“You can dance, you can jive! Having the time of your life!”

Mamma Mia

Based on the music of ABBA, which I grew up listening to.  I have been to New York City once; my choir in college was chosen to help premiere a piece at Carnegie Hall (yes, it was very cool).  And as choir kids, we all wanted to hit Broadway.  Most wanted to go to Avenue Q; I was not keen, but if it was the only chance I had to seen a show on Broadway, I’d do it.  Then someone suggested Mamma Mia and I was in.  So much fun.  Student seats are not the greatest; we ended up behind speakers, which didn’t block our view that much, but we certainly knew when each act started.  And we were close enough to the stage that at the end of the show, when a lot of the audience is singing along (including me) the cast could see us; I swear the one guys smiled at us.

The film has an all-star cast.  Amanda Seyfried (was in Mean Girls but this really made her a star, then had a lead in the big Les Miserables movie, and the lead in creepy Red Riding Hood and happier Letters to Juliet) is Sophie, Meryl Steep (Aunt March in the most recent Little Women, Devil Wears Prada, the witch in Into the Woods, amongst dozens of other roles) is her mother, Donna, Christine Baranski (Leonard’s mother in Big Band Theory, the stepmother in Into the Woods)  and Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley!, Mrs. Austen in Becoming Jane, Mistress Quickly in the Hollow Crown’s Henry IV and Henry V, and she voiced the witch in Brave)  are Donna’s friends Tanya and Rosie.  Dominic Cooper (The Duchess, Howard Stark in Captain America and Agent Carter) is Sky, Stellan Skarsgård (Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, Dr. Erik in Thor) is Bill, Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy in the longer version of Pride and Prejudice, What a Girl Wants, Nanny McPhee, The Last Legion, among many other roles) is Harry, and Pierce Brosnan (Remington Steele, James Bond, the late nineties Thomas Crown Affair, opposite Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire and several other roles) is Sam.

The film opens with Sophie singing I Have a Dream and mailing three letters.  Next, she is greeting her two best friends who have arrived for her wedding.  She has a secret that she hasn’t told anyone…she has invited her dad.  She found the diary her mother kept the year she was pregnant with Sophie; there are three possibilities, Sam, Bill, and Harry and Sophie sent invitations to all of them.  She reads her mother’s diary to her friends; they giggle to Honey, Honey.  Sophie has not told her mother the three men are coming, nor has she told her fiancé.  We see the three men try to catch the ferry; Harry and Sam miss it, but luckily Bill is there with a boat.

Next Donna’s friends Rosie and Tanya arrive, eager to see Sophie.  They’re also worried about Donna.  Sophie and Sky have plans for the rundown hotel and bring in business via the Internet.  But it’s been rough for Donna being a single mother and running a business.  She complains that Money, Money, Money would solve a lot of problems.  She is however, over men.

Yeah, and the three men that made her life complicated have just arrived on the island, unbeknownst to her.  Sophie takes them to a secret room and order them to hide; Donna does not know and she does not want Donna to know…until it’s too late.  But Donna stumbles across them and reminisces to Mamma Mia.  She literally falls through the roof (and oh boy, they are hilarious-looking as young men) and freaks out.  She orders them away, then runs off.  Rosie and Tanya attempt to cheer her up with Chicaquita.  They get the truth out of Donna; the men are here and Donna worries it will upset Sophie (don’t have to worry about that).  And Donna herself does not know which is Sophie’s dad.  Her mother’s disapproval is brought up.  As Rosie comments; “it’s all very Greek.”  Tanya and Rosie cheer Donna up further with Dancing Queen and all the women on the island join in [there is a cameo by Benny Andersson of ABBA as the piano player].

dancing queen

Sophie tracks down the men and bonds with them over Our Last Summer and begs them to stay.  She then meets up with Sky; they are utterly devoted to each other and Lay All Your Love transitions into Sophie’s bachelorette party, after a hilarious dance by the men in flippers.  Donna and the Dynamos make a one night appearance and sing Super Trouper.  The men interrupt the party; even Sky and his buddies crash the party for Gimme Gimme Gimme a Man After Midnight.  Sam counsels Sophie to pursue her dream before settling down; the women tie Bill up; and Harry tries to hide.  But each comes to the conclusion they are Sophie’s dad and promise to walk her down the aisle.  Voulez Vous raises the anxiety and Sophie faints.

Rosie and Tanya decide to distract the men the next morning for Donna; Tanya attempts boating with Harry, but he swims away.  Rosie is attracted to Bill and his treated to his naked butt.  Donna tries to talk to Sophie and thinks she wants to call off the wedding.  No, Sophie is just confused and brings up her dad situation, but can’t tell her mother she is the one who brought the three men to the island.  Sam talks to Donna about Sophie and makes the pitch that Sophie shouldn’t get married right away.  If Sophie felt Donna was taken care of, she’d venture out on her own.  But Donna can handle herself; this is not an S.O.S. (Pierce sings well in this number).

One of Sky’s buddies tries to flirt with Tanya, but she quips Does Your Mother Know That You’re Out, highlighting the age difference.  Harry hands Donna a check and scampers away and preparations begin for the wedding.  Sophie comes clean to Sky and while he still loves her, he’s frustrated that she thinks she needs to know her father.  She has a family without him and finding him won’t complete her; she has to do that on her own.  And was this the whole reason for a big wedding?  Sophie asks Donna to help her dress and they reminisce through Slipping Through My Fingers.  Sophie is sincere when she asks her mother to give her away.

Sam catches Donna again, but she doesn’t want to talk how The Winner Takes it All.  She’s a bit late, but walks her daughter down the aisle.  Then admits before the ceremony that Sophie’s dad is there.  Sophie says she invited them.  Well, Donna doesn’t know which one.  Happily all the men are pleased to have even one-third of Sophie.  Then Sophie turns to Sky and calls off the wedding; they should just travel, like he wanted.  But there won’t be a wasted wedding; Sam proposes to Donna.  He is a divorced man.  Yes, he had been engaged when they met twenty years previous and yes, he had gone home…but to call it off.  Then he came back for Donna, only to find out she was off with another guy.  Donna says I Do, I Do.  Sam croons Here’s to Us at their reception.  Rosie makes a move on Bill and asks him Take a Chance on Me.  Everyone is dancing and cheering; the men are shirtless [Pierce still looks good] and the legendary fountain of Aphrodite bursts through the concrete courtyard.

Sophie sails off with Sky to a reprise of I Have  Dream.  Donna and the Dynamos come out for the credits and Dancing Queen.  Then the whole cast, in sparkly 70s garb [I laugh every time] shows up for Waterloo [and there is another cameo by Björn Ulvaeus in the Greek gods that appear].

first credits

A sequel, Here We Go Again came out ten years after the first movie and is filled with more ABBA music.  It adds Lily Davis (live action Cinderella, Downton Abbey) as young Donna and tells the story of how Donna met Bill, Harry, and Sam.  It is graduation at Oxford in 1979; Donna thrills everyone with When I Kissed the Teacher [Björn is one of the teachers].  Relaxing with Tanya and Rosie afterwards, Donna tells them she is going to travel; mainly to keep away from her mother.  She starts her adventure in Paris and runs into Harry, a very awkward man.  He is instantly attracted to her, but tries to talk the long way around holding her hand and wants to sleep with her, because this will be their only opportunity.  Waterloo charms her [Benny is again a piano player and I liked that the scene was inclusive for everyone, including a woman dancing in a wheelchair].  Donna agrees but we can see she was not impressed.

