“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

“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

 

“Even guys with two left feet, come out alright if the girl is sweet.”

White Christmas

Normally, I am the last person to encourage early Christmas movies; I have worked retail for seven years, the holiday falls decidedly after Thanksgiving and Halloween. But, I’m reviewing my favorite musicals and this certainly is one. We watch it every year, usually when we decorate the tree (one week prior to Christmas). I had a friend in college who was in a community production of the show, so it was interesting to see how the stage production differs from the film.

The film stars crooner Bing Crosby (famous for singing Irving Berlin’s White Christmas) as entertainer Bob Wallace, Danny Kaye as funnyman Phillip Davis (he reminds me of Donald O’Connor from Singin’ in the Rain…and Donald was actually cast in the role, until he got sick; and he had taken over from Fred Astaire), professional dancer Vera-Ellen as Judy Haynes, and Rosemary Clooney (aunt to George Clooney as well as a popular singer) as older sister Betty Haynes. As I’ve commented before, Mary Wickes (Sister Act, The Trouble with Angels, and Music Man) appears as Emma Allen, the housekeeper.

It opens on Christmas Eve, 1944, on the German war front. Wallace and Davis are putting on a little Christmas show for the troops and their commander, General Waverly stops by before he takes a new position. Bob finishes White Christmas (this is actually not the first film to feature the song or Bing singing it; first was Holiday Inn, which features songs [by Irving Berlin] and routines for all seasons) and has a slam-bang finish he wants to perform for Waverly. The general stands up and encourages his troops. To get off the stage, Bob starts We’ll Follow the Old Man (love the song). There is an attack and Phil saves Bob’s life, getting hurt in the process. Bob is grateful and Phil talks him into starting a two-man show with him once the war is over. They are incredibly popular and there’s a cute medley of tunes from that era, including Blue Skies and the duo eventually produce a musical.

But Phil would like some time away from work and tries to hook Bob up with a variety of women, but he’s not interested (someone please explain what “mutual, I’m sure,” means, because I’ve never gotten it). Those girls don’t want to settle down. Before they spend their holiday in New York City, they have promised an old pal in the Army that they’d check out his sisters’ act. Betty and Judy Haynes are surprised at the appearance of the famous duo, well, Betty more than Judy, for Judy actually wrote the performers, trying to get an edge in the industry. The men are pleasantly surprised by the Sisters (another favorite of mine) and immediately attracted. Phil arranges them “boy, girl, boy, girl,” at the table to discuss matters, then Judy sweeps him away, for The Best Things, Happen While You’re Dancing. Vera is an excellent dancer. Betty comes clean on the matter to Bob and they disagree a bit, but figure they won’t see each other again, so let it lie. Excepet the girls got into trouble with the last place they were staying, running a rug, and the gentlemen help them out. Phil gives the ladies his tickets for the train and talks Bob into a distraction to buy time. Thus, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis perform Sisters with the feathered fans (they enjoy themselves and turns out, it was Bing and Danny messing around, but the director liked it so much, he worked it into the film).

The men catch their train in the nick of time, but Phil doesn’t have the tickets, so they must purchase new ones and sit up all night. They bump into their drawing room, revealing the Haynes sisters. Bob is persuaded to stay on the train for Vermont, instead of getting off at New York. “Must be beautiful this time of year, all that snow.” The quartet extols the virtues of Snow (Vera’s vocals were dubbed). However, when they reach Vermont, it is sunny and the state hasn’t had snow since Thanksgiving (due to my family’s travels and my brother attending college in Vermont, there is sadly no Pine Tree, Vermont). A further surprise, Bob and Phil discover that the Columbia Inn (the set is reused from Holiday Inn), where the Haynes sisters are booked, is owned and operated by General Waverly. The inn is struggling with the unseasonable weather and the boys decide to help by bringing their show up to the inn. They’ll fill in with the Haynes sisters.

Minstrel Show segues into Mandy, all with glittering costumes and showcasing Judy’s dancing. Betty and Bob begin to get along and Judy attempts to set her sister up. Bob and Betty share a cozy time in the main lodge, discussing sandwiches (thrown in by Bing) and Count Your Blessings. Bob discovers that Waverly has been hoping to get back into the Army; he wants a command position, but has to read him the news that it won’t work out. He has another idea while Danny runs Choreography (how does Vera do that with her tap shoes?); he’ll get on the Ed Harrison show and get the men back together for the general. Emma listens in on the other line, but doesn’t hear the whole conversation, so she mistakenly believes that Bob is doing it as a plug for his show, which she tells Betty. Betty is now cool to Bob. Judy and Phil decide to stage an engagement between themselves, hoping Betty will stop mother-henning Judy and thus pursue her own relationship with Bob. At a cast party, Phil announces “I don’t know if the Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing, or if they just happen in Vermont;” he and Judy are engaged. Instead of bringing Bob and Betty together, Betty leaves for a solo act.

