary Poppins‘ alum is Reginale Owen; he played Admiral Boom in Poppins and General Teagler in Bedknobs.  The Sherman brothers also wrote the music for this film.  The 25th Anniversary Edition DVD release runs longer than the theatrical version; some songs had been cut and were now restored.  Oddly, the most recent Blu-ray release goes back to the theatrical version.  Sadly, there is no good soundtrack for the musical available; the most noticeable difference being in Portobello Road.

The opening credits run against a medieval tapestry backdrop, similar to the Bayeux Tapestry.  It takes place in 1940, during WWII, near the White Cliffs of Dover.  “Again – A time for valor.  A time of whispered events.  Now faded with the passing years.”  A town stands in the shadow of an old castle; they are currently taking care of the children evacuated from London due to the bombings (similar to the main characters in C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).  We’re briefly introduced to the Soldiers of the Old Home Guard, led by General Teagler.  Miss Price shows up for her package and is forced to take three children.  She’s very busy with important work and does not traditionally get on well with children, but she’ll do her duty until more suitable arrangements can be made.  The local preacher fawns over Miss Price, though he flounces off when the postmistress points out he’s making moves because he admires Miss Price’s nice house and land.

Miss Price lives alone, aside from a black cat that came with the name Cosmic Creepers.  When the children are asleep, she takes her package to her workshop and unwraps a broom, from Professor Emelius Browne’s Correspondence College of Witchcraft.  She manages to successfully fly for a bit with a spell, until she topples over.  The children see her when they attempt to sneak out back to London.  Charlie thinks it is a wise idea to blackmail Miss Price, but he goes a little too far and she turns him into a white rabbit.  But her spells never last very long and he quickly turns back, after being pursued by Cosmic Creepers.  Miss Price lets them in on her secret; she plans to use magic to help the war effort.  And to win over the children, she charms a bedknob with a traveling spell.  Then persuades the children to go to London so she can get the last lesson from Professor Browne himself when he stops the course.  Charlie initially doesn’t think the bed will work and Miss Price remarks he is at the Age of Not Believing.

But the bed works.  Except they discover that Professor Browne is a street magician and self-admitted fraud and charlatan, though he does everything With a Flair.  Miss Price ends up turning Professor Browne into a white rabbit when she confronts him.  He is surprised that one of his spells worked; he simply put together words out of an old book.  He then takes Miss Price and the children to the abandoned home he is squatting in (it’s abandoned because there is an unexploded bomb in the front yard).  The children explore the nursery while he shows Miss Price the library.  Except, instead of getting the desired book for Miss Price, he wants her to join him in a stage show.  She’d be an assistant who could really do magic.  But Miss Price, who reveals her first name is Eglantine is determined to find the book.  She turns Browne into a rabbit again and he finally shows her the book, The Spells of Astoroth; of which he only has half.  And the five magic words for the substitutiary locomotion spell; an “ancient and mystic art of causing objects to take on a life force of their own” are missing.

Miss Price demands they find the other half of the book and Browne takes them to Portobello Road, “street where the riches/ of ages are stowed.”  This is one of my favorite parts of the film.  An impromptu dance party breaks out and features several music and dance styles from around the British empire.  They don’t have much luck finding the other half of the book until a slightly scary man leads them to the “Bookman.”  He in fact has the other half of the book and is looking for the same spell.  Except the book only states that the five words are written on the Star of Astoroth, worn by the sorcerer.  The Star is now on the fabled Isle of Namboobu.  The adults don’t believe such a place exists, but young Paul found a children’s book on it.  So the children, Miss Price, and Professor Browne are able to use the bed to escape the Bookman and travel to the Isle of Namboombu.  Well, the lagoon first and they are “bobbing along/ on the bottom/ of the Beautiful Briny sea.”  This is where the animation comes in, for the animals dress and talk like humans.  A bear catches the bed, but wants to throw the five humans back into the lagoon because the king has issued a “No Peopling Allowed” law.  Well, they want to see the king.

Professor Browne manages to ingratiate himself to the king (a lion; in fact, the animation is very similar to Robin Hood) when he offers to referee the soccer match [note how they refer to is as “soccer,” rather than “football” as Europeans call it.  You can tell it was produced by Americans despite most of the cast being English and the story taking place in England.]  My brother and I loved the soccer match as kids, Browne getting trampled by the animals throughout the game.  And they discover that the king wears the star.  Browne manages to pocket the star and they’re chased off the island.  Sadly, the star is of another world and cannot be brought back to ours; it simply disappears.  But Paul saves the day again; his book has an illustration of the star and the words for the spell (technically, would have been helpful to know that before, but, kids love the animation).  Browne suggests that Miss Price use the words “Tregura Mekoides Trecoru Satis Dee” with a flair.  And she’s got it!  She’s managed Substitutiary Locomotion!  This is another beloved part of the film.

The little domestic scene is broken when news arrives that another family has offered to take the children.  Miss Price has changed her mind and the children start to think of Professor Browne as a father figure.  That scares him off a bit and he starts to head back to London, but the trains are finished for the day.  Miss Price sings of Nobody’s Problems; she has it in her mind that she doesn’t want or need anyone else around, she’s quite comfortable with her life.  But we all know she misses Browne [this part was cut from the theatrical release].  Except there are more important things to worry about now; the Germans have made a landing.  They enter Miss Price’s house and stage their minor raid to induce panic and spread mischief.  Miss Price’s memory fails her and she can’t turn the commander into a rabbit, but Browne manages to get away and sneaks into the house.  He finds the spell and uses it on himself so he can get away again and find Miss Price and the children.  They’re being held in the old castle.

sub loc battle

Once he transforms back, he and the children convince Miss Price to use the substitutiary locomotion spell again.  And this is my brother’s and mine absolute favorite part.  The spell starts small, just the banners waving, but then a drums and horns start and the whole castle comes alive!  The knights and Redcoats are reanimated and join together.  Miss Price flies at the head of the army and they chant the spell.  The Germans don’t know what to make of the phenomenon in front of them; Scotsmen and bagpipes stretching across the cliff.  Their bullets only go through the empty suits of armor; they keep marching.  A few minutes later, the Germans start retreating.  The commotion has also woken the Home Guard and they rush to the coast.  But the Germans manage to blow up Miss Price’s workshop as she flies over; the army falls, un-animated now.  The Guard fires a few shots to warn the Germans and Miss Price is relatively unharmed.  She’s pleased she did her part of the war effort, but has always known she could never be a proper witch with the way she feels about poisoned dragon’s liver.

They are now all a family; the children will remain with Miss Price and Professor Browne has decided to join the Army.  The Soldiers of the Old Home Guard give him an escort to the station and he gives Miss Price a kiss farewell.  The children at first fear that the rest of the time will be boring now, but Paul still has the bedknob.

This is the first film I ever saw Angela Landsbury in.  I loved the children’s adventures and of course wanted to visit an island where the animals talk and play soccer.  And even as a child, I was excited to see these reanimated knights face off against the Germans.  And the budding dancer in me was fascinated by all the dancing in Portobello Road.  I think the movie is now a forgotten gem; overshadowed by Mary Poppins (though I absolutely adore that movie as well).

Next Time: Another beloved childhood favorite of mine, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

“Waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp/ on this humid Monday morning/ in this Congressional incubator”

1776

An entire musical about creating the Declaration of Independence and most famously stars William Daniels (K.I.T.T. from the original Knightrider, and Mr. Feeney in Boy Meets World) as John Adams (yes, that is why the school is named John Adams and the schools in Girl Meets World are Quincy Adams and Abigail Adams).  He created the role on Broadway.  This musical did feature into a section of curriculum in my sophomore English class; but I was well familiar with the show before then; I was watching this in kindergarten.  I even found and read a published copy of the screenplay.  And Lin-Manuel Miranda does credit 1776 as a bit of inspiration for his smash hit of Hamilton.  I like to watch this film around the Fourth of July, for obvious reasons and I tend to listen to The Lees of Old Virginia when I visit Virginia.  And I am descended from some Lees; not related to Robert E. or Richard Henry; mine were miners from Wales in the early twentieth century (though my mother did find it funny when they attended a performance of the show and the actor pointed to them, not knowing they were Lees).

The film begins with John Adams musing near the Liberty Bell, then fetched to help vote on the very important issue of whether all the Rhode Island militia must wear matching uniforms.  Good God, indeed.  Adams thunders down several flights of stairs to enter the hall, rebuking “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace.  That two, are a law firm.  And that three or more become a Congress!  And by God I have had this Congress!”  For ten years, King George has imposed more and more taxes on the colonies and when they begin to stand up for themselves, the British have blockaded their ports and started a fight.  But Congress still refuses to hear any of Adams proposals on independence; even so much as the courtesy of open debate.  “Good God, what in hell are you waiting for!”  Sit Down, John the members of Congress cry.  Adams implores them to “vote yes!”  “Good God, consider yourselves fortunate that you have John Adams to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it!” he cries, then storms out to discuss the matter with God.  For one year, the Congress has been sitting there, Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve, and done nothing.  Adams would rather have a catastrophe than Congress; “good God, sir, was that fair?”  Then his wife, Abigail [one of two female roles in the entire show] chimes in.  Adams asks about the salt peter he asked the women to make; they have not done as he asks, because he neglected to tell them how to make it.  Besides, they require pins.  But they finish affectionately “till then/ till then/ I am/ as I ever was/ and ever shall be/ yours.”  (A lot of this is taken from letters they wrote to each other as well as diaries and documents the men kept during the time)

william-daniels-as-john-adams-in-1776

Adams seeks out Benjamin Franklin the next day to discuss their next step.  Both are dispirited by their fellow Congressmen’s actions: “with one hand they can raise an army, dispatch of their own to lead it, and cheer the news from Bunker’s Hill.  And with the other, they wave the olive branch, begging the king for a happy and permanent reconciliation.  Fat King George has declared us in rebellion, why in bloody hell can’t they?” Adams moans.  “Reconciliation, my ass.  The people want independence.”  Franklin points out that what America is doing has never been done before; no colony has broken from the parent nation.  Then thinks of a humorous saying that treason is an excuse for the winners to hang the losers.  Besides, “the people have read Mr. Paine’s Common Sense, I doubt very much that Congress has.”

Congress doesn’t like to listen to Adams, Franklin continues, because the man is obnoxious and disliked.  Thus, if Adams wants the topic of independence to be discussed, it would be best if someone else proposes it.  “Never!” Adams declares.  Well, did Franklin have anyone in mind?  Perhaps…and in rides flamboyant Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia.  Adams is not keen on the notion, but Richard is happy to help.  Virginia is a known supporter of independence, but its government in Williamsburg has not formally committed to the cause.  Richard eagerly muses that once Virginia is official, the middle colonies and then the south will follow.  “Gentlemen, to Virginia, the mother of American Independence!”  “Incredible, we’re free and he hasn’t even left yet,” Adams grouses.  Richard knows he will succeed because “my name is Richard Henry Lee/ Virginia is my home…for I am FFV/ the first family/ in the sovereign colony of Virginia/ yes, the FFV/ the oldest family/ in the oldest colony in America!”  “You see it’s here a Lee/ there a Lee/ everywhere a Lee, a Lee!”  Franklin joins in on The Lees of Old Virginia starting words that end with “l-y,” so Richard can announce “Lee!”  Adams mutters “spoken modest-Lee/ God help us.”  Richard is so confident, he feels that “God leans a little on the side/ of the Lees, the Lees of Old Virginia!”  He names several Lees, including his nephew, General “Light-horse” Harry Lee [father of Robert E. Lee from the Civil War].