Her next stop is Greece.  She misses the ferry, but a young Bill is there to sweep her away on his boat.  They happily flirt to Why Did It Have to Be Me and then rescue a man in the water so he can be with his true love.  Bill leaves Donna the next day on the island and will return for her.  She wanders around and gets caught in a storm.  She finds shelter, and a horse in trouble.  Donna runs out to find help and discovers Sam [they cast really good looking men for these roles; especially Sam].  They make a deeper connection; Sam is running from his predestined life and Donna has no plan, but they’re happy.  Though we can see that Sam wants to tell her something.  Donna gains a job in town to sing at a local bar, auditioning with Adante, Adante after the bar owner performs Kisses of Fire.  Donna is thoroughly in love with Sam and sweetly sings What’s the Name of the Game…until she finds a picture of Sam’s fiancée.  She orders him away without giving him much of a chance to explain, venting Knowing Me, Knowing You.

young mamma miaDonna’s friends arrive to perform and to cheer her up.  She discovers Mamma Mia inside herself and is even happier when Bill shows up.  Rosie is jealous because Donna has already had Sam and now she gets the other cute guy as well.  While Donna is out with Bill, Sam stops by, but a local woman informs him that he was cruel to Donna and does not deserve her.  She is already out with another man and Sam leaves again.  That same woman offers the farm house that Donna is staying at to her; she can live rent free as long as she fixes it up.  Donna eagerly agrees.  Then discovers she’s pregnant.

Alternatively, a story is told five years after the first movie; Donna has sadly passed, but Sophie and Sky have fixed up the hotel and are planning a Grand Opening.  Except Sky is in New York City learning the hotel business and has just been offered a permanent job.  Sophie wants to stay with her mother’s hotel.  They can’t make a decision and One of Us will have to give something up.  Rosie and Tanya luckily arrive for the celebration, but Bill and Harry are busy.  Sam lives nearby and misses Donna just as much as Sophie.  He encourages her however that the Grand Opening is a time to celebrate. 

As the storm hits in 1979, a storm hits the set-up for the Grand Opening.  And has messed with airlines, so now they have no party.  Sophie fears she is letting Donna’s memory down.  Everyone tells her she isn’t and Rosie and Tanya offer support about Sky.  Sophie still loves him and considers his Angel Eyes.  However, Bill and Harry are on their way and meet up once again at the ill-timed ferry.  They’re rescued this time by the man Bill and Donna saved years ago.  And with him they bring boat-loads of people singing Dancing Queen for the celebration, and Sky.

When they have a moment, Sophie tells Sky she is pregnant.  And this experience is connecting her with her mother; they’re in the same place.  And while Sophie has Sam and Sky; Donna had little Sophie inside her.  Then everyone starts congratulating Sophie on her pregnancy; while she wanted to keep it secret and had told Sam, Sam told Bill.  Bill told Harry.  And Harry told many, many people.  And an odd noise comes over the party; a helicopter lands and out steps, “grandmother” (Cher).  Ruby Sheridan has finally decided to embrace being a “grandmother.”  And serendipitously, she discovers Sophie’s manager is her lost love, Fernando (Andy Garcia).

Sophie further connects to her mother, singing You Delight Me with Rosie and Tanya.  We see the birth of Sophie.  Everyone reconvenes nine months later for the baptism of Sophie and Sky’s son.  Sophie really wishes Donna was there and sees her spirit in the church.  All three women croon My Love, My Life (brings me to tears).  There is a party afterwards, Cher treating everyone to Super Trouper, but Meryl Streep returns, as does the rest of the cast; the younger counterparts teaming up with their older selves.  (Sky is the main young man who can pull off those deep cut suits.  I laugh at this as well).

second credits

Personally, I don’t think Cher added anything to the movie aside from being a big name; the tone of her voice doesn’t suit the music. I knew most of these songs before the show and movies, having heard them while I was growing up. I like Pierce’s dynamics with Meryl in the first movie and with Amanda in the second; definitely agree with the Donna x Sam pairing. And the Bohemian style in the second film; the flashback to the seventies, is really cute. Overall, they’re a fun pair of movies.

Up Next: Moulin Rouge

You Should Always Pay Attention to Maggie Smith

Sister Act

While not a traditional musical (though it has been adapted into a stage show), music plays a key role in the film. Another one of my mother’s favorites and my first real introduction to Whoopi Goldberg (I recognized her from this, Lion King, and Star Trek: Next Generation long before I knew she was a comedian). She stars as Deloris van Cartier. Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall, Violet Crawley the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, Becoming Jane, Hook, and other roles dating back to the fifties) is Mother Superior, Kathy Najimy (Mary from Hocus Pocus) is Sister Mary Patrick, Wendy Makkena (she has popped up in several television shows, including NCIS, where she is deceased Agent Caitlin Todd’s sister) is Sister Mary Robert, Mary Wickes (White Christmas, Music Man) is Sister Mary Lazarus. Harvey Keitel (later Sandusky in both National Treasure movies) is Vince LaRocca and Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer in Supernatural) shows up as Clarkson.

Deloris is shown to be a troublemaker from an early age, but the story truly begins during one of her shows in Reno. She is shown to be involved with a married man and decides to leave him. But she witnesses a murder in her lover’s casino and makes a run for it. The police promise to protect and hide her in the last place Vince would look; a convent. Deloris is not happy about posing as a nun and neither is the Mother Superior, the only other person to know who Deloris is. Along with the black and white habit, Deloris is to adopt the name Sister Mary Clarence. She meets the other sisters, including bubbly Sister Mary Patrick and shy Sister Mary Robert. Mary Clarence wants to mind her own business at the beginning, but she is not used to the life of a nun.

RevMotherSisterActWhen Mary Clarence sneaks out at night and Sisters Mary Patrick and Mary Robert follow her to meet the people, Mother Superior is displeased. To keep Mary Clarence occupied, she assigns her to the convent choir, which has already performed a very bad version of Hail Holy Queen. Sister Mary Lazarus conducts the choir, but hands the reins over to Mary Clarence when she starts rearranging. She also encourages Sister Mary Robert to come out of her shell. At the next service, the choir performs a polished version of Hail Holy Queen, then segue into a new attitude featuring Sisters Mary Patrick and Mary Robert. Mother Superior is not impressed, but Mary Clarence knows that this kind of music will get people back in church. She gives credit to Mother Superior when the priest congratulates them and gets him to agree to let the sisters out into the community. A revitalization happens; the area is cleaned up and the paint is turned into a mural. Unfortunately, there is a camera crew and the police officer in charge spots Deloris, luckily Vince does not. When Eddie warns Deloris to be more careful, she starts to show her concern for the other nuns; she won’t abandon the choir. She changes the words to My Guy to My God and works it into a nun’s point of view. Afterwards, they receive news that the Pope will visit their convent and has requested a concert. Mother Superior feels they should return to traditional pieces, but she is outvoted in favor of Mary Clarence’s selections.

It looks like Mother Superior and Mary Clarence may both be leaving soon; Mother Superior wants transferred to a convent where she will be of more use, but Mary Clarence urges that she can be a part of what is going on now. Over at the police station, there is a leak, exposing protected witnesses. One of the other detectives figures out where Deloris is and calls Vince. The detective is caught, but not before Vince sends his goons after Deloris. Eddie tries to protect her but she sneaks away and is grabbed. Mary Robert is able to report where the goons are heading and all the sisters band together to rescue Mary Clarence, even after Mother Superior reveals the truth.