After the fast-paced Abraham dance, Judy discovers Betty’s letter and she and Phil tell Bob the truth, so he stops to see Betty on his way to the Ed Harrison show. Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me expresses Betty’s feelings; she had fallen for someone she thought was a knight on a white horse and was disappointed. Bob doesn’t have time to fully explain the situation and find out why Betty is mad at him. But she sees his spot on the show, What Can You Do with a General? and is pleased. Meanwhile in Vermont, Phil pretends to hurt his leg to keep the general away from the television.

gee army

The big night has arrived and there is a huge turnout of soldiers for General Waverly. He is forced to come down in his uniform and is stunned by the sight. The men repeat We’ll Follow the Old Man. Waverly is visibly touched. Bob and Phil start Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army and are pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Betty. They finish with White Christmas, topped with the news that is has begun to snow (I love the red gowns in the scene; and note, that girls that young now are not on pointe). Betty and Bob are back together and Judy and Phil are officially together. Just happy ending all around.

white christmas finale

I love basically all the songs in this show.  The Christmas season in my house is not complete without this film.  It’s a favorite of my father’s, and is a family feel-good film.  The characters do not instantly fall in love; there’s a bit of drama (but not too much), miscommunication and when you think everything is falling apart, it comes back together.

Up Next: Fiddler on the Roof

“Well Fiddle-dee-dee”

Gone with the Wind

Based on the 1935 novel by Margaret Mitchell (no, I have not read it, though I know it is over 1,000 pages long [and those pages are thin; to put that in perspective, Outlander is 850 pages and Game of Thrones is about 800]), it takes place in Georgia during the Civil War. Adjusted for inflation, it is the highest-grossing movie of all time and won an Academy Award for Best Picture. AFI ranked it as the sixth greatest movie of all time; and it is one of my mother’s favorite films. I remember a friend of hers from when I was young who participated in Civil War re-enacting and wore gorgeous Southern belle gowns, quite possibly another influence in my interest in history (there also exists pictures of my brother and I as youngsters for Halloween dressed as a Confederate officer and a Southern belle [that dress lasted several years, we kept letting the pleats down]). We’d see her every year at local Victorian days celebrations…and it’s only years later that I have made the connection on why Civil War re-enactors were at a Victorian celebration…because they take place during the same time period. Though it’s understandable to miss the connection, the Victorian era spans sixty years and is also primarily thought in regards to European history, not American history.

Its cast is well known. Clark Gable is Rhett Butler. Olivia de Havilland (who we saw in The Adventures of Robin Hood alongside Errol Flynn [who was considered for the role of Rhett Butler]) is sweet Melanie Hamilton. Vivien Leigh became a star as Scarlett O’Hara, and won the Oscar for Best Actress. Of special note is Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy; she was the first African American to be nominated and win an Oscar, she won Best Supporting Actress, beating out co-star Olivia de Havilland.

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton-Fields called the Old South…there in the pretty world Gallantry took its last bow…Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave…Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind,” the opening of the film explains. It is a very romantic view of the South. The plantation Tara is just as famous as its inhabitants. Scarlett is seated with her beaux, dismissing their talk of impending war. She’s upset to learn that the lad she fancies, Ashley Wilkes, of the neighboring Twelve Oaks plantation is due to announce his engagement to Melanie Hamilton. She schemes to try to win him, but he is in love with Melanie. Scarlett does not see that she is not a good match for Ashley, and she could have the pick of any man that hangs off of her. She quickly engages herself to Melanie’s brother, Charles, even though he is promised to another woman. Melanie is sweet and truly loves Ashley and wants to be friends with Scarlett. Scarlett also meets Rhett Butler at the Wilkes’ barbecue, a visitor from Charleston who already has a reputation. Talk continues of the war, which is declared and the young men whoop and holler and cheer and ride out to volunteer. The young one feels that the war will be quick, decisive, and they’ll whoop the Yankees. Ashley and Rhett have a little more of an idea on how things will turn out.

Scarlett’s husband dies soon into the war and she must go into mourning. But it’s not very fun. So her mother suggests she join Melanie in Atlanta; she may even get to see Ashley when he is home on leave. Scarlett runs into Rhett again in Atlanta; he’s making a name for himself as a blockade runner. Rhett is attracted to Scarlett; he recognizes another like-minded person; as he remarked to Scarlett back at Twelve Oaks, he is no gentleman and she is no lady. In a way, he wants to tame her. He declares he will not kiss her, but she should be kissed, often, and by someone who knows what they’re doing (i.e. him).