Quick historical note: there were families known as the FFV, the First Families of Virginia and the Lees were one of them.  They were not necessarily the first settlers of the colony, but were the most socially prominent and wealthiest.  Most had strong ties back in England and friends with King Charles II.  Hence why Virginia was sometimes referred to as “Old Dominion” and “Cavalier Country.”  The first Lee in Virginia was Richard Henry’s grandfather, who emigrated to Jamestown in 1642.  At one point, I wanted to move to Virginia to utilize my history degree, since colonial history has many ties to British history and the Stuarts (Charles II was a Stuart; George III was a Hanoverian, the subsequent dynasty in England) were a topic of interest.

Carrying on, Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia arrives to Congress and both sides are eager for him to join, though Rutledge of South Carolina mandates that the deep South speak with one voice; it’s traditional.  We witness the dynamics of Congress; Pennsylvania is divided between Franklin and Dickinson, Judge Wilson bows to Dickinson’s requests.  Delaware is also divided.  New Jersey hasn’t shown, New York continually abstains, courteously (because they have no instructions; everyone in New York government speaks very loud and very fast; no one hears anyone else and thus, nothing gets done).  North Carolina respectively yields to South Carolina.  And just when Dickinson, leader of the opposition to independence, starts to believe that the upstart idea has blown itself out, Lee returns with the proposition from Williamsburg: “Resolved, that these united colonies are and have a right to be, free and independent states.  That they are absolved of allegiance to the British Crown and that all political alliance between them and the stage of great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved!” [Historically known as the Lee Resolution]

Now comes the debate.  Dickinson asks Adams ‘why.’  Why do the New England colonies want to break with the greatest empire the world has ever known?  Why forsake Hastings and Magna Carta , Tudor and Plantagenet?  Is not England the noblest and most civilized nation known to man?  Adams is simply an agitator.  If he has disagreements, he must provide a gentler mean of breaking with England, short of revolution.  Well, Adams first point is that the colonists are no longer Englishmen, they are Americans.  Franklin wakes from his nap when Dickinson starts banging his stick, “Englishmen!”  After a joke about bulls, the elder statesmen points out that Americans are being denied the rights of Englishmen.  The colonists are a rougher breed; they are a new nationality and require a new nation.  Rutledge of South Carolina chimes in, wanting to know who will govern South Carolina in the new nation.  The people of South Carolina, or the people of Massachusetts?  Adams insists it will be one nation.  Well, South Carolina desires independency, for South Carolina.  They envision sovereign states united for mutual protection; meaning that South Carolina does not have to do what Massachusetts or Pennsylvania does.  Another Congressman argues that they should wait until they somehow win the war (for the are fighting against the largest army of that time period); once they win, they can declare anything they please.  Adams urges that the men fighting need a purpose or goal that they are fighting for.  They more than make up for Britain’s army with spirit.  Adams and Dickinson start name calling, ending with “landlord!” and “lawyer!” beating each other’s sticks.

The fight breaks up with Cesar Rodney of Delaware collapses.  But New Jersey has arrived, finally, led by Reverend John Witherspoon [an actual ancestor of mine on my father’s side].  And they have been instructed to vote for independence.  But Dickinson moves that any vote for independence must be unanimous.  And Hancock agrees; so no brother is fighting his brother [oh boy, bit of foreshadowing].  Adams must stall for time and moves for a postponement, so they can craft a document listing their reasons for separating from England, keeping with European tradition.  In essence, declaring their illegal rebellion in fact legal.  Thus, a committee is created, including Adams, Franklin, Sherman (CT), and Livingston (NY).  They ask Lee, but he has been invited to join the Virginian government, so they derail Jefferson’s plans to leave for home and have him join; they need a Virginian.

Franklin figures he can get Adams to write the declaration, “to your legal mind/ and brilliance, we defer.”   But Adams reminds Franklin “well, if I’m the one to do it/ they’ll run their quill pens through it/ I’m obnoxious and disliked/ you know that, sir;” it would be better if Franklin wrote it.  But, Mr. Adams, Franklin “won’t put politics on paper/ it’s a mania/ so I refuse/ to use the pen/ in Pennsylvania.”  Sherman is not controversial, but he doesn’t “know a participle from a predicate.”  Livingston is a diplomat, but has a new son at home, so he’s “going home to celebrate/ and pop a cork.”  That leaves Jefferson.  Adams flatters him, saying “you write ten times better than any man in Congress, including me.  For a man of only thirty-three years, you have a happy talent of composition and a remarkable felicity of expression.”  Jefferson insists on going home.  Adams refuses to let him; he will make Jefferson write it, by physical force if necessary (note: there’s about a foot difference in height between the two men).  Adams knows how Jefferson feels, startling everyone; he continues to yearn for his own wife.  But it’s Jefferson’s duty, damn it.  Adams shoves the quill pen into Jefferson’s hands and declares, “do as you like with it!”  Jefferson struggles to start and it’s not until Adams sends for his wife that he shows any inspiration.  Well, after he attends to his wife first.

Adams reminisces on his wife; they both live solitary, celibate lives at the moment and hate it.  But Abigail ensures her husband “what was there, John/ still is there, John.”  Yours, Yours, Yours.  When Franklin returns in the morning, Adams remarks that he won’t be remembered in the history books, only Franklin.  “Franklin did this, and Franklin did that, and Franklin did some other damn thing.  Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse.  Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod, and the three of them, Franklin, Washington, and the horse, conducted the entire Revolution all by themselves.”  (Adams has a point; we hear far more about Franklin, especially as young students, and when we do hear about Adams, he’s usually regulated to a background character.  Washington and Jefferson are both better known.)

1776 (1972) Directed by Peter H. Hunt Shown from left: Howard DaMartha finally emerges to see Franklin and Adams and they ask how Jefferson wooed such a lovely young woman, for he is not a verbose man.  Instead, He Plays the Violin; “he tucks it/ right under his chin/ and he bows/ oh he bows/ for he knows/ yes, he knows/ That it’s high, high, high/ diddle diddle/ twixt my heart/ Tom, and his fiddle/ my strings are unstrung/ high, high, high, high/ I am undone.”  (As a young child and even into my teenage years, the innuendo of this went over my head; I learned it innocently and that is how I viewed it, despite my friends attempts to change my mind.)  When Tom is not playing the violin, they dance.  So Martha dances with both Franklin and even Adams (such a pretty gown, with a poufy skirt).

While Jefferson writes, Franklin and Adams must see to persuading the other colonies.  When news of whoring and drinking amongst the army in New Brunswick is reported to Congress (most of Washington’s dispatches were filled with doom and despair), Adams and Franklin take Samuel Chase to win Maryland’s vote.  Dickinson cheers that Adams is gone.  So it is time for the Cool, Cool, Considerate Men to reign (supposedly President Nixon ordered this song removed and it was from the video release, but the film was not destroyed and thus restored when released on DVD).  These conservative men [meaning they are not the fiery men like John and Samuel Adams; it has nothing to do with present political standings and viewpoints] “have land/ cash in hand/ self command/ future planned/ fortune thrives/ society survives/ in neatly ordered lives.”  “What we do/ we do rationally/ we never ever/ go off/ half-cocked, not we/  why begin/ till we know we can win/ and if we cannot win/ why bother to begin?”  Why risk losing?  (Hmm, Adams was right a bit, calling Dickinson a coward.)  Dickinson asks Hancock to join them as a man of property, but Hancock would rather join Adams.  Dickinson warns that Adams and his friends will be branded traitors.  “Traitors to what, Mr. Dickinson?  The British Crown, or the British half-crown (piece of money)?  Fortunately, there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy.”  Dickinson argues that “most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.  And that is why, they will follow us.”

The film takes a sad tone after this, when the Congressional custodians ask the dispatch rider about himself.  He begins to eagerly recount he’s seen fighting and two of his best friends got shot in the same day, not far from their homes.  Then their mothers look for them on the battlefields, Momma Look Sharp.

Everyone reconvenes for the reading of the Declaration of Independence.  Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson wait outside the room.  Adams vows it’s a masterpiece.  What’s left to decide is the symbol of America.  Should it be a dove, an eagle, or a turkey?  Franklin pushes the turkey, but Adams swoops in and declares it will be an eagle.  “Though the shell/ may belong to Great Britain/ the eagle inside/ belongs to us!”  Then comes nearly a week of revisions.  Adams tries to shut down some of the extensive ones; “it’s a revolution, dammit; we’re going to have to offend somebody!”  Jefferson insists that the king remains a tyrant; up till now, he’s been going along with Congress, but he insists that passage be scratched back in.  Franklin counsels Dickinson that “those that give up some of their liberties in order to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty, nor safety.”

But a larger battle comes to head; the issue of slavery.  South Carolina wants the passage removed from the Declaration, for they wish to retain their peculiar institution.  Rutledge points out that Jefferson himself owns slave, for all that he comments the Good Book abhors it.  Adams insist they are Americans; they are people and they are here.  But Rutledge brings up that New England profits from the slave trade as well, despite their propriety; they provide the ships and trade on the African coast.  Molasses to Rum to slaves is the trade triangle, and Rutledge illustrates an auction until he is warned.  “Hail Boston/ Hail Charleston/ who stinkest/ the most?” he finishes.  Then the whole South walks out.  Franklin and Adams argue.  Adams storms up to the bell tower and ponders the position he is in with Abigail.  She urges him to remember commitment.  And there is a surprise waiting for him.  She sent the salt peter.  Adams orders one of the aids to go out and buy every damn pin in Philadelphia for the ladies.

Reinvigorated, Adams urges Franklin and Jefferson to continue working; the vote is in the morning.  Hancock offers to do what Adams wants; he’s still a Massachusetts man, but Adams implores him to remain a fair man.  Then Adams has the hall to himself in the dark for a moment, looking over Washington’s last dispatch, quoting Is Anybody There?  Does anybody care?  Passionately shouting “Does anybody see/ what I see…I see fireworks/ I see the pageant/ and pomp and parade/ I hear the bells ringing out/ I hear the canons roar/ I see Americans/ all Americans free/ forevermore.”  Dr. Hall startles him by entering and moves his vote to ‘yay,’ openly recalling something he read from Edmund Burke, a member of Britain’s Parliament, that a representative owes his people his judgment and he fails if he does not do so.

The vote is called in the morning.  Delaware brings Cesar Rodney back to have a majority vote.  Pennsylvania passes so they can continue to debate amongst themselves.  When they come to South Caroline, Rutledge faces down Adams and Jefferson and Jefferson himself scratches the passage out.  Adams and Franklin argue amongst themselves that they will be guilty of the same thing they are rebelling against; how will posterity forever them?  Franklin states that the issue right now is independence.  Yes, posterity will frown on them, but they will be dead.  And they’re men, not demi-gods.  With the South on their side, the vote for independence comes down to Pennsylvania.  Franklin votes yes.  Dickinson votes no.  Now, it all rests on Judge Wilson.  There is no precedence here to go by.  And he’s not like Dickinson, he doesn’t want to be remembered.  If he sides with the majority, he’s one of many.  If he sides with Dickinson, he’ll be the man who prevented American independence.  He votes ‘yay.’  Dickinson will not sign the Declaration and thus cannot remain in Congress, but he is still loyal to America and will join the fight in her defense, even if he hopes to one day reconcile with England.  Adams leads the cheer for Dickinson as he leaves.  The official copy is brought out for signing, John Hancock’s signature being the first and largest, so King George can read it without his glasses.  The bell chimes as each man signs, the date reading July 4th, and the camera pulls back to show a mirror image of John Trumbull’s famous painting.

1776 end scene

Yes, there are a few historical inaccuracies in the show.  The Declaration of Independence was ratified on July fourth, but it wasn’t signed until August second.  Some of the debates  were re-worked for a bit for dramatic effect.  Still, it is a lot more accurate than many other shows and movies (cough-Braveheart-cough).  There have since been further retellings of these men, such as an HBO miniseries in 2008 on John Adams based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, starring Paul Giamatti (I believe my mother has read the book and I’m not sure if she has watched the series).  There is of course, the recent smash Broadway hit of Hamilton (which premieres on Disney+ on July 3rd).  But this show owns a piece of my heart.  It was probably one of my first history lessons.  When we covered it in sophomore English, my classmates would come to me for answers because I sat there, reciting the whole film.  A friend and I wanted to do a gender-swapped production; she’d be Franklin and I’d be Adams.  Though I love The Lees of Old Virginia, it would be fun to sing Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.  While Molasses to Rum is not a pleasant song, John Cullum performs it well.  William Daniels is wonderful as John Adams, though he is of equal status as Mr. Feenie.