Vince’s goons can’t bring themselves to shoot Deloris while she is dressed as a nun and her calm demeanor puts them off. She manages to escape and finds the other nuns in the casino. Vince corners them before they can get out, but still orders his goons to shoot Deloris. Vince is shot instead and he’ll finally be locked up. The choir is able to perform for the Pope with a new arrangement of I Will Follow Him.

sister act

A year after Sister Act, they make a sequel, subtitled Back in the Habit. Deloris is now headlining in Vegas and gets a visit from Sisters Mary Robert, Mary Patrick, and Mary Lazarus. They ask for her help again; they are now teaching at St. Francis school and the students need guidance. It’s the return of Mary Clarence and she’ll now be teaching the music class. The teens (including a young Jennifer Love Hewitt) are not interested in a change to their lazy class.

Mary Clarence despairs for a bit, until she overhears that the school will close at the end of the semester and she determines with the other nuns and fathers to go out with a bang. She gives her class a wakeup call that leads Rita to leave. Mary Clarence works her magic and realizes she needs to turn her class into a choir; they’re already interested in music, now she just needs to turn their music into something they can perform. She takes them on a field trip to watch her old choir Rap On Sisters about the issues of the day. The students resist at first, until they overhear the same news and figure to give the choir a chance. We see Rita practice with a friend and Sister Mary Robert overhears her; she encourages Rita to return to choir and has Mary Clarence speak to her.

Turns out that Rita’s mother (Sheryl Lee Ralph; Mamma Colton in the new MacGyver series) disapproves of singing; it is not a stable job and no guarantee of a future. Rita does return to choir after some coaxing and they perform Oh Happy Day for their school. It’s a rocky start, until they build up some confidence and the male soloist hits a high note. This leads to the other sisters entering the choir into a state competition. Mary Clarence talks the principal around, though they’ll have to fundraise and all the students must have parental consent. Mary Clarence can handle the community; she sings Get Up Off-a That Thing and Dancing in the Street. Rita’s mother refuses to let Rita sing; Rita forges her mother’s signature and joins the trip anyway, following advice from Mary Clarence: if all you want to do when you wake up is sing, you’re a singer.

Trouble is brewing, the school administrator has figured out Deloris’s secret and takes the fathers to the competition to take the students out. They’re nervous about the competition, especially when they see another more professional choir sing Joyful, Joyful; their intended song. But Mary Clarence speaks to them and cheer up when they see their principal. He and the other fathers lock the administrator in a closet so their choir has a chance. Rita’s mother finds her daughter’s letter and comes to the competition, making Rita freeze. She snaps out of it and performs her solo and the students are allowed to take off their robes so they’ll be comfortable. They perform an updated version of Joyful, Joyful; high energy and mixing in styles they are familiar with. When the winners are announced, the fancy choir wins second. And St. Francis wins! The school board was also in attendance and agree to keep the school open. Similar to what happened last movie, Mother Superior gives the credit to the administrator and then suggests he’s reassigned to another district that needs him more. Rita’s mother tells her daughter how proud she is. The students confront Deloris after the show about her being a Vegas showgirl. She corrects them; “I have not now nor ever been a Las Vegas showgirl. I am a headliner.” Credits roll over the cast singing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

I don’t watch the movies as often anymore; if I do, it’s more for nostalgic reasons.  Though I still like the music and a women’s choir should totally do the arrangements from the first movie.  They involve relatable situations, though the nun bring joy; who wouldn’t want to be friends with Sister Mary Patrick and Sister Mary Robert?

Up Next: Mamma Mia

“A Wop Bom a Looma, a Wop Bam Boo!”

Grease

A very iconic musical; showcases the fifties with the diner and milkshakes, the occasional poodle skirt, gangs and rumbles, and how the men styled their hair. The film was made in the seventies and stars Olivia Newton-John (renowned singer) as Sandy and John Travolta (who would also star in a movie about the seventies a year prior to Grease’s release: Saturday Night Fever) as Danny. While the story is about high school seniors, all of the actors and actresses were significantly older. Sandy and Danny meet at a beach during the summer and have a summer fling at the beginning of the film. They have to separate and we have an animated intro with Grease (and for some reason, Sandy appears like Cinderella with helpful woodland creatures). The T-Birds, of which Danny is a leader, and their opposites, the Pink Ladies return to Rydell High School for their final year. Frenchy brings a new girl; Sandy. When the Pink Ladies ask Sandy and the T-Birds ask Danny separately what they did for their summer, the two tell them about their Summer Nights (the guys are more focused on getting into a woman’s drawers…and there are some questionable lyrics; and as a kid, I even questioned Sandy about making a big deal that they “stayed out, ’till ten o’clock”…maybe it’s a fifties’ thing). Sandy reveals to the ladies that she met Danny Zuko over the summer. The Pink Ladies are familiar with Danny; it seems like Rizzo had gone out with him before in addition to being a classmate.

The ladies decide to surprise the couple and reunite them; Sandy is initially pleased to see Danny again and he starts out as the caring guy she met, but then puts on a tough guy act for his buddies. Sandy storms off and Rizzo is not surprised. Frenchy invites Sandy to a sleepover and the ladies try to get her to smoke and drink and Frenchy tries to pierce Sandy’s ears; she’s an aspiring beautician and has dropped out of high school to attend beauty school. Sandy does not react well to any of those and while she’s in the bathroom Rizzo mocks her with “look at me, I’m Sandra Dee/ lousy with virginity.” Sandy walks out and they have to stop. Outside, the T-Birds crash the party. Rizzo climbs out the window and hooks up with Kenickie. Sandy is still hurt from Danny; Hopelessly Devoted.

Tensions rise between the T-Birds and the Scorpions. Kenickie wants to soup up his car so he can challenge the Scorpions’ leader. Danny says they’ll make it “systematic, hydromatic, ultramatic; [different names for transmissions; I asked my mechanic father because I do not know cars]” they’ll make it Greased Lightning! (more suggestive lyrics).  They drive it to a diner where Danny encounters Sandy on a date with a nice, but dull boy. She challenges him to prove that he can be the guy she remembers. So Danny tries out for several sports, settling on track. Sandy gives him another chance, but their date is crashed by their friends, ending with Rizzo throwing her milkshake on Kenickie. Frenchy stays behind, revealing to the waitress that she made a mistake on her hair and it’s not bubble-gum pink. She dreams Beauty School Dropout and is told “go back to high school.”

The big event of the school year is the filming of National Bandstand in their gym. Their principal instructs them to be on their best behavior; but of course they’re teenagers so the likelihood of that happening is…slim. Several are ousted from the dance competition for inappropriate moves. Rizzo goes with the Scorpions’ leader and Kenickie goes with Cha Cha, who recognizes Danny (seriously, has this guy dated all the girls?). Sandy is having a nice time with Danny during Born to Hand Jive, until one of the guys pulls her away and Cha Cha leaps in to finish with Danny, winning the competition. Sandy leaves the dance before the slow dance and several of the T-Birds demonstrate their immaturity by mooning the camera during Blue Moon.