Then comes Gettysburg. And the South begins losing. Rhett remarks to Scarlett one day it is a result of the South living in the past. Luckily, Ashley comes home for Christmas. When he leaves, Melanie is not feeling well, so he has Scarlett promise to take care of her. Scarlett is still hoping to win Ashley from Melanie, but promises, as a sign of her devotion to Ashley. The ladies begin work as nurses, then Sherman’s attack comes to Atlanta. He bombards the city first, then the South burns their ammunitions before he can reach the city. Turns out, Melanie is pregnant. And they can’t get her out of the city because she’s in labor. (This is where the famous line “I don’t know nothin’ but birthin’ babies” comes, after the girl made a fuss about knowing everything). Scarlett helps deliver the baby and sends the black girl to fetch Rhett Butler (from a brothel) to help them out. They manage to escape just before the ammunition blows. [Fun fact: the burning scenes were the first shot and they burned old set pieces to make room on the lot.]

Rhett leaves Scarlett, Melanie, the baby boy, and the slave girl on the road to Tara, declaring he’ll join the army to make a last stand. The women press forward and find Twelve Oaks abandoned and destroyed. They carry on to Tara to luckily find it still standing (the Yankees had used it as a headquarters). And there are even a few people home; Mammy, and Scarlett’s father, her two sisters who are overcoming an illness. Sadly, her mother had just passed away; and Scarlett had wanted to leave Atlanta to return home to her mother. Her father is confused in his grief, so Scarlett takes over running the plantation. The first act ends with Scarlett vowing to never go hungry again.

This movie does has an intermission (and an overture and entr’acte. I kind of wish long movies now came with an intermission; better for bathroom breaks in theatres). We come back with the movie briefly summarizing Sherman’s march to the sea (yes, that actually happened. No, Sherman is not well remembered in the South) and the arrival of carpetbaggers (Northerners who moved to the South during the Reconstruction to take advantage of the building economy). Times were hard in the South, and at Tara. They start to take care of returning Confederates and Ashley returns. Melanie and Scarlett are thrilled. Then comes the news that a Northerner has jacked the taxes on Tara sky high. Scarlett is desperate to come up with the money to save her beloved home, though she throws the old foreman out (there’s bad blood there going back before the war, he got “white trash” [I’m assuming a prostitute] pregnant, finally has married her after all these years, but Mrs. O’Hara caught a sickness from the woman and that caused her death…so no, Scarlett is not going to listen kindly to this man). Her father tries to chase after him and falls jumping a horse, causing his own death.

Scarlett goes to Ashley for help, even asking him to take her away from Tara. But he thinks highly of her and won’t let her feel so defeated (he’s not helping her fall out of love with him…heck, they even kiss). Desperate, she thinks of Rhett Butler. She makes new gown out of old curtain [this later becomes a bit in a parody of the movie on the Carol Burnett Show; heck, Scarlett’s whole wardrobe is as legendary as the movie, everyone has a favorite dress]. She flounces in to visit Rhett and almost has him believing she’ll marry him out of love, but he figures out her angle. He can’t help, his money is all tied up overseas and he’s being held prisoner by the Yanks. That’s when Scarlett stumbles upon a new idea; her sister’s fiancé has managed to start earning money and Scarlett ends up marrying him herself so she can get the tax money for Tara. She even manages to talk Ashley out of moving to New York, gaining sympathy from Melanie, who still tries to explain her actions to everyone else. That woman is really the most kind-hearted person. Scarlett starts a lumber business so she’ll never have to worry about money again.

 

Trouble comes about again, endangering Scarlett, her new husband, Ashley, even Melanie and Rhett. Rhett helps save the day, but Scarlett’s husband is dead. She starts drinking after that and Rhett visits. He proposes, fully knowing what kind of woman Scarlett is. He’s thrilled to be able to shower her with presents and treat her properly. He agrees bring Tara back to grandeur and build a grand house in Atlanta as well. But Scarlett, in her desperate climb to the top, has not gotten a good name in high society. This comes along when she give birth to a baby girl, that Rhett is all too eager to spoil. Her proper name is Eugenia Victoria, but they call her “Bonnie Blue” for her blue eyes. Still vain, Scarlett wishes to regain her eighteen-and-a-half-inch waist line from her youth; Mammy points out that will never happen. So, Scarlett simply won’t become pregnant again. Rhett’s not terribly pleased, especially when she carries on about Ashley and has kept a picture of him all this time. But Rhett will give their daughter a place in higher society, and goes out of his way to be sweet to all the right people.