 

If you have any questions, feel free to message me.

Up Next: Delving more into my childhood, Bedknobs and Broomsticks

“Jellicle cats come out tonight/ Jellicle cats come one, come all/ the Jellicle moon is shining bright/ Jellicles come to the Jellicle ball”

Cats

This was the first musical I ever saw on stage; my mother was a chaperone on my brother’s class field trip and I went with them.  Heck, I even remember what I wore that day because I was so excited.  And I distinctly remember listening to this soundtrack from a young age; we had the record [before vinyl came back ‘in’].  We named one of our cats “Tugger” after this show.  I know these recordings so well, that I can pick out the difference in sound between the London Cast and the Broadway Cast, and I am enough of a nerd that I have a preference [Broadway]; and it is another soundtrack that I know almost every word.  The show is based on T.S. Eliot’s poetry book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats; which I have a copy of (somewhere) and did dramatic readings from for speech club in high school.  It is the second-longest running musical in Broadway history, behind only Webber’s other famous musical Phantom of the Opera.  Note; I am basing this off of the 1998 staged production, which stars Elaine Page as Grizabella [she replaced Judi Dench when she was injured to star on the West End], filmed in London; NOT the recent film version.  I have heard too many poor reviews and the bits I have caught do not make me want to watch it.  My mother and I were very excited when it was first announced, but by the time we saw the trailer, we knew it was not what we wanted.  Quick note to those who created the recent movie: we are theatre people, we don’t mind seeing people dressed up like cats; no need for that CGI business.

Onwards!

The prologue are cat eyes falling into the background; and the center of the eyes are dancers posed.  Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats explains what Jellicle cats are, such as “are you mean like a minx/ are you lean like a linx?”  There is a beautiful chorale section in the middle, until they break apart again to dance.  But “there’s a man over there/ with a look of surprise…a man who’s not heard/ of a Jellicle cat.”  And they explain the Naming of Cats.  There are three names that a cat has; the “sensible, everyday” name that the family uses, then “a cat needs a name that’s particular/ a name that’s peculiar/ and more dignified,” one that has never belonged to more than one cat.  And finally a secret name that “no human research can discover,” and cats ponder it often “his ineffable, effable, effanineffable/ deep and inscrutable/singular name.”  [I remember having to look up was ‘ineffable’ meant when I was younger: too sacred to be spoken.]  Munkustrap explains that Jellicle cats congregate once a year for the Jellicle ball, when the Jellicle leader will make a choice on which cat ascends to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn.

rum tum tuggerDifferent cats get their own solo pieces, like Jennyanydots, The Old Gumbie Cat.  She’s known to “sits and sits and sits and sits/ and that’s what makes her a gumbie cat.”  “But, when the day’s hustle and bustle is done/ than the gumbie cat’s work is but hardly begun.”  She teaches mice skills and orders beetles about, and there’s a fun tap dance routine.  Then Rum Tum Tugger bursts onto stage [a favorite].  He’s a “curious cat,” quite contrary.  If you give him one thing, he wants another.  “For he will do as he do do/ and there’s no doing anything a-bow-wow-it,” and struts about like Mick Jagger.  Grizabella, The Glamour Cat skirts by and the rest of the cats shun her, pulling younger cats away.  She’s a fallen cat, a pale shadow to who she once was.  Things cheer up when the cats remark about Bustopher Jones, “who is not skin and bones/ in fact, he’s remarkably fat.”  Police sirens go and the cats worry about Macavity.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer sneak out; a pair of thieves that the family can’t always tell the difference between, “or could you have sworn/ that it might’n be both?”  “And there’s nothing at all/ to be done about that!”  The Jellicle leader, Old Deuteronomy comes out next.  “Well of all things/ can it be really/ yes oh a high a my eyes;” he “lived a long time/ he’s a cat that has lived/ many lives, in succession.”  All the cats, even Rum Tum Tugger respect him and Mr. Mistoffelees very fond of him.  Munkustrap entertains the gathered cats with the tale of the Peakes and Pollicles; actually various dogs that get into a fight, until the Great Rumpus Cat comes out and scares them away.  It’s rather humorous to see “cats” dress up as “dogs.”  The cats hide when they think Macavity is about, but emerge again to joyfully dance at the Jellicle Ball, reiterating that Jellicle cats are black and white, and rather small.  When they’re lazy, they “are reserving our terpsichorean [dancing] powers!’ and “resting and saving/ ourselves to be ripe/ for the Jellicle Moon/ and the Jellicle Ball!”  The dance is wonderfully choreographed.

Grizabella reappears and Old Deuteronomy notices how she is treated and how she tries to remember her old moves.  He remarks on the Moments of HappinessGus, the Theatre Cat is brought out; he’s old and frail and can just remember when he used to be a star.  Some stage productions will include Growltiger’s Last Stand here as one of his old roles; the recording did not.  Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat pounces in next; he is in charge “of the sleeping car express,” keeping everything in order.  But Macavity strikes again, stealing away Old Deuteronomy.  Two female cats remark on what they know of Macavity, the Napoleon of Crime (typically refers to Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes; note the similarity in names).  Whenever the police get to one of his crime scenes, he’s not there.  It looks like he returns Old Deuteronomy, but it’s really Macavity in disguise and he fights Munkustrap before he escapes, shutting down the lights.  Rum Tum Tugger cheers everyone up with Mr. Mistoffelees, “the original conjuring cat.”  “Oh well, a never was there/ ever a cat so clever as/ magical Mr. Mistoffelees!” (another of my favorite songs)  [It has been noted that his name is similar to Mephistopheles, another name for the devil, but note the different spelling, and Mistoffelees is a sweet cat]  His coat lights up and he brings back the lights on stage; and even Old Deuteronomy.

When Grizabella appears again, she finally sings all of Memory, recalling her days in the sun.  She waits for each new day, letting night pass away, and hoping that each day will get better.  “Touch me/ it’s so easy to leave me/ all alone with the memory/ of my days in the sun/ If you touch me/ you’ll understand what happiness is.”   Some of the younger cats finally get close to her and touch her, and the rest of the Jellicles accept her.  Munkustrap leads her to Old Deuteronomy and the leader takes her to a tire that rises to a descended stair.  She Journeys to the Heaviside Layer, “up, up, up past the Russell Hotel/ up, up, up, to the Heaviside layer/ Up, up, up, past the Jellicle Moon/  up, up, up, to the Heaviside layer.”  Old Deuteronomy sums up the evening on The Ad’dressing of Cats; remember, they are not a dog.  Treat them with respect.

This is another musical that I would dance around our living room too.  Rum Tum Tugger, Macavity, and Mr. Mistoffelees were my favorite.  As a singer, I’d love to perform Memory (which does not have a corresponding poem; Webber composed it for Sunset Blvd then repurposed it for Cats).

Next Time: 1776

“The world and I/ we are still waiting/ still hesitating”

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Wow, that’s a mouthful; I typically refer to it as simply Joseph.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first big musical, based on the Bible story of Joseph from Genesis.  It originated as a much shorter production for a school performance and is still widely performed by schools in the U.K. and that is how it is framed in the film.  Donny Osmond leads as Joseph (he has already been performing the role on stage for several years).  The teachers were also the main characters, including the headmaster (I believe) who was also Jacob, played by Richard Attenborough (Jurassic Park, and 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street).  If Pharaoh looks a bit familiar, he’s played by Robert Torti, the father in Suite Life of Zack and Cody.  So the students file into the auditorium and their presenter arrives, introducing the story as a “dreamer like you,” encouraging “you are what you feel.”  Donny enters, explaining Any Dream Will Do and the students even join in.  The narrator hands him his coat and the story begins in earnest.  Jacob and Sons are the beginning of the nation of Israel; Jacob has twelve sons (the original twelve tribes), ranging from Rueben to Benjamin; the last being Joseph, “Jacob’s favorite son,” being the son of his favorite wife [Biblically, Benjamin was also that wife’s son and younger than Joseph].

dreamcoat

Joseph’s brothers were not pleased with his status as their father’s favorite and hurt when their father treated Joseph to an amazing multi-colored coat.  Kids stream on stage to help count off the colors, their uniforms changing to fun colored play clothes.  Joseph’s Dreams have got his brothers’ goat; guileless dreams where their eleven ears of corn all turn and bow to his.  Or eleven stars in the heavens bow to his.  They declare “the dreamer’s got to go.”  The show also mixes song styles, so Poor, Poor Joseph starts a bit like a rap, with the brothers planning to throw Joseph into a pit and steal his coat.  Then, some “hairy Ishmaelites,” come riding by and they sell their brother as a slave, “off to Egypt/ where Joseph was not keen to go.”  The brothers then tore the coat, attacked a passing goat, and dipped the coat in “blood and guts and gore.”  With Joseph gone, the brothers give the news to their father, there’s One More Angel in Heaven, in a Western theme.  There’s even a hoedown dance break.  Jacob is crushed; the brothers and their wives are pleased.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Joseph was bought by a man named Potiphar.  Joseph came to like his job and “liked his master/ consequently worked much harder/ even with devotion.”  Potiphar made him leader of his household, “maximum promotion.”  Potiphar’s wife, beautiful but evil, and sought a lot of men against their will.  She liked Joseph as eye candy and “every morning beckoned/ ‘Come and lie with me, love!'”  Joseph refused, but Potiphar’s wife had her way, instructing her other companions to take off Joseph’s shirt.  Potiphar investigated the rumpus and found a compromising situation.  He throws Joseph in jail.  He muses in his cell, Close Every Door to Me [one of my favorite songs from the show]; but he’s still hopeful, “for we [children of Israel] know we shall find/ our own piece of mind/ for we have been promised/ a land of our own.”  A while later, he is joined by two other prisoners, a butler and baker from the Pharaoh.  They have had dreams they don’t understand and ask Joseph for help interpreting  The butler crushed grapes to wine, gave the cup to Pharaoh, who drank.  This means he will soon be free.  The baker on the other hand, had birds who ate all his bread.  Sadly, that means his execution date is set.  The rest of the prisoners cheer him on, Go, Go, Go Joseph, emerging in colorful sixties’ clothes [this is my favorite part].

“Strange as it seems/ there’s been a run/ of crazy dreams,” including the Pharaoh.  Poor, Poor Pharaoh, whatchu gonna do?  His butler recommends Joseph.  The Pharaoh explains (a take-off on Elvis) about the Seven Fat Cows who are eaten by seven skinny cows.  There are also seven full ears of corn that are consumed by seven skinny ones.  He’s all shook up and asks Joseph for his answer.  Joseph explains that the dreams foretell seven years of bumper crops, followed by seven years of famine.  And what Pharaoh needs is someone to be in charge.  Well Stone the Crows!  Pharaoh frees Joseph and appoints him, though he has to periodically tear him away from the fangirls.