Danny attempts to make it up to Sandy with a drive-thru movie and gives her a ring, asking her to “go steady.” She happily accepts, but storms away when Danny goes to make a move [hmm, he might have been exaggerating about his summer with Sandy]. Rizzo reveals to Marty that she skipped a period and fears she may be pregnant and begs for Marty’s silence. That doesn’t last long. It makes it to Kenickie and he tries to talk to Rizzo, who insists the kid isn’t Kenickie’s. Danny mourns for Sandy. After talking to Sandy at school, Rizzo admits There are Worse Things I Could Do. She’ll take care of herself and anyone else that happens to come along.

It’s time for the car race between the T-Birds and the Scorpions. Kenickie asks Danny to be his second…proving that “tough” guys can actually stop being “cool” for a minute if they want. One of the other idiots hits Kenickie in the head with the car door, so Danny drives. Sandy is sitting far on the sidelines, watching. As can be expected, the Scorpions drive dirty, but Danny evades for the most part. For some reason he thinks jumping the car over a concrete ramp is a good idea…I doubt that car would actually survive [Dukes of Hazzard wrecked between 250 and 300 cars during its run]. It sends the Scorpion’s car into the water and stalls it. Anyhow, Danny wins! And Sandy has come to a decision, though she needs Frenchy’s help.

grease group

The last day of the school has arrived and there is a carnival outside for the students. Rizzo is not pregnant and makes up with Kenickie. Danny is sporting a letter sweater and admits to the T-Birds he is trying to impress Sandy. Then they turn and find a new Sandy, in tight leather pants, hoop earrings and smoking a cigarette. Danny is very surprised and eagerly whips off his sweater. Sandy informs him “you better shape up/ ’cause I need a man/ and my heart is set on you.” You’re the One that I Want. Danny follows her into a fun house and they dance together. One of the Pink Ladies announces the whole gang is back together. We Go Together is full of fun words and the two groups pair off. Danny drives Sandy away in the fantasy car from Greased Lightning and they fly away to the Chipmunks’ Witch Doctor.

I prefer the ending of the film; very happy and upbeat; my favorite songs are the last two. Yes, Sandy changed for Danny, but Danny did at least try. I think they will find they’re happiest when they meet in the middle; Danny doesn’t have to be cool all the time (and once you get him away from his buddies, particularly some of the dumb ones) and Sandy could stand to loosen up. [Do I recommend taking up smoking and drinking? No.] Most of the innuendos went over my head as a kid, which is probably how they got away with them. I dislike the theory out there on the Internet that this is all just a near-death hallucination of Sandy’s before she goes to heaven at the end. The sequel is also really bad. There was a live action performance on television a few years ago (a new trend) featuring Julianne Hough as Sandy. And while my younger cousin was in high school (different school than me), they performed Grease.

Next Time: Sister Act

“‘Stead of treated, we get tricked, ‘stead of kisses, we get kicked!”

Annie

Another musical that most everyone has heard of; the little curly red-headed orphan girl. I think my high school put on a production years before I was in high school; I vaguely remember a classmate when I was in elementary school being one of the orphans. It’s gone through a few iterations, but the most famous is the 1982 movie starring Albert Finney (Kincade in Skyfall [the Bond film], John Newton in Amazing Grace) as Oliver Warbucks, Carol Burnett (classic comedian with her own show from 1967 to 1978; she even made a few guest appearances in the rebooted Hawaii Five-0 ) as Miss Hannigan, Tim Curry (Clue [which happened to have been my senior class play; I was the dead cook], Rocky Horror Picture Show [that was just about the weirdest movie I ever tried to watch], Cardinal Richelieu in Disney’s Three Musketeers) as Rooster Hannigan, Bernadette Peters (would later be a part of Disney’s production of Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella) as Lily St. Regis, and Aileen Quinn as Annie. Edward Herrmann (Gilmore Girls) also appears as FDR.

The story is set in 1933 New York City, at the Hudson St. Home for Girls. Annie is singing Maybe to herself, wondering about the family she has waiting out there and when they’ll come get her. One of the younger girls in the room, Molly, wakes up from a nightmare and calls for Annie. The other girls wake up and fight for a bit. But before they can all fall back asleep Miss Hannigan enters and orders them awake and to start their chores. She has trained them to say “We love you Miss Hannigan,” instead of any backtalk. The girls start It’s a Hard Knock Life for Us (some are skilled gymnasts). Annie hides in the laundry basket as another escape attempt. Outside, she meets a scruffy dog being tormented by a bunch of boys. She punches two boys in the face (she is a tough little girl) and adopts the Dumb Dog. She’s caught by a police officer and taken back to the orphanage where the girls name the dog Sandy. Miss Hannigan locks Annie in her closet, but before she can punish her, Miss Grace Farrell shows up, looking for an orphan to live at Oliver Warbucks’s mansion for a week. Annie comes out of hiding to persuade Grace to take her.

The staff take a liking to Annie right away and outline her new life for a week, after they correct Annie’s misinterpretation that she is there to work . Annie gleefully says I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here. Oliver Warbucks arrives and breaks up the song and dance. Grace namedrops Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and Rockefeller, along with the President. He’s surprised by Annie and wants to exchange her for a boy; hosting an orphan is only done to help his image, but she charms him to keep her.

Back at the orphanage, Miss Hannigan is despairing over Little Girls (she spends a lot of her day drinking). Her brother, Rooster stops by with Lily St. Regis, asking for money. She sends him away; he steals from her anyhow.

Annie starts to endear herself to Warbucks, Sandy even helps stop an assassin, along with his two bodyguards. Grace explains to Annie that the man was a Bolsehvik. Another evening, Warbucks is persuaded by Annie and Grace, Let’s Go to the Movies. (Yes, those were the Rockettes dancing before the film). Annie falls asleep at the movie, so Warbucks carries her home and to bed, with some help from Grace. The next morning, Grace approaches Warbucks, well, he’s asked her to call him Oliver, and wants to adopt Annie. Oliver insists he is a businessman; he loves money and power, not children. But Grace is very pretty when she argues and he gives in. Grace cheerfully tells the others, We’ve Got Annie. Oliver takes the paperwork to the orphanage and argues with Miss Hannigan to get her to Sign the papers (Miss Hannigan also has a habit of attempting to flirt with any man that comes near the orphanage). But when Oliver presents a new locket (from Tiffany’s) and tells Annie the good news, she quietly informs him that she’s waiting for her birth parents to claim her. So Oliver issues a reward ($50,000).

Warbucks pitches the idea on the radio, after the catchy You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile ditty (reprised by the girls at the orphanage). As expected, a crowd appears at the mansion, so Oliver takes Annie to Washington D.C., to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Oliver and the President argue over the New Deal and Annie cheers them up with her signature Tomorrow tune.

easy street

Rooster and Lily come up with the idea to pose as Annie’s parents and go to Miss Hannigan for specific details on Annie so they can easily claim and split the reward. Molly overhears the plan, as well as Miss Hannigan revealing that Annie’s parents died years ago and the front piece to her broken locket has been sitting in a box since the fire. It’ll be Easy Street for the trio. (Yes, they’re the bad guys, but it’s such a fun song; they let the actors have some fun). Once they have the money, Rooster intends to drop Annie in the river. Molly rallies some of the other girls to tell Annie, but they’re caught and locked in the closet while the adults head to the mansion. Oliver does not trust them, but they have the locket and Annie agrees to go with them. She’ll send her new clothes to the orphanage. Rooster and Lily pick up Hannigan once they’re outside the mansion and Rooster keeps a hold of Annie.