Ashley doesn’t help matters when he continues to meet with Scarlett, call her dear, wish for her happiness, and give her hugs. They’re caught by friends of Melanie. Scarlett tries to stay home from a party, but Rhett insists she show her face. And Melanie carries on as nothing is the matter. At home that evening, Rhett reveals that he knows Scarlett still drinks. He carries her to bed. Afterwards, Rhett suggests a divorce from Scarlett, though he’ll keep Bonnie. Scarlett refuses, insisting that her daughter will not leave her house. Rhett goes on an extended trip to London and indeed takes Bonnie with him. He butts head with the nanny when Bonnie wakes from a nightmare and Rhett tells the nanny off for leaving Bonnie. The nanny points out that Bonnie will always be afraid if she’s coddled. Rhett dismisses her. Bonnie asks after her mother, so Rhett returns home. Bonnie is thrilled to see her mother. Rhett intends to leave right away for London again, but Scarlett reveals she’s pregnant. They start arguing at the top of the stairs, Rhett jokes that maybe Scarlett will have an accident. She goes to hit him, but he steps out of the way, causing her to in fact, fall down the steps. Scarlett loses the baby and Rhett is worried about her, but is kept from her.

Later, Scarlett is recovering outside and Rhett asks forgiveness. He wants to make another try at their marriage. The two are watching Bonnie ride her pony; the young girl insists she can jump side saddle. Both parents warn that she can’t. She does so anyways and falls off her pony. The fall kills her. Rhett is distraught. Mammy calls for Melanie to help Rhett. Melanie talks him around, but faints afterwards (this may be due to her being pregnant again, which everyone figured she couldn’t or rather shouldn’t, considering how the birth of her son went). Rhett and Scarlett are present as Melanie worsens. Melanie calls for Scarlett and asks her to look after her son, and Ashley. Scarlett throws herself at Ashley when she comes out of the room, which leads to Rhett quietly leaving. Scarlett finally realizes that Ashley truly loved Melanie more than Scarlett, which she promptly blames her behavior on Ashley, for never telling her. Which makes her realize that she loves Rhett and run home to him. Rhett is leaving. Scarlett begs for him to stay; “where shall I go, what shall I do?” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” [AFI’s top movie quote of all time]. Scarlett falls to the stairs, sobbing. Then she remembers something her father told her, before the war. “Land is the only thing worth working for; worth fighting for; worth dying for. Because it’s the only thing that lasts.” There’s no getting away from love of the land if you’re Irish (Gerald O’Hara was born in Ireland). That’s what Scarlett will do; she’ll return home to Tara and think of some way to win Rhett back. But she’ll think on that tomorrow, “after all, tomorrow is another day.”

While this is one of my mother’s favorite films, it’s never been one of mine. I can’t rightly tell you why.  I watched long movies as a youngster; one of my favorites is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  This movie has gorgeous gowns and considering I went as a Southern belle for countless Halloweens, I should at least be interested in that.  The story does slow down a bit during Scarlett’s second husband…I actually forgot that part of the movie existed, but that’s not something I would have recognized as a youngster.

Nor am I sure that as a child I would have recognized that Scarlett is a vain, selfish character.  She gets better for a time.  I think she did come to care for Melanie, as much as she looked down on her at the beginning.  She wouldn’t leave Atlanta without her.  She made sure she recovered well.  I liked her character growth when she took over the running of Tara.  Then she dropped all of that when she married her sister’s beau.  And goes right back to being a priss once she marries Rhett.  He almost had a chance of curing her; he had the best chance of anyone.  I preferred his characterization once he married Scarlett and he was utterly thrilled when Bonnie was born; aside from wanting to spoil her rotten.  Ashley is a bit of a simpleton; he couldn’t have ended things a lot better with Scarlett if he had just laid it all out, firmly, when he announced his engagement.  I’m not sure I really understand why Scarlett wanted him in the first place; her main desire was she wanted to steal him from Melanie, but before the announcement was hinted, she was fine flirting with every other man.  Ashley let it carry on far too long.  But Melanie is the sweetest person I have ever witnessed.  She’s not dumb, just can’t see the worst in some people.  She sees good in Scarlett, which the young woman needs.

I loved lots of things my mom did, just not this.  Don’t know why.  Personally, I would not call this the best movie ever, but my heart has been won by other stories… Chronicles of NarniaLord of the RingsHow to Train Your Dragon, etc.  Nevertheless, it is well done.  Margaret Mitchell never wrote a sequel, in fact, this was the only novel she wrote.  Scarlett was written by Alexandra Ripley in 1991 (remember, the original book was written in 1935).   Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig acts as a prequel and was written in 2007.

What are your thoughts on Gone With the Wind?

Up Next: Back across the pond for Young Victoria