But what has happened to the family Joseph left behind?  Those Canaan Days full of plenty are gone, now they’re starving (they did not ration like Egypt).  Simeon adopts a French accent for the song and encourages to “raise you berets.”  Desperate, the brothers decide to go to Egypt for food.  And discover Joseph!  Except “not a brother among them/ knew who he was” and Grovel, Grovel to Pharaoh’s Number Two, proving Joseph’s dreams from years ago correct.  Joseph plays with them for a minute, disbelieving their tale and they beg.  He eventually gives them food, but when they go to leave, he stops them.  For he hid his golden cup in Benjamin’s sack and all the brothers wonder Who’s the Thief?  When Benjamin is arrested, “each of the brothers/ fell to his knees/ ‘Show him some mercy/ oh mighty one, please/ He would not do this/ he must have been framed/ Jail us and beat us/ we should be blamed’.”  They further plead their case with Benjamin Calypso, arguing that “Benjamin is straighter than the tall palm tree” and “honest as coconuts.”  Joseph knew that his brothers had learned their lesson and reveals himself.  “So Jacob came to Egypt/ no longer feeling old/ and Joseph came to meet him/ in his chariot of gold.”  Joseph reprises Any Dream Will Do and the cast joins on Give Me My Coloured Coat.  The soundtrack includes the Joseph Remix.

I know some adults find this show cheesy; I think it’s good family fun.  I know practically all of the words and think it would be fun to be the Narrator (except I  knew I would never get it in our local theatre production).  I do happily recall days dancing around the living room when I was little to this soundtrack, making up my own dances.

Up Next: Cats

“In sleep he sang to me/ in dreams he came/ that voice which calls to me/ and speaks my name”

The Phantom of the Opera

The longest running musical in history; it premiered in 1986 and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011, only one year after Les Mis.  The most well known Andrew Lloyd Webber production, it is based on a French novel which has undergone numerous other iterations, including a black and white film from the twenties.  Michael Crawford was the first Phantom, chosen by Webber, though he originally thought Webber meant him for Raoul (I know someone who insisted that Colm Wilkinson was the best Phantom; I say let Colm have Les Mis and allow Michael Phantom), and Sarah Brightman was the first Christine (and married to Webber at the time; the part was essentially written for her…considering she is one of the few women to hit those high notes).  I knew the music of this show long before I fully knew the show or saw a rendition of it.  My mother is a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and played them for my brother and I at a very young age.  I can recall hearing an instrumental version of Music of the Night playing in the background at the school library in fifth grade, and knowing it.  I did get the Original Cast recording, which includes a libretto and I learned the storyline that way.  In high school, my friend planned an impromptu party and took me to see the movie after a break-up.  It was actually perfect, since I already loved the show, though I have not seen it on stage.

A film was made of the famous stage show in 2004.  Gerard Butler was cast as the Phantom (not the best casting choice), Emmy Rossum (a child opera performer with the Metropolitan Opera) was Christine, Patrick Wilson was Raoul, Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter) was Madame Giry, Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore, Amazing Grace, and Macne Rayder in Game of Thrones) was Firmin, Simon Callow (the Duke of Sandringham in Outlander, Shakespeare in Love, Charles Dickens in Doctor Who, and would later appear in The Man Who Invented Christmas) was Andre, and Kevin McNally (Mr. Gibbs in Pirates of the Caribbean) was Buquet.

The opening of the film appears in black and white; an auction at an old Parisian opera house in 1919.  An old gentleman bids on a monkey music box.  Then lot 666 (rather ominous) is next, a repaired chandelier which featured into the famous “Phantom disaster;” a mystery never fully explained.  As the chandelier rises, the iconic organ blares and the film moves into color as lights flicker on.  We are taken back to the same opera house in Paris in 1870.  Everyone is preparing backstage at the opera house, rehearsing a production on Hannibal.  Carlotta is the star soprano.  Rehearsal stops for a moment when the two new owners are introduced; the previous owner is retiring.  They also have a Vicomte as their patron.  One of the ballet dancers recognizes the Victomte as her childhood friend, Raoul.  Carlotta is a true diva; she stops production again and threatens to leave when the owners take more notice of the dancers than her, including young Christine Daae, the orphaned daughter of a well-known violinist.  Her friend, Meg’s mother is Madame Giry, in charge of the dancers.  The owners quickly learn to grovel to Carlotta.  She will sing the aria Think of Me.  Then a backdrop nearly falls on her.  The cast blames the accident on the mysterious Phantom of the Opera.  This time, she’s leaving.  Madame Giry recommends Christine can perform the role; “let her sing for you, monsieur; she has been well taught.”  And she indeed has a lovely singing voice.  She is transformed from chorus girl to the star of the show.

The Vicomte now sees her and recognizes his friend; she certainly has changed. (I have always considered Think of Me as Christine singing to Raoul: “We never said/ our love was evergreen/ or as unchanging as the sea/ but please promise me/ that sometimes/ you will think of me.”)  Christine earns a standing ovation and a deep, unseen voice also congratulates her.  Meg looks for her later amongst the celebrations.  She finds her friend in the chapel and inquires where Christine learned to sing.  Christine calls him her Angel of Music, promised to her by her father.  Really, she believes that it is her father’s spirit, though she is a bit frightened by him.  Raoul visits later and wants to take Christine to dinner to celebrate, but her Angel is very strict.  A mysterious black-gloved hand locks her door.  Then she hears music and a figure in the mirror.  She is drawn forward.  Raoul hears the voice through the door, but cannot enter.

original phantomThus begins the titular Phantom of the Opera (and most famous track of the entire show).  The Phantom, Christine’s Angel of Music, draws her down below the opera house to an underground lake.  He poles a boat across to his quarters, where there is a shrine to Christine.  But she is still transfixed, the Phantom’s “power over you/ grows stronger yet.”  The Phantom asks Christine to sing and she progresses higher and higher (eventually hitting an E two octaves above middle C).  The Phantom further seduces Christine with his voice in the darkly romantic Music of the Night [my favorite piece].  As an adult, you realize how creepy the Phantom truly is, declaring that young Christine belongs to him.  “Close your eyes/ and surrender/ to your darkest dreams/ purge your thoughts/ of the life/ you knew before.”  He shows her a mannequin of herself, decked out in a wedding dress.  She faints and the Phantom lays her on his bed; reminder, she is in her undergarments and a robe.

Above ground, Meg looks for her friend and even finds the passage, but her mother stops her.  Madame Giry also stops Buquet from telling the cast a scary story about the magical lasso.  She warns to keep your hand at the level of your eye.  Christine does awake and takes the mask off the Phantom.  He keeps a hand over his face and yells at Christine; now she cannot ever be free.  This whole experience is Stranger Than You Dreamt It.  The Phantom feels he is a gargoyle who burns in hell, yet secretly yearns for heaven.  He urges Christine that fear can turn to love (yep, really creepy).  She returns the mask and the Phantom returns her.

The following morning, Firmin and Andre discuss the previous evening; Firmin is certain that any publicity is good and will earn them money, “gossip’s worth its’ weight in gold.”  Andre is more cautious.  And they both have notes from the mysterious Phantom, demanding a salary and giving critique on the performance.  Raoul enters with a note as well, telling him to stay away from Christine.  Carlotta enters as well with a note warning her against replacing Christine; she figures Raoul sent it, obviously Christine is sleeping with him.  Madame Giry reports that Christine is home, sleeping.  And another note; the Phantom instructs Christine to play the lead in the next production and Carlotta will play the silent role.  Carlotta is upset and the owners are wondering why they are constantly hearing about Christine now.  The characters all sing over each other, and the owners now have to grovel to the Prima Donna again, insisting that her public needs her.  Carlotta is the definition of a diva.  And everyone knows it.

The next performance features Carlotta in her lead and Christine as the secondary role.   During the show, Buquet spot the Phantom and goes to investigate.  The Phantom’s deep voice echoes throughout the entire theatre demanding that Box Five was to be kept open for him.  Christine on stage says she knows it’s the Phantom.  Carlotta snidely remarks “your part is silent, you little toad.”  That gives the Phantom an idea.  During their pick-up of Poor Fool Carlotta begins croaking (we did see her voice spray bottles switched earlier; in the show that does not happen; the Phantom has magical powers).  She runs off in terror and the owners declare Christine will take on the role after a short break.  For now, a distraction, the ballet from Act Three.  Buquet continues to chase the Phantom, until he is chased by the masked man.  A noose is wrapped around his neck and he drops to the stage, dead.  Girls scream and Christine finds Raoul, claiming the roof will be safe.  She is now truly frightened of the Phantom; he has proven he will kill.  Raoul vows to protect her.  All I Ask of You, Christine says, is for Raoul to love her.  “All I want is freedom/ a world with no more night/ and you, always beside me/ to hold me and to hide me.”  The couple kisses.  But the Phantom is hidden and overhears everything.  He is angry that Christine is refusing him and seeking another man.  He shouts, “you will curse the day you did not do/ all that the Phantom asked of you!”  In the show, we return to the stage and the Phantom drops the chandelier at Christine’s feet.  In the movie, the couple simply exit the roof.

masquerade pair (2)The second half of the performance begins with a Masquerade.  The cast celebrates several months of relief and peace from the Phantom.  In the movie they are dressed in black and white, though they are in colorful garb in the show.  Christine and Raoul have secretly gotten engaged.  But the Phantom appears to ruin their fun.  Why So Silent, did you think I had left for good?  He has written a new opera, Don Juan Triumphant, along with more notes.  Carlotta must be taught to act, Piangi must lose some weight, and Christine must return to him for further instruction.  He hisses to her that she belongs to him and steals her ring.  Raoul follows the Phantom through a trap door, armed with a sword, but disoriented by a ring of mirrors.  Madame Giry rescues Raoul and takes him to her room to reveal the truth of the Phantom.  Years ago, when she was studying to be a ballerina, there was a traveling fair.  One of their exhibits with the “Demon’s Child,” a young boy who usually wore a bag over his head in a cage.  Until he was beaten and the bag removed, showing a disfigured face.  Giry felt bad for the boy, so even after she sees him strangle his tormentor, she helps him escape and leads him underneath the opera house.  And that is where he has stayed.  She claims he is a genius.  Raoul argues it has turned to madness.

Raoul has taken to sleeping outside Christine’s door, but she sneaks past him to visit her father’s grave.  The driver is hit over the head and replaced, but he comes to in time to tell Raoul where the young woman has gone.  Christine pleads Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, desiring guidance from her father.  Then the doors of the mausoleum begin to open and a voice calls to her, “come to me angel of music.”  Raoul warns that is not her father.  The Phantom leaps out and duels Raoul with a sword [where did he learn to do that?].  The Phantom gets a strike in, but Raoul beats him back.  Christine stops him from killing the other man; “not like this.”  [Not the smartest idea; would save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you just let him.]  The Phantom curses, “now let it be war upon you both!”  (There’s a difference in order between the movie and the show and this part happens a little later in the show)

Raoul has a plan.  It involves using Christine as bait, but he will have the opera house filled with arm police and they will be armed.  They will apprehend the Phantom and all will be well.  Christine is frightened and does not want to do it; worried that the Phantom will take her and she will never be free.  Twisted Every Way, should she risk her life in order to win the chance to live?  Can she betray the man who did inspire her voice?  But she cannot refuse him now, even if she wants to.  Don Juan Triumphant begins, dark and syncopated.  The Phantom takes over Piangi’s role and sings to Christine.  She realizes who it is and signals Raoul with her eyes.  They’ve come Past the Point of No Return.  Christine plays along with the Phantom, rather convincingly because Raoul has tears in his eyes, fearing that his love has actually given into the villain.  The Phantom is certainly trying to seduce Christine, but she wakes up and tears off his mask [okay, in the movie, his disfigurement isn’t that bad; it’s most likely played up on stage].  The Phantom is furious and drops the chandelier into the stage, starting a fire while he makes off with Christine through a trap door, Down Once More.  Carlotta finds Piagni dead.  Raoul, followed by Madame Giry take off after the Phantom.  The rest of the cast bands together to Track Down This Murderer.