The girls manage to escape and run the length of Fifth Avenue to warn Warbucks; but they’re too late. He’s immediately on the phone with the police and his bodyguard, Punjab takes the copter. Annie talks Lily into stopping the truck so she “can go to the bathroom.” Instead, she grabs the check and runs. When she rips it up, Rooster swears he’ll kill her. Hannigan realizes her brother means it; she chases after him. Annie comes to a raised railroad bridge and begins climbing. Rooster knocks his sister down when she tries to talk him out of killing a little girl. Rooster climbs after Annie. At the top, he tries to drop her, but Punjab flies in and rescues Annie. With a kick, Rooster slides down the bridge to the waiting police.

Oliver throws a party for Annie, themed for the Fourth of July (the show typically ends at Christmas, but it would have cost too much to get that much fake snow during the summer filming schedule). He presents her with the new locket and when she takes it, she proclaims, “I love you, Daddy Warbucks.” Now, I Don’t Need Anything But You, the pair duets and Annie shows off her tap skills. The other girls are in attendance, nicely dressed, as is the president, and even Miss Hannigan. A reprise of Tomorrow closes the show.

Some of the songs are so much fun from this show, like Easy Street (probably my favorite song due to Curry, Peters, and Burnnett selling it), Hard Knock Life, and Fully Dressed Without a Smile. And every musical student knows how to belt out Tomorrow. It’s a family friendly show, certain to put a smile on your face.  The grouchy businessman develops a heart, there may or may not be a budding romance between him and his secretary who is a fully fledged character in her own right, and I believe that Annie’s rough edges are softened by having people who honestly care about her.  Miss Harrington isn’t completely bad, but she’s certainly not nice.

In 1999, Disney produced a version with Victor Garber as Oliver Warbucks, Kathy Bates as Miss Hannigan, Alan Cumming (Boris in GoldenEye, Spy Kids, X-2) as Rooster, Kristin Chenoweth as Lily, and Audra McDonald (Broadway star and Madame Garderobe in the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie) as Grace Farrell. This version cut several songs and included NYC (which featured an appearance by Andrea McArdle, who originated the role of Annie on Broadway in 1977) and Something Missing. It keeps the Christmas timeline and the imposters never make it out the door with Annie. I am aware that there was another update made in 2014, but I haven’t seen the film and not keen, especially if it doesn’t keep the songs. In terms of the Disney productions of some musicals; I would personally rank them Cinderella, Annie, Music Man. Music Man is not a favorite show anyways, and Cinderella is happier.

Up Next: A more modern classic, Grease

(Anyone else think Queenie Goldstein looks like Lily St. Regis?)

“We know that when good fortune favors two such men, it stands to reason we deserve it too!”

Fiddler on the Roof

One of those iconic musicals that most everyone has probably heard of. The soundtrack is fun (yes, that is the John Williams listed as the orchestrator; no, he did not compose the music). My high school did this musical the year before I entered. And the community theatre performed it fairly recently; my family went to see the performance because we knew the leading man. The story is set in the early twentieth century in Russia. We begin with a silhouetted fiddler playing on a roof. The story is narrated by Tevye, a Jewish peasant. He remarks that we are all like fiddlers on a roof, trying to scratch out a tune, without breaking our necks (when the high school did its production, they brought in a younger violinist; very good and easier to put on a set). The Jewish community in Anatevka is full of Traditions; each person in the family has a role to play; they know who they are and what God expects of them. The fathers are head of the house, mothers keep the house, sons learn a trade, and daughters learn from their mothers and will marry whomever their fathers decide. We also get a glimpse of their larger world; the Rabbi asks that God bless and keeps the Tsar far from them and the Jews don’t bother the Christians that live next to them and so far, the Christians don’t bother them.

tevyeAt Tevye’s home, Yente the matchmaker visits with a match for the eldest daughter, Tzeitel. Tzeitel’s next younger sisters Hodel and Chava are eager for Tzeitel to marry so they may marry next. But Tzeitel points out the consequences of Matchmaker. They are poor girls with no dowry, they’ll be lucky for any man, not necessarily the perfect match. Tevye arrives home, tired from working and ponders If I Were a Rich Man (and everyone knows the dance for that!)

Changes are coming to Anatevka; a student from Kiev has arrived, Perchik, on top of news of Jews being evicted from their village. Perchik arranges to teach Tevye’s children, in exchange for room and food and accompanies Tevye home for the Sabbath. The tailor, Motel, a childhood friend of Tzeitel’s, also joins in the Sabbath. As the family prepares, Tevye’s wife, Golde, urges her husband to speak to the butcher, Lazar Wolf, who is interested in marrying Tzeitel. Meanwhile, Tzeitel argues with Motel; he needs to ask her father for her hand now, before an arrangement is made with Lazar Wolf; the young couple are in love. Motel is frightened by Tevye and remains silent during the Sabbath prayer.

Tevye visits Lazar Wolf and there is brief confusion on the nature of their conversation; soon cleared up and Tevye eventually agrees to the match. The men celebrate, drinking To Life, “l’chaim!” (This is a fun song!) At the bar, the Jewish men encounter the Russians and there is a back-and-forth between them, melding the dances at the end. [I love this dancing. When I was young, I was part of a Ukrainian dance troupe, friends of my mother’s. At one point, my brother could do some of those moves. The leader from the dance troupe taught the dances to the high school performers and members of the troupe danced during the community’s production.]

On his way out, Tevye is stopped by his friend, the Russian Constable. He warns Tevye that there will be an “unofficial demonstration” made. Come morning, Tevye tells Tzeitel of the arrangement. She cries and begs her father; is his agreement more important than her? Tevye won’t make Tzeitel marry Lazar Wolf. Motel comes by and Tzeitel nudges him to talk to Tevye. The nervous man grows a backbone and stands up to Tevye; the young couple had made each other a pledge; they love each other. Tevye debates (“on the one hand…on the other hand”) and agrees. They are thrilled and rush off. Motel believes that this was a Miracle of Miracles, equal to Daniel walking through the lion’s den. Now, Tevye has to tell Golde. He concocts a dream (this is a weird scene) that Golde’s grandmother visits to congratulate the family on Tzeitel’s (her namesake) marriage to Motel. Golde insists it’s Lazar Wolf. But Lazar Wolf’s first wife appears and vows to kill Tzeitel shortly after the wedding if she marries Lazar Wolf. Golde accepts the dream as a sign.

Tzietel’s sisters are finding men as well. The radical student Perchik charms Hodel and opens her eyes to changes in the world. In cities, men and women dance together. A Russian Christian, Fyetka comes to the aid of Chava when other men bother her. He has noticed she likes to read and offers a book to her; they can discuss it later.

bottle dance

Motel and Tzeitel marry; her parents reminisce to Sunrise, Sunset (a musical theme that appears throughout the film). There is a dance (again, love the music) and the men even perform a bottle dance. An argument erupts from the gifts between Lazar Wolf and Tevye; Perchik breaks it up by dancing with Hodel. Tevye supports his actions and dances with Golde, as well as Motel with Tzeitel. The Rabbi even joins, though he puts a kerchief between his hand and the lady’s. The evening ends on a sour note when Russian soldiers appear and break things. The Constable puts a quick stop to things; sadly, they only turn their attention to the town and smash and burn.