Madame Giry leads Raoul so far, but she cannot go further.  Her final advice is to keep his hand at the level of his eyes.  Raoul removes his coat and vest and continues.  He drops into a pool and bars begin to descend.  He manages to open the release valve and pushes forward.  Meanwhile, Christine has changed into the wedding gown for the Phantom and asks if he will enjoy the pleasure of the flesh now.  He agrees that he had been denied that all his live, along with most human compassion.  His face has poisoned her love, he declares.  She retorts the distortion lies in his soul, not his face.  Raoul is captured and demands the Phantom show compassion to Christine (note that the men’s costumes are very similar; the Phantom is most likely attempting to appeal to Christine by mimicking Raoul).  As he ties Raoul to the bars, the Phantom tells him he will not harm Christine; he loves her.  He offers Christine a deal; if Christine agrees to remain with the Phantom, he will let Raoul free.  If she denies him, Raoul dies.  Christine is angry now; any tears she had for the Phantom’s predicament have turned to hate.  The Phantom places a noose around Raoul’s neck.  Really, who does he expect her to choose?  The man who is closer to her age and a childhood friend?  Or the older guy who is very possessive, has murdered at least three people that we know of, has pretended to be her father and wants to sleep with her?  Christine finally comes forward and kisses the Phantom.  He cries.  Then lets Raoul go and orders them to leave; they can hear the mob approaching.  Christine does reappear to the Phantom for another moment to give him the engagement ring (which he stole from her, then gave back in order to marry her, so I’m not sure why she’s giving it to him, since Raoul bought it).  The Phantom smashes the mirrors; one of which reveals another secret passage.  A curtain drops to hide it once he’s gone.  Meg does find his mask; but no Phantom.

The film ends back in 1919 with Raoul placing the monkey music box on Christine’s grave; showing she died two years previous.  Also on the grave is a rose with a black ribbon and the ring.  A pop of color as the rose turns red.

This is another intense musical; it is primarily sung and since it features sopranos, there are several really high notes.  I am not fond of Gerard Butler as the Phantom, not after listening to Michael Crawford all my life.  Emmy is sweet, but doesn’t quite have the full quality in her voice that Sarah Brightman has.  Sarah can still pull off the airy tones, thirty years later.  Patrick Wilson as Raoul is very cute; good casting!  The church I grew up in has a magnificent pipe organ and I have wanted us to perform at least a concert of Phantom of the Opera for years; it would sound incredible!  And if I could have any role, I’d want Christine…aside from those high notes.  Think of Me is a sweet song, but few pieces can ever match the power of Phantom of the OperaMusic of the Night is seductive and Josh Groban performed it when Andrew Lloyd Webber was honored by the Kennedy Center…I simply melt.  I did help with a rehearsal of Prima Donna when the church did another cabaret presentation of Phantom of the Opera, as Carlotta, meaning I did manage to hit some of those high notes.  It was exhilarating.  I just have to be really warmed up.  For that performance, I did Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again; and I made people cry (in a good way!)  That was also wonderful to hear.  I love singing.  I love singing this music.  Which I can enjoy in the comfort of my car, or shower, or room (and if I miss a note, no one will know!)

All I Ask of You is a lovely duet and Masquerade is just plain fun.  I adore Christine’s and Raoul’s costumes in that scene.  As I’ve gotten older, I have new respect for the tone of Past the Point of No Return.

Up Next: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

 

“When the beating of your heart/ echoes the beating of the drum”

Les Misérables

Based on the lengthy novel by Victor Hugo (reminder, the same man who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and typically referred to by the shorthand Les Mis.  The musical show premiered in 1985 starring Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean and celebrated its’ 25th anniversary in 2010.  It is one of the longest running musicals on Broadway.  Lea Salonga, who provided the singing voices for Disney’s Jasmine and Mulan, played Éponine and Fantine on Broadway.  A movie version of the show was produced in 2012 directed by Tom Hooper, with an all-star cast.  Hugh Jackman (Australia, X-Men, Greatest Showman) is Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe (Robin Hood) is Javert, Anne Hathaway (Princess Diaries, Becoming Jane) is Fantine, Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia) is adult Cosette, Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts) is Marius, Sacha Baron Cohen is Thénardier, Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), his wife.  Daniel Huttlestone (Jack in Into the Woods) is Gavroche.  Samantha Barks plays Éponine, which she played on the West End, and several of the extras have previously been on stage for this show.

The show begins in 1815, twenty-six years after the start of the French Revolution, we are informed at the beginning.  Look Down builds as we get closer to see prisoners hauling a ship into dry dock; Jean Valjean is one of the truly depressed men.  Javert is overseeing the work and calls for Prisoner 24601 and instructs him to life the heavy mast holding the flag..  Valjean’s parole has begun, but it does not mean he is free.  The two men confront each other; Valejan’s main crime was stealing bread to save a dying child, then years were added on to his sentence for attempting to escape.  Javert follows the letter of the law and believes that Valjean will never change.  Valjean eventually ends up at a church, after being turned way for work due to being a convicted criminal and even beaten.  The kindly priest (played by Colm Wilkinson; it’s wonderful to see him a part of the production) shows Valjean mercy, even after Valjean attempts to make off with the silver.  The priest vouches for Valjean and gives him the remaining candlesticks; but know he has saved Valjean’s soul for God and the man should attempt to make a better life.  Valjean looks to God and ponders what to do, finally declaring that Valjean is no more.  (There are many soliloquies in the show; it is also a show that is primarily sung with few spoken lines.)

We jump eight years to 1823 and the poor are oppressed and struggling to survive.  At the End of the Day, every day is the same as the before and they’re almost ready to give up.  We see a factory full of female workers and the foreman is attempting to sweet-talk Fantine.  But Fantine refuses him, which means he takes his bad mood out on the rest of the women.  The others tease Fantine and discover a letter, begging her for more money for her dying child.  They use it as an excuse to throw Fantine out, claiming her to be a slut.  (They’re petty women who are horrible to a woman for no good reason).  Valjean has become a successful man; the owner of the factory and the mayor.  Javert has dropped by for a visit and that puts Valjean on edge and thus does nothing to prevent Fantine’s dismissal.  There is something about Valjean that stirs a memory in Javert’s mind and it’s stirred more when he witnesses Valjean lift a heavy wagon off a man to save him.

Fantine is desperate for money and goes to the wharf to sell trinkets.  But she ends up selling her hair (Anne Hathaway did cut her hair for this role) and a tooth.  Once those are gone, she ends up turning to prostitution and becoming one of the Lovely Ladies.  She’s so disheartened, she remarks to her first customer, “don’t it make a change/ to have a girl who won’t refuse?”  After the man finishes and leaves, Fantine brokenly recalls I Dreamed a Dream (wow, can Anne sing; it’s also hard to sing while crying.  This song was also made famous recently by Susan Boyle’s performance on “Britain’s Got Talent”).  Fantine had fallen in love with Cosette’s father and thought it was forever, but it seems he left her once she was pregnant.  And thus her dream was turned to shame.  Later, Fantine attacks a rich man who tries to force her.  Valjean is nearby, giving money to the poor and steps in on Fantine’s behalf when Javert investigates [this is apparently based on something that Victor Hugo did himself].  Valjean takes Fantine to a hospital and vows to bring her daughter.

Javert confesses to Valjean that he thought Valjean was the prisoner who broke parole years ago.  And he filed a report.  Turns out to be a false report; the true culprit was caught and Javert does not expect the honorable mayor to forgive him.  Valjean tells Javert he was only doing his duty.  But he wonders on his own, should he let this man take his place?  Or should he confess who he is?  Who Am I?  He remembers the priest’s instructions; “If I speak, I am condemned/ if I stay silent, I am damned.”  Valjean decides to go to the court and declare himself to be prisoner 2-4-6-0-1!  Then he rushes to the hospital and comforts Fantine as she dies, hallucinating of Cosette.  Javert confronts Valjean and Valjean begs the inspector to have mercy; let him see to the orphaned child and he will willingly return to prison.  But Javert does not trust Valjean; in the dueling melodies his prejudice stems from being born inside a jail; “I was born with scum like you/ I am from the gutter two.”  The men duel and Valjean jumps out a window to escape.

Meanwhile, at the inn where Fantine left her daughter, Cosette innocently dreams of a Castle on a Cloud and her mother loving her.  Instead, she has the Thénardiers, who are crooks.  They send her to the well in the woods alone, shower their own daughter in pretty things and love and work Cosette like a servant.  They steal from their customers and lie to them, jokingly referring to the husband as Master of the House.  Valjean discovers Cosette in the woods and negotiates with the Thénardiers what they want in exchange for him taking Cosette.  They pretend to be sweet, but Valjean can see through their lies.  Cosette is happy to leave with Valjean and falls asleep in the carriage.  Valjean wonders how Suddenly his life changed [a new song for the movie].  They are still pursued by Javert and receive help at an abbey from the man that Valjean saved by lifting the wagon.  Javert vows by the Stars [I adore Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel singing this, check it out!] to catch Valjean, “and if you fall as Lucifer fell/ you fall in flame!/ And so it has been/ and so it is written/ on the doorway to Paradise/ that those who falter/ and those who fall/ must pay the price.”

We jump another nine years to 1832.  The poor are still oppressed; a monarch is back in power.  Led by young university students, they entreat the upper class to Look Down.  We’re introduced to Gavroche, who leads a bunch of beggars (he’s the baby that was in the basket that the Thénardiers switched with a customer, proving they are horrible people!)  The police run them off.  One of the students Marius, spots a grown up Cosette and Valjean giving money to the poor and instantly falls in love with her [we see this so much].  The Thénardiers, accompanied by Éponine, their daughter, accost Valjean and Javert shows up again.  Valjean keeps his face turned from Javert and quickly takes Cosette away at the first chance.  Marius asks Éponine for help with Cosette and Éponine realizes who the young woman is.  But she loves Marius and agrees to take him to Cosette.

The students (if one looks a little familiar, he plays young Harry in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again) rally each other and the citizens of Paris to rise.  “Red, the blood of angry men/ black, the dark of ages past”  Meanwhile, Marius is lovesick and his view on Red and Black is a little different, “red, the color of desire/ black, the color of despair!”  The leader of the student, Enjorlas urges Marius that the rebellion is a higher call and he is needed with the people.  Éponine then takes Marius to Cosette.  Several characters sing over each other, In My Life and A Heart Full of Love, proclaiming their love and their views.  Valjean wants to protect Cosette and refuses to tell her about his past; Cosette loves Marius and Marius loves Cosette; Éponine unrequitedly loves Marius.  The young lovers must part and Thénardier wants to rob Valjean, but Éponine screams to scare her father and gang away.  Valjean fears Javert has found him, so takes Cosette away.  She leaves a note for Marius, which Éponine takes.  The young woman wanders the streets back to the students’ headquarters, in the rain, musing she is On My Own.  “A world’s that full of happiness/ that I have never known!”  Plots are converging, One Day More until the climax.  Éponine disguises herself as a boy; Marius and Cosette pine for each other, but Marius decides to stand with the students; “one day to a new beginning/ raise the flag of freedom high!” Javert plans to put an end to the revolution.  All sing “tomorrow we’ll discover/ what out God in heaven has in store/ one more dawn/ one more day/ one day more!”

DoYouHearThePeopleSing

The show breaks for intermission here.  The rallying cry Do You Hear the People Sing?(and the most famous song from the musical; and probably of all musical history) brings us back as the revolutionaries take over the funeral procession of their hero, General LeMarc.  “The blood of the martyrs/ will water the meadows of France!”  Soldiers face off with them, and one nervously fires into the crowd, killing an old woman (sadly, this is how many confrontations have started throughout history, like the Boston Massacre in 1770).  The students and their compatriots gather and build a barricade with whatever furniture they can find (two fun facts: that set is reused from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone‘s Diagon Alley, and the director of the film had four words of direction here: Build a Barricade.  Action!).  Javert has gone undercover with the revolutionaries, then volunteers to find out what the soldiers are planning. When he returns, he claims there will be no attack that night, but Gavroche recognizes him, so they tie him up.  We get little pieces of Gavroche’s solo number Little People; beware of them because they’ve got some bite.  The soldiers advance and shooting starts.  Marius recklessly threatens to blow a keg of gunpowder, killing himself too, to keep the soldiers away.  Éponine takes a bullet for Marius.  Once the soldiers have retreated, Marius holds Éponine, promising her anything if she’ll live.  She gives him Cosette’s note and peacefully dies in Marius’s arms; a Little Fall of Rain will hardly harm her now.

Marius sends a note to Cosette through Gavroche.  Valjean takes it, warning the young boy to be careful, and finds out his daughter is in love.  Valjean goes to the barricade to protect Marius; Gavroche vouching for him when the students don’t believe him.  He then spies Javert and asks to deal with him.  His wish is granted after he spots a sniper on the roof and protects the students.  Valjean shows Javert mercy; the same mercy that was shown him by the priest.  The students know that this may be their last night and pass around a bottle; Drink With Me.  Marius dozes off and Valjean looks down on the young man, pleading with God, Bring Him Home.  “He’s like the son I might have know/ if God had granted me a son…if I die/ let me die/ let him live.”

barricade

Come morning, this group are the only ones left; Paris did not rise.  But they still face the soldiers.  Gavroche starts the chorus of Do You Hear the People Sing and some more of Little People when he goes in front of the barricade to fetch more gunpowder.  He is shot twice and the young men have to hold one of their own back from darting to get the boy.  (In the show and book, Gavroche is Éponine’s younger brother, and even here, he was supposed to be aside from his parents passing him off to a random customer.)  The soldiers have brought canons and the barricade is soon overrun; when the bullets run out, a few of the students, Enjorlas and Marius included, turn to sabers.  Marius is hit and Valjean drags him off.  The last few students are caught on the second floor of their former headquarters and are finally shot.  Enjorlas hangs out the window, mimicking how he typically lies over the barricade in the stage show.  We briefly see Javert walking by the dead lined up and pins his medal on Gavroche’s chest  Valjean takes Marius through the sewer, running into Thénardier again and Javert is waiting at the end.  But he lets Valjean through when the man pleads mercy for the young wounded man in his arms.  And this mercy does not sit well with Javert; he cannot live in a thief’s debt.  He has one last soliloquy and falls off a bridge into a turbulent river, committing suicide.

The women mourn the radicals and we briefly see Marius’s grandfather care for him.  When he has more strength, Marius returns to the headquarters and struggles with the Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.  “Oh my friends, my friends/ forgive me/ that I may live/ and you are gone/ there’s a grief/ that can’t be spoken/ there’s a pain/ that goes on and on…oh my friends, my friends/ don’t ask me/ what your sacrifice was for!”  Cosette is waiting for him and echoes A Heart Full of Love.  Valjean gives them his blessing to marry and tells Marius his history as a prisoner, but instructs him not to tell Cosette.  He will move away.  The couple happily marry.  Until the Thénardiers show up as Beggars at the Feast.  Monsieur Thénardier has one more card to play; he saw Valjean with a dead man on his back in the sewer and wants to cash in on the scandal.  But he’s wearing a ring he pilfered from a body, Marius’s.  Marius recognizes it, reclaims it and realizes that Valjean was the one who saved him.  He demands Thénardier tell him where Valjean is, then drags Cosette from their reception to the church.

Valjean sees and hears Fantine as he sits his last hour.  Marius reveals to Cosette that her father saved him and Valjean gives a letter, his last confession, to his daughter.  Cosette begs Valjean to live and he promises to try, but peacefully passes to be in Fantine’s arms.  He briefly sees the priest again as he passes to heaven, “remember, the truth that once was spoken/ to love another person/ is to see the face of God” where all those died join in the final Do You Hear the People Sing.

I knew the music to this show before I knew the story.  I didn’t see a production of it until I was in high school and went with a group to Pittsburgh.  I sobbed.  A couple years later, my French class saw a performance put on by a performing arts high school in Pittsburgh, a former schoolmate had transferred to the school; and my French teacher also taught us the history of the French Revolution.  There were some changes made to make it more appropriate for high school students.  After I graduated college, the local theatre group performed the show and my parents and I went to see it; a friend was Jean Valjean.  And about that time, my church choir did a cabaret performance and featured selections from Les Mis, I did On My Own.  Then our pastor wanted us to “speak” the final chorus of Do You Hear the People Sing to go along with a sermon…we sang it, because that’s what we do.  We all knew it; there was no way we were simply going to “say” it.  And a helpful hint; not the best idea to watch this movie directly after logging off Facebook when it’s been depressing; at least have something lighthearted and fun standing by for afterwards.

As for my personal preferences and this show; since it’s so depressing, it’s not per say a favorite; I recognize that it is a wonderful show and those who perform it require stamina.  I Dreamed a Dream is a powerful song, but I think I heard it so often after Susan Boyle that I get tired of it pretty easily.  Though I commend Anne Hathaway for her performance in the movie.   Castle on a Cloud was my favorite when I first heard the soundtrack with the London cast and I remember a friend of mine and I having fun miming Master of the House during free time.  Stars is wonderful when performed by Bryn Terfel.  I know there have been people who did not like Russell Crowe’s performance at all; I disagree.  I’ve never like the role of Javert, mainly because he’s pompous.  Russell brought some humanity to the role and brings a pensive quality to his performance of Stars.  I like Eddie Redmayne in the role of Marius for the same reason; he brings humanity to the role.

When I first listened to the music for the show, I wanted to play Cosette.  Now, I’d rather play Éponine.  You also need a soprano who can hit the high notes at the end of A Heart Full of Love, so, kudos to Amanda Seyfried.  While I am a soprano, not that high.  On My Own is in a more comfortable range.  One Day More is a showstopper, which is most likely why they chose it to perform at the 2013 Academy Awards.  It was nominated for Best Picture, but did not win.  It did win Best Musical at the Golden Globes.  And who can ever forget Do You Hear the People Sing?  I get goosebumps every time I hear a performance of it.

Red and Black is another song I like.  Bring Him Home is known for being high in a man’s range; Hugh has commented he blames Colm Wilkinson.  There is a beautiful rendition by the Piano Guys and it is one that brings tears to everyone’s eyes.  Drink With Me, Fall of Rain, and certainly Empty Chairs at Empty Tables drowns everyone in tears.

Next Time: Another incredibly popular musical, Phantom of the Opera

 

“I know that there’s a place for us/ for we are glorious”

Greatest Showman

A more recent film based “loosely” on the life of P.T. Barnum. It’s actually not the first musical to be created about Barnum; there is a show entitled “Barnum” that had circus performers outside the door on Broadway. The film version starred a young Michael Crawford. The new 2017 movie stars Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Australia) as Phineas Taylor Barnum, Zac Efron (High School Musical) as his eventual partner, Phillip Carlyle, and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home, after she was on the Disney shows K.C. Undercover and Shake it Up). It features Rebecca Ferguson (Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen) as Jenny Lind [her singing was dubbed for the film since her singing chops were not quite what was needed]. Oh, and Charity’s father, Mr. Hallett is played by Frederic Lehne (Azazel/ The Yellow-Eyed Demon in Supernatural, and he was in the episode “Heart of Gold” in Firefly…so no one ever nice).

The film opens with The Greatest Show, Barnum in the middle of a circus ring, but it fades away to reveal the scene was a daydream; a young Phineas is standing in front of a red coat, waiting for his father. He accompanies his father to a large mansion outside of New York City where he makes a young Charity Hallett laugh. Her father reprimands him, but he quickly befriends Charity later, after she sneaks out. They explore an abandoned mansion, dreaming about the world they’re going to make with A Million Dreams. Through the song, life happens. Phineas’s father sickens and dies, Charity is sent to boarding school. Phineas is out on the street and has to steal to survive; he’s caught, but a malformed woman shows him kindness. The two children send letters to each other; but Phineas eventually leaves to make his fortune working the railroad. He returns when they’re grown to marry Charity. She eagerly accepts, but her father warns Phineas that she’ll return home; Phineas will fail and she’ll leave him. The duet dancing between Phineas and Charity is lovely. Phineas wants to give Charity a lavish life, but struggles to hold a job. They have a small apartment that leaks and he is dismissed from an accounting firm when it declares bankruptcy when its fleet of trading vessels all sink.

The Barnums have two adorable daughters, Caroline and Helen. Charity joins in their make-believe adventures. Phineas quickly cobbles together a “wishing machine,” a spinning lantern for his daughter’s birthday and the girls reprise A Million Dreams, which gives him an idea. He uses the document on the shipping vessels as collateral at the bank to buy a museum of oddities. It’s a rough start, until Helen and Caroline suggest he needs something “alive.” Phineas begins gathering acts, like the dwarf Tom Thumb, and the bearded lady, Lettie. There are the trapeze siblings, W.D. and Anne Wheeler, a tattooed man, a fat man, a giant, a “dog boy.” Phineas plays up their oddities to make them “sensational.” “They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to love you.” Patrons start pouring in, “dreaming with your eyes wide open,” and the show starts to Come Alive. Phineas dons his red coat. The show transforms from a museum to a circus, the word courtesy of a critic.

greatest show

The profits allow Phineas to purchase the old mansion he and Charity explored and gift Caroline with her dream ballet slippers. Young girls can be harsh, and look down on Caroline for her father’s business. She wants to quit. Phineas also wants to attract a higher clientele for his show and approaches young Phillip Carlyle. Phillip has the name and reputation amongst the upper-crust, but drinks to forget his horribly produced plays. Phineas takes the young man to a bar to offer him a job on the Other Side and a life of freedom. “But you would finally live a little/ finally laugh a little/ just let me give you the freedom to dream a little.” Phillip eventually agrees and will gain ten percent of the profits. He considers himself a junior partner; Phineas calls him an overcompensated apprentice. And Phillip is instantly taken by Anne.

With the success of his circus, protestors gather. Those who gleefully pointed out the freaks for Phineas now demand they get off the stage. Phillip counteracts this by getting the circus an audience with Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. There, Phineas meets Jenny Lind, a world-famous opera singer. Still aiming high and hoping for even more renown, he convinces her to tour America. She stuns crowds with Never Enough. Though with the upper-crust about, Phineas doesn’t want his circus family visible; he shuns them to the back standing room for the performance. Phillip briefly takes Anne’s hand, until he is spotted. Anne walks away. And Charity sees the awe that her husband stares at Miss Lind with. After the show, he refuses to let the performers enter the reception, after he’s embarrassed himself with Charity’s parents.

Instead of taking the back way out to the street, the circus family lets themselves be seen by the fancy patrons, declaring This is Me. They deserve love just like everyone else. But Barnum sees none of it. He decides to take Jenny on tour, despite the fortune it will cost, and leaves Phillip in charge of the circus. Phillip tries to make up his faux pas to Anne by taking her to the theatre. Then his parents spot him and try to shame him for being seen with a dark-skinned woman. If that is his place, to shun her, he wants none of it he tells his parents. He catches Anne readying to practice her trapeze act and declares they should Rewrite the Stars; “nothing can keep us apart.” But Anne knows what it will be like for them, the looks and derision they will have to endure and at the end, walks away.

While her husband tours with Jenny, Charity wonders if anything will ever be enough for Phineas. She warns Phineas that he doesn’t need everyone to love him; just a few good people. She muses she’s walking a Tightrope and we see how everyone tries to get along without Phineas as he lives the high life. Charity still plays with Caroline and Helen; Caroline continues her dance lessons. Phillip tries to take center stage, but has already told Phineas that the audience comes for his craziness. And Phineas has finally reached the top; public acclaim. And now, there is nothing holding him to Jenny Lind. He wants to leave the circuit and return home. Jenny threatens to quit; it won’t hurt her reputation if she leaves, but it will leave Phineas in financial ruin. “If you’re careless with other people, it will bring ruin on yourself.” She cries a bit during her performance of Never Enough and at the end, kisses Phineas on stage, cameras flashing. It’s her goodbye.