The second act opens with a reprise of Tradition. Some time has passed; it is now autumn and Tevye remarks to God that Motel and Tzeitel have been married for a while. Perchik tells Hodel he must leave, to support the students in Kiev. He, in a roundabout way, asks Hodel to marry him. She agrees. They then ask Tevye for his blessing, not his permission, contrary to tradition. Tevye debates and ultimately blesses their engagement and gives his permission. Perchik gives Tevye the idea to tell Golde he is visiting a rich uncle. The couple have given Tevye a thought; they love each other, so he asks Golde, Do You Love Me? After twenty-five years, they have come to love each other.

In winter, Perchik is arrested at the rally in Kiev and writes to Hodel. She decides to join him in Siberia and bids farewell to her father; her family will always be with her, even if she is Far From the Home I Love. Some happy news comes; Motel and Tzeitel have a new arrival; a sewing machine. Oh yes, and a baby boy as well. Fyetka tries to speak to Tevye, but is dismissed. Tevye warns Chava not to speak to him anymore; some things do not change. She should be interested in marrying a young man of her faith. She resists and tells her father that she wants to marry Fyetka. Tevye refuses. We next see Golde enter the Christian church and ask for the priest. She finds Tevye afterwards and informs him Chava and Fyetka have been married. Tevye tells his wife to go home to their other children (two more daughters); Chava is dead to them. He reminisces on his Little Bird (superimposed with a ballet). Chava finds him and begs her father’s acceptance. “There is no other hand!” Tevye cannot turn his back on his people, on his faith. Chava cries “Papa!”

More bad news comes. The rumors are true; verified by the arrival of the Constable; Anatevka is to empty of Jews in three days. The same thing is happening all over Russia. Tevye argues; they have always lived in this corner of the world, why should they leave? The Constable shouts, there is trouble in the world. Orders are orders! Tevye orders him off his land. One of the villagers asks the Rabbi, would now be a good time for the Messiah? The Rabbi responds, they will have to wait for him somewhere else. The villagers sing of their Anatevka; it wasn’t great, but it was home. Tevye and his family will go to America to family in New York. They hope that Tzeitel, Motel, and their son will be able to join them. Hodel and Perchik are still in Siberia. Chava stops by with Fyetka; they will not remain while the Jews cannot. Tzeitel speaks to her sister and passes on Tevye’s wish, “God be with you.” Chava promises to write. The last scene we see is the fiddler following Tevye’s family.

The first half of the show is far happier than the second half.  When I watch the film, I focus on the first half; it holds more of the fun music.  As I already mentioned, I enjoy the dancing in the show, having a bit of experience in it.  And when you focus on the happy parts; Tevye being frustrated by his daughters choosing their own husbands, which to us is completely normal, it distracts from the historical significance of the story.  Because those bad things happened and they happened a lot (and yeah…in a few decades, get worse).  But hey, they have bottle dancing!  And Tevye makes funny sounds talking to his animals!  And three women daydream about their perfect husband!  (They kind of get what they want, learned and interesting men, but not in the way they imagined and they all have to give something up, like financial security and family).

[Historical note: the term “pogrom” appears early in the show and refers to the persecution or massacre of an ethnic or religious group, mainly Jewish. A bit of foreshadowing in the show. I learned the term during my Honors’ Holocaust class in college.]

Next Time: Another iconic musical; Annie

“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

“Simple and sweet…and sassy as can be!”

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

This is a favorite of my mother’s (she was starting to wear the color out on the tape before we got the DVD) and has become one of my favorite musicals as well. My mother took me to Pittsburgh to see it on stage as a treat in high school. A few interesting facts: was produced by the same studio as Brigadoon and outperformed it. And there was a brief 80’s show based on the story and starred Richard Dean Anderson (original MacGyver). The film stars Howard Keel (a staple of musicals in the 1950s) and Jane Powell. Russ Tamblyn (Riff from West Side Story) is the youngest Pontipee brother, Gideon. The story is set in 1850 in the Oregon Territory.

Adam Ponitpee is the eldest of seven brothers and comes to town to trade and find himself a wife. As he looks over the ladies of the town, his deep voice belts out Bless Your Beautiful Hide and finally settles on Millie when he spies her chopping wood and serving food to half a dozen men. She agrees to the hasty wedding, happy to get away from the inn. On their way through Echo Pass to the back country, she sweetly sings Wonderful, Wonderful Day. Then she gets an unwelcome shock at the house in the form of her new husband’s six brothers. They’re all filthy and the house is a mess. The Pontipees’ parents named their children in alphabetical order with Bible names: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for Frankincense, since there really wasn’t an “F” name in the Old Testament), and Gideon. Adam leaves Millie to get to work. At dinner she finds out they have deporable manners and shoves the table over: “if you’re going to act like hogs, then you can eat like hogs!” She refuses to let Adam sleep with her on their wedding night, angry that he let her carry on about her dreaming of caring for only one man and not correcting her. He decides to sleep in the tree and she takes pity on him; When You’re in Love, but Adam crashes into the bed. (Don’t worry, this isn’t the typical ‘love at first sight’ story).

The next morning, Millie starts her chores; she’s already washed the brothers’ outer clothes and demands their underwear they sleep in before they can have breakfast. They must also wash and shave. A pleasant surprise; she’s married into a handsome family of red-heads. And being without clothes means the brothers have to behave nicely in order to get food. They’re so taken with their new sister they all accompany her to town and are determined to get girls for themselves. But being backwoodsmen, they don’t know who to talk to girls, so they get into a fight with local townsmen. Millie takes them home and teaches them Goin’ Courtin’. The girls in town all have several men chasing after them, so the Pontipee brothers need to have proper manners.

barn dance

A few months have passed and the family heads back to town for a barn raising. Millie makes the brothers promise not to fight and they start pairing off with the local girls. I love the Barn Dance, with its swirling skirts, bright shirts, and acrobatic tricks [this is how real men dance]. It becomes a competition between the Pontipees and the townsmen for the girls. Frank is a superb dancer. The girls choose the Ponitpees at the end. Then it’s another competition between all the men to raise the barn. The townsmen get back at the brothers by hitting them with hammers and wood, resulting in a big fight, once Adam scolds his brothers for being too weak. However, at the end, the women tend to their townsmen.

Gideon asks his eldest brother for advice and Adam reprises When You’re in Love, but ruins the moment by telling his brother that one woman is just like all the rest. Winter descends on the farm and the brothers are pining for their girls; they’re like a Lonesome Polecat. (The scene was shot all in one shot and features Ephraim [Jacques d’Amoise, on loan from the New York City Ballet]). Adam comes to their aid with the tale of Plutarch’s Sabine Women, or Sobbin’ Women. They decide they’ll be “just like them there Merry Men,” and steal their brides, because the Sabine women were ultimately happy and if it worked for the Romans, it’ll work for the Pontipees. And that’s what they do, capture the girls from their homes and ride back to the farm. The townsmen pursue, but the girls’ screams cause an avalanche in Echo Pass and they won’t be able to get through until spring.

Millie is furious when they arrive back home. The girls are crying, missing their families. Millie orders that the girls will stay in the house and the men will stay in the barn. Even Adam. Adam won’t stay in the barn when he has a rightful wife; he’ll pass the winter at the hunting cabin. Gideon tries to get Millie to stop him, but she tells her brother-in-law, Adam has to lean that he can’t treat people like he’s done. At first, the ladies are angry with the men and play tricks on them. But they start softening as winter carries on and eye the men when they come into the house for supplies. Yet, being stuck in the house together for so long, they eventually get in a cat fight. Millie breaks it up, announcing she’s pregnant. Then the girls begin to fantasize about their own weddings and babies and you know, “oh they say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life.” There’s a little dance, acting out the ceremony.

All at once, it’s Spring, Spring, Spring and the women pair with the men, marveling at the baby animals that have come out. And Millie’s baby comes, a little girl. Gideon goes to Adam again, to persuade him home. Doesn’t he want to see his own daughter? He even hits his older brother. Adam sends Gideon back; he’ll be home once the pass is open. When he does come home to name his daughter Hannah, picking up where his mother left off, it means the townsmen are on their way. Adam persuades his brothers to take their girls back; they won’t marry the brothers if it comes to a fight and one of their kinfolk are hurt. But the girls don’t want to go back and hide from the brothers. That’s how they’re all found and the townsfolk are ready to hang the brothers, until they hear a baby’s cry. All of the girls claim the child is theirs, so their new sweethearts won’t be killed. The film ends happily; Adam and Millie have reconciled and the parson performs a six-way shotgun wedding. The fathers are actually standing there with their shotguns.

Millie sure is a spitfire, whipping all the Pontipee brothers into shape. She corrects Adam’s and his brothers’ misleading thoughts on women. She does the work, but she also wants to be treated properly. June Bride gave me the idea originally that I’d like to marry in June (I have since changed my daydream). The dancing is phenomenal; I especially like Frank during the Barn Dance. Overall, it’s a happy show.

Next: Another favorite in our house; White Christmas (Yes, I know it’s out of season and I usually hate that, but it fits now)

“I Used to Be a Rovin’ Lad”

Brigadoon

My senior musical, once again in the ensemble, though I had a four-word solo in a big chorus number. My mother made my costume, so I would actually look Scottish and not American colonial (seriously, the costumes came with mop caps). Overall, I was just happy we were doing a musical about Scotland, but part of me was also disappointed I didn’t actually have a part. I already knew this show going in. The film stars Gene Kelly (most famous for An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, but a staple of musicals in the fifties and sixties) as Tommy Albright, a New Yorker, hunting in Scotland with his friend. They get lost and discover the mysterious village of Brigadoon. Gene Kelly was also the choreographer of the film and thus it features a lot of incredible dancing. The musical was written by Lerner and Loewe, just as prolific as Rodgers and Hammerstein.

As the mists clear around Brigadoon at the start of the show, a quiet chorus sings Brigadoon. The show really starts with MacConnachy Square as the town rises for the day, selling their wares. And today is a special day; the wedding of Charlie Dalrymple to Jeanie Campbell. At the Campbell home, the young women are preparing. They talk about Jeanie Packing Up (which was not included in the film) and Jeanie’s older sister, Fiona remarks that she is Waitin’ for My Dearie.

The hunters, Tommy and Jeff, enter the village square truly perplexed not only at people’s dress, but Fiona was the only friendly person. Charlie however is thrilled and invites the strangers to his wedding, for he will Go Home with Bonnie Jean (this is a fun song). Fiona stops by the square for items for the wedding and takes Tommy out to find Heather on the Hill. While she is gone, Charlie stops by the house to sign the family Bible and sings to his intended, Come to Me, Bend to Me (very romantic, and sadly not included in the film). Local flirt, Meg Brockie takes Jeff for a nap, then makes a fuss when he doesn’t want to sleep with her, for she was trying to find The Love of My Life (also cut from the film, apparently too risqué).

brigadoon dancing

Tommy is quite taken by Fiona and remarks to Jeff when they meet up, It’s Almost Like Being in Love. However, he begins to take note of people mentioning a miracle and a blessing and finds the dates in Fiona’s family Bible. She takes them to the schoolmaster, Mr. Lundie, who tells them about Mr. Forsythe, the minister, praying to God for a miracle to protect the village from witches in the eighteenth century. [Historical note: not sure the person who wrote this musical quite figured out their timelines; the Battle of Culloden (those who watch Outlander will understand the significance) happened in Scotland in April of 1746 and this miracle supposedly happened in May of 1746 and witches were not as prevalent…maybe the English trying to take over their land. Witches might be a more reasonable cause a hundred years prior]. Carrying on, God granted a miracle, that Brigadoon would disappear into the mists and appear once every hundred years; when the villagers go to bed, it’s one year, when they rise the next morning, it’s a hundred years later [don’t think about the math too much or you realize bad things]. If someone from the outside wants to stay, they must love someone enough to leave their old life. But a villager can’t leave, or the whole village will disappear forever.

And this is where Harry Beaton causes a problem. He’s in love with Jeanie Campbell, who is happily marrying Charlie Dalrymple. The clans gather for the wedding, all clad in tartan (though if you want to see true Highland garb, watch Outlander; yes, tartan breeches were a thing, a weird thing, but nonetheless, real. Oh yes, and further historical note: it was after the Battle of Culloden that wearing tartan was outlawed, thanks to the English). And it is true Scottish custom that there need not be a minister present at a wedding, as long as the two being married share mutual consent [this has popped up in Scottish romances; women cannot be married against their will]. There is a dance, including a lovely one by Jeanie. Then a sword dance (real thing, and also cut from the film, boo). Harry participates and runs off after seeing Jeanie happy, shouting he will leave Brigadoon and doom them all. Tommy joins the men in The Chase, hunting Harry Beaton down before he can ruin things. Jeff has wandered off to hunt and thinks he’s shooting at a bird. Harry is the one who falls down dead.

Meg Brockie entertains the wedding guests with the tale of My Mother’s Wedding Day, until the men return with Harry (this is all cut from the film; Fiona and Jeanie’s father tells everyone to keep quiet and not disturb the joyous occasion. Another cut song by Tommy is There But For You Go I). Tommy is ready to stay in Brigadoon, until Jeff tells him what happened. Tommy begins to doubt enough that he won’t stay. But once he returns to New York and his fiancée, he cannot concentrate. Little words will remind him of something and he ignores what is going on. Tommy breaks it off with his fiancée and drags Jeff back to Scotland. He gets a miracle of his own; the town was just starting to disappear and he can enter. As Mr. Lundie remarked, “if you love something enough, anything is possible.”

The music in this show is fun, especially the songs that were cut; upon re-watching of the film, I had never noticed that they weren’t in the film. It features, as many other musicals do, a couple falling in love at first sight; which I always argue is never a good way to start a lasting relationship, or least, not a believable one. Gene Kelly is of course, a remarkable dancer and his partner is skilled as well.

Up Next: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

“Rub Him Outta the Role Call, and Drum Him Outta Your Dreams”

South Pacific

My high school performed this Rodgers and Hammerstein show my junior year. My friend from church, Chelsea was the lead. I was once again simply in the ensemble as a nurse. The show is set on a South Pacific island during World War II (there was a remake in 2001 starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr, and a special concert at Carnegie Hall starring Reba McEntire in 2005 [which was, ironically, the year my high school performed]). Marine lieutenant Joe Cable comes to go on a secret mission to spy on the nearby Japanese and wants local French planter Emile de Becque to help. Emile has also fallen in love with a Navy nurse on the island, Nellie Forbush. Local woman, known as Bloody Mary likes how handsome Cable is and decides he is right to marry her daughter, Liat.