At the circus, the protestors are back and refuse to leave. W.D. backs Phillip and a fight breaks out; the whole circus crew facing off against the protestors. One throws a lantern backstage and starts a fire. Phineas arrives to greet his girls and sees the fire engines race to the circus. Phillip is trying to get everyone out, but no one has seen Anne. He races back into the flames. Anne runs out from around back. Phineas runs in after Phillip and the roof collapses. For one horrifying minute we fear the worst. Then Phineas emerges with Phillip in his arm; the young man is taken to the hospital. Anne follows and murmurs the refrain from Rewrite the Stars.

Sitting in the ashes, the critic admits to Phineas that the people loved his show, even though it was not to his taste. And sadly has to inform Phineas of Jenny officially quitting the show, and the scandalous kiss on the front page. At home, Charity is returning to her parents; the bank forecloses on their house. She’s not even terribly upset about Jenny; it’s the fact that Phineas didn’t make the decision with her. The circus family joins Phineas at the bar and urge him to not give up on them. He brought them out of the shadow and gave them a place, gave them a family, a home. They want that home back. From Now On, Phineas will be different; he won’t take what he has for granted. He returns to the Hallett’s mansion to face his father-in-law, who once again tries to keep the showman from his daughter. But Caroline and Helen helpfully point out that Charity is at the beach. The couple reconciles; all Charity has ever wanted is the man she fell in love with. She doesn’t want or need the fancy life Phineas envisioned. Phillip also wakes up in the hospital, slightly surprised to find Anne sitting at his bedside. But she happily kisses him. In front of the whole room.

Unfortunately, the bank will not loan Phineas money to rebuild. But, Phillip was wise and kept track of his earnings and will lend Phineas the money. Except now they are full 50/50 partners. Even though he no longer has a claim or inheritance, he has joy and love in his life and work he adores. Instead of buying more real estate, Phineas figures they just need land, and a tent. The Greatest Show is back! During a quick break, Phineas hands his top hat off to Phillip. The young man is in charge now; Phineas will be watching his girls grown up. Phillip eagerly enters the ring and Phineas rides an elephant (always has to make an entrance) to his daughters’ recital (Helen is a tree while Caroline is the star). Phillip ends the show by kissing Anne.

The show, as is the norm with Hollywood, is not historically accurate. Phineas Taylor Barnum was not really a champion for outcasts. And quite honestly, he was a conman. But we don’t want to see that. Actually, from the trailer, I imagined a bit of a different storyline; I thought they would show Phineas championing for the outcasts. There are times I want to smack him in this story; mainly for his actions with Jenny Lind. He has a wonderful, supportive wife at home, and two girls who adore him and he leaves them. I was annoyed at first by the romance storyline between Phillip and Anne, but I’ve come to see that it’s a nice counterpoint to Phineas’s actions. Phillip tries to hold things together. And yes, he makes a few missteps, but he really wants to have a relationship with Anne despite society’s views.

And I absolutely adore the music for this film. I listen to the soundtrack and I want to choreograph a performance (I have ten years’ dance experience, but no real choreography experience, aside from what I fool around with in the privacy of my room). Greatest Show is an upbeat and fun introduction and conclusion. A Million Dreams is sweet within the show. Come Alive is another upbeat song. I love The Other Side with its underlying rhythm and how it was choreographed involving tables and chairs. Never Enough has its place, though I object that they had it dubbed. There are plenty of talented actresses who could have sung that part. And for an “opera singer,” the style is definitely not opera. Which I get, goes with their aesthetic to use more popular styles of music.

oscars this is me

This is Me is just about the best song ever. Keala Settle is amazing. She originally did not want to play the role for the film, figuring they could hire someone else and she would help with rehearsals. But Hugh convinced her. Check out the behind the scenes videos of the first run through. And her performance on The Graham Norton Show. And the Oscars (seriously, this song should have won; they got robbed). It’s become an anthem for those who don’t feel like they fit in with society. “I am who I’m meant to be/ this is me.” (I have felt like that). I want to perform this song.

I’ve never been a huge Zac Efron fan, but I liked his performance in this film. Rewrite the Stars is a wonderful duet and the trapeze elements were beautiful. And Piano Guys do a beautiful cover featuring cello and violin; the violinist being Steve Nelson’s wife, Julie. They also do a piano cover of Million Dreams (watch the videos; they’re heartwarming). Tightrope is alright. And I like the chorus of From Now On and the dance that starts up. It’s performers having a good time.

I have read several fanfiction stories and the general consensus is to make the circus, the Barnums, and Phillip one big family; I am a sucker for family stories. And we like to pick on Phillip. There aren’t any that I specifically recommend; I think the fandom is new enough that nothing truly serious has developed yet. But they’re worth checking out.

Up Next: Les Mis

“Pulitzer may own the world/ but he don’t own us/ Pulitzer may crack the whip/ but he won’t whip us.”

Newsies

This was the movie that spawned the idea of doing a blog. Though released in 1992, I didn’t see Newsies until I was in junior high, about ten years later. My music teacher, Mrs. Ellenberger put it on in class for a few days. I remember my friends liking it; I believe the rest of the student populace didn’t really care. We thought the actors were cute; I know Spot Conlon was a favorite, the newsie from Brooklyn. We learned a choral arrangement of one of the main songs Seize the Day as part of junior high choir. Later, in college as part of my Historical Development of the English Language course, I did a paper on the accents in Newsies (because yes, I am that big of a dork and always tried to incorporate films and stories I loved into class projects. I referenced Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean in separate papers in my Intro to Writing course).

I didn’t realize at the time that it had several well-known stars among its cast, not the least of which is Christian Bale (Batman in Christopher Nolan’s ‘verse; as well as voicing Thomas in Pocahontas and a list of other movies) in the starring role of Jack Kelly. Kenny Ortega directed and was one of the choreographers of the movie. Yes, the same man who directed High School Musical, which took over my same group of friends when we were in high school. The music is composed by the great Alan Menken. Ann Margaret (Carol’s mother in Santa Clause 3) appears as vaudeville star Medda Larkson; Bill Pullman (Lonestar in Spaceballs, famous for the Independence Day movies, he’s also the commander in Disney’s Tiger Cruise original movie) is Bryan Denton, a reporter; and Robert Duvall (General Robert E. Lee in Gods and Generals and over a hundred other films) is the evil Mr. Joseph Pulitzer. One of the other newsboys, Mush, is played by Aaron Lohr who was Portman in The Mighty Ducks franchise, part of the “Bash Brothers,” and also in RENT as Steve and voiced Max in A Goofy Movie (I recognize him more from Mighty Ducks, a favorite movie of mine when growing up)

The premise of the story is based on the 1899 newsboy strike in New York City, claiming to be “based on actual events.” “Based,” yes. Historically accurate? Not so much. Carrying the Banner explains the life of the newsboys. They’re out in the elements every day, hawking newspapers for bigwigs like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer for a few pennies. “We need a good assassination/we need an earthquake or a war. How ’bout a crooked politician? Hey stupid that ain’t news no more!” Jack Kelly is the leader of this group of newsies; he protects the smaller and weaker newsies and is well respected by the rest. At the distribution center for the World newspaper, owned by Pulitzer, brothers David and Les Jacobs join the newsies for the first time. Les is in awe of Jack, nicknamed Cowboy. David (who looks like the kid from Growing Pains, but is not) agrees to a partnership with Jack to learn to sell “papes,” though he is disgusted by the spit handshake. Jack’s first piece of advice is “headlines don’t sell papes, newsies sell papes.”

On their whirlwind first day, David and Les follow Jack running from the warden of the local refuge, Snyder. Jack escaped from the refuge previously and Snyder is out to put him behind bars again. They also learn that Jack wants to get out of New York and once he’s saved enough, he’ll take a train out west to Santa Fe “to be a real cowboy,” as Les eagerly puts it. We meet Medda, the vaudeville star and friend of Jack, and the boys eagerly listen to her serenade the crowd with Lovey Dovey Baby. David invites Jack over for dinner where the rough and tumble newsie puts on his best manners for David’s parents and sister. Turns out, David and Les are only working as newsboys while their father is off work due to injury; once he gets his job back, the boys will be back in school. (Cue the looks exchanged between Jack and Sarah.) Jack declines staying overnight and croons Santa Fe, wistfully thinking about the freedom out West; “I want space/ not just air/ let ’em laugh in my face/ I don’t care.”

When the newsies return to work the next day, they’ve found out that overnight, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, owners of the newspapers have decided to up the price the newsies pay for papers by ten cents a hundred, so they, the owners will make more money. When one of Pulitzer’s advisors argues that it would be rough on the boys, Pultizer fires back that “they will view it as a challenge,” and be grateful for it. No, as Racetrack comments, Pulitzer is just a tightwad and the man even admits he wants to know how to get more of the money off the streets.

The boys argue amongst themselves that it’s unfair and they have no rights. Then they get the idea to strike from a local trolley strike that had been dragging on for weeks. As Jack pumps up his friends; are they going to take what they’re given, or are they going to strike? First, they have to organize. If only a handful decide they aren’t selling, other newsies could simply come in and take their work. “Even though we ain’t got hats or badges/we’re a union just by sayin’ so,” Jack (taking the more educated David’s words) tells the boys. There’s a lovely play on words during The World Will Know; world in the traditional sense versus the New York World newspaper owned by Pulitzer; they occasionally throw in references to the New York Journal owned by Hearst. “We’ve been hawkin’ headlines/ but we’re making ’em today…now they’re gonna see/what ‘stop the presses’ really means.” “And the world will know/ and the world will learn/ and the world will wonder/ how we made the tables turn/ and the world will see/ that we had to choose/ that the things we do today/ will be tomorrow’s news.”  The dancing has an element of fight to it, which is fun and interesting to watch. So, hurrah, the Manhattan newsies are going on strike; they still have to spread their plan to the rest of the newsboys in New York.

Enter Spot Conlon, leader of the Brooklyn newsies, and makes other newsies “nervous.” Jack, David, and another newsie, Boots, trek out to Brooklyn where there’s Irish music in the background and boys diving off the piers…just because (or maybe it’s to show off their toned physiques…teenage girls did appreciate it). Spot’s voice holds power amongst the newsies of New York and he wants proof before he throws his lot in with Manhattan. And the rest of the boroughs are waiting for Brooklyn’s backing before they join.

newsies

They get their opportunity to prove themselves the next morning, David urges them to Seize the Day (probably the most famous song from the film) before facing off at the distribution center again. “Wrongs will be righted/ if we’re united/ let us seize the day…proud and defiant/ we’ll slay the giant.” The police arrive and most escape, except for Crutchy. One adult has been paying attention to the newsies efforts; Bryan Denton, reporter and previous chief war correspondent [the Spanish-American War that ended the previous year, since they never tell us specifically] for the New York Sun. We’re shown the refuge that evening when Jack attempts to break Crutchy out. The boy was beat pretty badly and refuses to be carried. Jack explains to David that the more orphans Warden Snyder has in his refuge, the more money the city sends him, the more he puts in his pocket (hmm, we know corruption when we hear it).

Another day, another fight at distribution led by a reprise of Seize the Day. This time, the World is aided with thugs. Racetrack calls out to Jack, “it’s the Crib!” The gates have been locked and the police are keeping people away. The “bad guys” are almost winning, until back up arrives. Pretty much everyone’s favorite line in the movie: “Never fear, Brooklyn is here!” The newsies beat back the thugs and topple the newspapers. Denton writes a front page article for the Sun which features a photograph of Jack, David, Les, Spot, and several other leaders. Denton treats the boys to a celebratory lunch and the boys eagerly share what being on the front page means. It means they’re famous. Racetrack spouts that being famous means you get whatever you want, “that’s what’s so great about New York!” These boys are King of New York, “fortune found me/fate just crowned me” and they give credit to Denton and feature a bit of tap dancing.

But bad news; Snyder sees the article and picture of Jack (slightly aided by Cructhy giving him Jack’s name) and goes in search of the boy. The other newsies and the owner of the lodge house help keep Jack out of sight, but he chooses to safely sleep on the roof of David’s apartment. Sarah wakes up early and gives him breakfast and we get the only bit of romantic development in the whole movie. Jack isn’t used to having people care whether he stays or goes.

While the newsies plan a big rally to keep their strike going, Pulitzer wants an example made of the boys, especially Jack. Hearing that Jack is a wanted criminal, he pressures the Mayor to send police to break up the rally and further sweetens the deal with the promise of a poker game with the other newspaper owners. The newsies hold their rally at Medda’s hall and David urges the boys to stop hitting the other boys who continue to sell the newspapers; it’s playing into the adults’ hands. Jack simplifies by saying “we’ve got no brains,” and no respect. Spot agrees and Medda cheers everyone up with High Times, Hard Times. Snyder and the police arrive and it’s chaos. Everyone is trying to protect Jack, they’re leader; David even urging him to go once they’ve gotten Sarah and Les to safety. Denton even tries to help, but a well-placed punch sends Jack into the arms of officers and he’s carried out.

The boys appear in court in the morning, Spot jokingly objects “on the grounds of Brooklyn,” and they’re saved from a fine or jail time by Denton. But Jack is tried separately and Snyder convinces the judge (again, more corruption) to incarcerate Jack until he’s twenty-one (he’s now seventeen). Furthermore, Jack Kelly is an alias. His real name is Frances Sullivan; his mother is dead and his father is imprisoned in a state penitentiary. The judge rules in favor of Snyder. Denton meets with the rest of the newsies and informs them that he has been reassigned; his old war correspondent job. The Sun didn’t print the story on the riot, meaning in essence, the riot didn’t happen (what really happened what Pulitzer pressured the owner of the Sun during their poker game). David is mad. New plan; they break Jack out tonight and no longer trust anyone.

But Jack has been taken to Pulitzer, who offers him a deal. Jack works for him until the strike dies, which is will, particularly without him. And then Jack can leave, with money in his pocket; more than he’ll ever make as a newsie. And a lesson on power of the press; Pulitzer holds the power and newspapers being the main way anyone found out about anything in that day, he tells them what to think. Jack realizes Pulitzer is scared; Jack threatens Pulitzer’s power. And he won’t take the deal. Until Pulitzer threatens David’s family. The man sends the teenager to think about it and Jack runs off with David for a minute, but sends his friend away. He won’t say why, only refrains Santa Fe to himself as his mulls over his choices.

Come morning, we all discover he has taken Pulitzer’s deal. The newsies are furious, especially David. He calls his friend out and declares he has found the guts to attach his name to his words (instead of using Jack as a mouthpiece). Sarah finds Denton’s article and tries to give David hope, but her brother storms away. Les thinks Jack is spying and the older boys don’t have the heart to tell him the truth. Then the Delancy brothers, who have always picked a fight with Jack, go after Sarah and Les on the street. David jumps in, as does Jack when he hears Sarah’s yells. The brothers are about to completely knock David out when Jack breaks it up. He can’t be something he ain’t; smart. The teenagers go to Denton. His article tells how the city thrives on child labor; lots of people make money that way. And they’re worried that the newsboy strike will spread. Well now they have a plan. They use Pulitzer’s old press, which Jack knows about, and print their own newspaper, Once and for All. They get the newsies to deliver it to all the kids in the city; “can you read? Read this.”

“Joe, if you’re still countin’ sheep/ wake up and read ’em and weep/ you’ve got your thugs/ with their sticks and their slugs/ but we’ve got a promise to keep…This is for kids shining shoes on the street/ with no shoes on their feet everyday/ This is for guys sweatin’ blood in the shops/ while bosses and cops look away/ This is to even the score/ this ain’t just newsies no more/ This ain’t just kids with some pie in the sky/ this is do it or die/ this is war!”

Denton recruits the governor. The boys wait. So far no one has shown up and without everyone, they’ll lose. All the boys have forgone their put-together looks, all down to their undershirts even David. They reprise The World Will Know, and they are joined by a million voices. All the child laborers are marching. Spot leads Brooklyn. Jack is shown to Pulizter, with David. David points out to the man that he’s losing money every day with the strike; it’s costing him more than the tenth of a cent he’s trying to squeeze out of the newsies. Jack opens the window so Pulitzer can hear all the kids. The man shouts for them to “go home!” A lot of them don’t have homes. And they’re not going away. This is real power of the press. Jack cheekily answers Pulitzer when asked that they used his machines to print their paper. The previous leaders of the distribution center are led out in shame and Jack yells, with Les on his shoulders, “we beat ’em!”

The warden is driven into the crowd and Jack starts to make a run for it, but Denton cautions him he never has to run from the likes of Snyder again. The boys from the Refuge are released and Snyder is locked into the police wagon. Crutchy reunites with Jack and cheerfully tells him that the Governor came storming into the Refuge [previously, the Governor had toured the Refuge and the truth had been hidden; that is how Jack had escaped, underneath his carriage]. The Governor being none other than Theodore Roosevelt, whom Denton had befriended covering the war. And now Roosevelt is thankful to Jack and is offering to take him anywhere he’d like. Such as the train station. Jack rides off cheerfully and David and his family are sad to see him go. But David is now head of the newsies and takes his hundred papes as the reprise of Carrying the Banner starts. But a commotion: the carriage is back. As is Jack (and the score of Santa Fe). The boy thanks Roosevelt for his advice; he still has things to do and a family in New York. He greets David, who responds with a spit handshake and echoes “headlines don’t sell papes, newsies sell papes.” And Sarah gets a big kiss from Jack. Everyone is happy now and dances their way out (Spot hitches a ride back to Brooklyn with Roosevelt).

The film did not do well at the box office when it was released and Christian Bale has remarked he’s been embarrassed to admit he was in the movie musical. But it gained a cult following when it hit video (like my friends and I) and Disney decided in 2012 to transform it into a stage show. It did so well that way, they took it on Broadway and ran for two years and won two Tony awards. I did watch the performance when it was on Netflix. Several changes were made; such as switching Denton to a female reporter, Katherine Plumber [SPOILER: she’s Pulitzer’s daughter], cutting the role of Sarah and making Katherine Jack’s love interest. That story line is better developed than in the film, but I still don’t see the need for a romance. It’s also slightly awkward when there is a lot of “bromantic” undertones in the film and the stage show. Yeah, Jack reacts badly to Crutchy being in the Refuge in the show. And there are hints between Jack and David in the film (supposedly intentionally put there). I was not fond of the changes in lyrics in the stage show; I know the film soundtrack nearly word-for-word and I got attached. I will admit, it’s a good show and does follow the history of the actual strike better. But the film kicks up my nostalgia.

Overall, the film is fun, especially the music. I don’t know why Disney doesn’t show it more; it’s got Batman in it! Though they don’t show a lot of their older films, unless it’s part of the animated collection. It think it’s fun that it’s almost an entirely male cast, which brings a different element to the dances. As I pointed out, there’s a bit of a fight element; I don’t mind the rough and tumble bits. And yes, as a teenage girl, most of the boys were cute in this movie.

I have read a couple fanfictions on Newsies; there’s a trio of stories For Brooklyn by AmbrLupin that spotlights Spot Colin. Another is The Brooklyn Version, also about Spot by WinterhartZahneelCalina. His little “birdie” is actually a girl.

Next Time: Another New Yorker, The Greatest Showman

“Life’s a martini, and you’re the shaker!”

Down with Love

Not actually a musical, though it features a couple songs. But since Ewan McGregor does sing, I sort of associate it with Moulin Rouge, hence its placement. I was about fourteen when this film came out and I remember my friend asking my mother if I could watch the movie due to the innuendos throughout the film. It stars Ewan McGregor as Catcher Block, Renee Zellweger (she’ll reunite a few years later with Ewan for Miss Potter) as Barbara Novak, Sarah Paulson (she did appear in Serenity) as Vikki Hiller, David Hyde Pierce (well known for Fraiser) as Peter MacMannus, Rachel Dratch (a comedian who appears on Saturday Night Live) as Gladys, Timothy Omundson (Cain in Supernatural) appears as R.J., and Jeri Ryan as Gwendolyn (ironic because she is now Gwendolyn Hayes, MacGyver’s aunt in the new series; also was Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, and now on the Picard series).

The film opens with a version of Down with Love, in a very Rat Pack sound; the film is set in 1962 New York City. Barbara Novak arrives in New York City, to Banner Publishing where she meets with her editor, Vikki to promote her book, Down with Love. As she explains to the male dominated creative team, women will never be fully equal to men until they are equal in the work force and in order to do that, women need to forget the notion of love and not connect love with sex anymore. They should have sex like men do, a la carte. To aid in this, chocolate helps, as it stimulates the brain in the same way as sex. But the men don’t buy it. Except Vikki has an idea; Catcher Block, star journalist of the KNOW magazine for men will do a cover story on Barbara. But Catcher, a ladies’ man, keeps hooking up with other women and canceling his meetings; until Barbara is fed up and refuses to meet with him in return. They come up with another promotion idea: have Judy Garland sing Down with Love on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sales skyrocket around the world; even in communists countries.

Over at KNOW, owner Peter continually attempts to convince Catcher to do the article; Peter is interested in Vikki. When Barbara denounced Catcher on television as the worst sort of man, Catch is really in trouble. Now he wants to write an expose and ruin Barbara. But to do that, he can’t be himself. He runs into Barbara on purpose at a dry cleaner and adopts the persona, Zip Martin, an astronaut who has no idea Barbara has written a book. They go on lots of dates and Catch plays to be the sort of man who does not have sex.

down with love

There is a split screen scene that is hilarious and full of innuendos. Followed by a crazy sequence where Catch pretends that Peter’s apartment is his so he can impress Barbara; and Peter can use his bachelor pad to impress Vikki. Catch is on the verge of losing Barbara until “Zip” agrees to sleep with her. They both unknowingly attend a party thrown by Peter in Catch’s apartment and the whole enterprise is almost blown. It does get blown on their next date, when Catch starts to secretly record Barbara admitting she loves Catch and wants to marry him. And Gwendolyn the stewardess stops by and exposes Zip as Catch.

Except Barbara already knew that. A year previous, she had been Catch’s secretary and fallen in love; but she wanted more than meaningless sex. So she changed her name and wrote a book and correctly predicted what Catch would do. That way, she got lots of dates and Catch ended up falling in love with her. And everything is almost right; until Barbara now realizes she cannot be a typical woman anymore; she is an inspiration. Meaning, she can’t marry Catch [honestly, by this point I’m confused].

And Catch has fallen in love with Barbara. So when she starts her own magazine, after Vikki has been fired for showing up the men, Catch applies for a job, knowing that Barbara will have to interview him. Except it still seems like they won’t get back together. Until Barbara meets Catch in the elevator, a red head now and agrees to marry him. But they will retain their careers. And in the background, the same goes for Vikki and Peter (ironically, both actors come out as gay a few years later; Vikki hinted that Peter was gay in the film).

The closing credits are my favorite because of the duet between Ewan and Renee; Here’s to Love. Their characters have written a new book by that title; obviously showing how they’re managing to have the best of both worlds. It’s a fun song that shows off the talent of the leads. The film is a light-hearted comedy that I really ought to remember I have when the need arises.  Now that I’m older, the innuendos are hilarious.  Ewan as Catcher is adorable, especially when he pretends to be Zip Martin. The whole plotline around Barbara knowing what she knows and her plan gets a little confusing; but it all works out, and the coincidences are very coincidental. Her breaking the relationship off with Catcher right before the end confuses me as well; when characters realize they love each other and it’s mutual – get together for goodness’ sake!

Next Time: Newsies