The naval personnel stationed on the island, the “Seabees” start off singing about Bloody Mary, then remark There is Nothin’ Like a Dame (gotta say, love the deep, full tone the men’s chorus achieves.  Ironically, we sang this at a county choir performance the same year). Nellie and the other nurses run by and we find out that sailor Luther Billis runs several side jobs to help people out. This is when Bloody Mary spots Lt. Cable and tells him about Bali Ha’i. From there, we check on Emile and Nellie at Emile’s plantation. Nellie turns out to be a Cock-Eyed Optimist. Both worry that they are not right for the other, but in just a few weeks they have fallen in love. Emile is certain and remarks in Some Enchanted Evening (the most well known song from the show) “once you have found her, never let her go.” Nellie returns to base and Emile’s children come out to see their papa and sing a little French song, Dites Moi.

Lt. Cable has spoken to command and they call in Nellie to ask her questions about Emile, determining whether he is reliable to take Joe to the other island. It is on record that Emile killed a man back in France. This concerns Nellie and she remarks to her friends, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair. Unbeknownst to her, Emile has come by; she’s startled out of her dance and rinses her hair to speak to him. He has come to invite her back to his plantation for a party and to tell her more about himself. The man he killed in France was a bully, during a bar fight. Then he asks Nellie to marry him. Relieved and ecstatic, Nellie has changed her tune, I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy. But when Emile meets with command, he declines the mission, not wanting to risk his future with Nellie.

gonna wash that man right outta my hair

Frustrated, Cable lets Billis take him to Bali Ha’i. Billis observes the famous boar’s tooth ceremony and Bloody Mary introduces Joe to Liat and he instantly falls in love with the girl who is Younger Than Springtime. He sadly has to leave (after they spend some time together). And after Emile’s party, Nellie finds out about his children and runs off when she realizes he had Polynesian wife before her (I don’t quite get that thinking, but I also wasn’t around during the forties and fifties).

The second half of the show returns to Bali Ha’i and Bloody Mary explains Happy Talk and how fine of a husband Joe Cable will make for Liat. But he won’t abandon his fiancée in Philadelphia. Now Liat will have to marry an older French plantation owner. We’re cheered up a bit by the Thanksgiving show that Nellie puts on. Honey Bun is a fun number, with Luther Billis. Emile has come to see the show and sent Nellie flowers, but when he talks to her, she can’t explain why she is so upset about his previous wife and she runs off. Joe remarks to the Frenchman You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught, about racism, which he is struggling with in regards to Liat. But he’s come to the decision that he won’t leave Liat, except it’s time to go on the mission and Emile has agreed, now that Nellie has broken his heart; This Nearly Was Mine.

They land safely and get word back to base about the Japanese’s movements. Nellie finds out that Emile went and her heart decides that she does love him. Sadly, Joe dies on the island (enemy fire) and Emile gets the last news out; the Japanese are pulling out and will be the perfect target. So all the Marines and seamen and nurses gather up to leave. Nellie is with Emile’s children and listen to their reprise of Dites-Moi when Emile walks in. At least one story ended happy.

I have fairly fond memories of performing; one of my classmates asked my brother (on break from a military college) for help. I was still put in horrible costumes, but I enjoyed the group performances. Watching the movie again, the filters are horrible. Some of the music is still good, but I’m not fond of the storyline between Joe and Liat; it’s too sudden. And they know nothing about each other. So, not a favorite.

Next Time: Brigadoon (which is a favorite)

“Thundering, Thundering Louder Than Before”

Music Man

My high school performed this musical my sophomore year; freshman year was 42nd Street, but I did not make cast, so I worked as stage crew…which was an interesting experience. My brother was the train conductor and the sheriff, our neighbor was Tommy. Brandon from church was Mayor Shinn, Chelsea, also from church, was Mrs. Paroo. If I recall correctly, the guy who played Professor Hill has never been in a show or even choir before he got the role. I was simply in the ensemble [and also wore costumes that did not go with my complexion…we rented costumes and backdrops from New York so those people at the warehouse were only paying attention to size]; some of the girls who could pull off looking younger played children and they borrowed band uniforms.

The 1962 film stars Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill and Shirley Jones (the mother of The Partridge Family) as Marian Paroo. I recognize Mary Wickes (White Christmas, Aunt March in 1994’s Little Women, she voiced the gargoyle Laverne in Hunchback of Notre Dame and appears in The Trouble with Angels and Sister Act) as Mrs. Squires. A young Ron Howard (after he began on The Andy Griffith Show and long before Happy Days and then the days he started directing and producing movies) is Winthrop Paroo.

Rock Island opens the show with the salesmen keeping time with the train as it speeds up (oh, and check out a video of Hugh Jackman doing it; he auditioned with the song once and is due to star in the show on Broadway). The salesmen discuss their trade and then Professor Harold Hill is brought up as the worst kind of salesmen with empty promises. The train stops in River City, Iowa. Hill happens to have been on the train and gets off to try to sell a boys’ band to the unsuspecting town. Iowa Stubborn explains the people’s viewpoints: “a special chip on the shoulder attitude;” the American Gothic couple even shows up. Hill discovers one of his old friend is in town and enlists his help. What’s new that he can paint as bad so that parents will pay for their sons to enter a boys’ band. There is a new pool table; Hill uses it. “Ya Got Trouble, right here in River City, with a capital ‘T’ that rhymes with ‘P’ that stands for ‘pool’.”

Hill’s next step is to cozy up to Marian Paroo, the local piano teacher and librarian, but she does not fall for any of his lines. Her mother on the other hand is worried that Marian will end up alone (they get in an argument in tune with student Amaryllis’s piano exercise). Amaryllis also has a crush on Marian’s younger brother, Winthrop, but laughs at his lisp. Marian encourages Amaryllis to sing Good Night, My Someone until the right man comes along.

The town gathers for a patriotic day and we meet Mayor Shinn, and his wife, Eulalie Mackechnie. Mayor Shinn is a little bumbling, but tries to keep order. [My brother, as the sheriff had to practically tackle Tommy because he ran a little too fast and was almost off stage; it was funny.] Hill stops by and riles the crowd up about the pool table and breaks into 76 Trombones, painting an exciting picture of a shiny marching band in town. Mayor Shinn instructs the school board to get the man’s credentials. But Hill manages to distract everyone whenever the subject is brought up. He turns the bickering school board into a barbershop quartet. He takes in Tommy, a local troublemaker and hooks him up with Shinn’s eldest daughter (they were already seeing each other). Hill claims to be a graduate of “Gary Indiana Conservatory, class of aught-five,” and the way the boys will learn their music is a revolutionary idea called the “think system.”

Hill even charms Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn and her gossip ladies to form a dance group so they won’t bug him about his credentials. They also Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little about Marian Paroo and how “she made brazen overtures” to old miser Madison (whom half the buildings in town are named after). “He left River City the library building, but he left all the books to her.” The ladies feel that Marian’s suggestions are dirty books (like Chaucer, and they emphasize Balzac). Hill is intrigued by the idea and remarks to his friend later that he prefers the Sadder, but Wiser Girl. [The lyric “I want Hester to win one more “A” was a bit funny for the sophomore class, since we read The Scarlett Letter that year in English class (and analyzed it to death)]. So Hill heads over to the library to flirt with Marian. He claims “I love you madly, madly, madam librarian, Marian!” Marian keeps shushing him.

music man castAt home, she discusses the incident with her mother; it’s not that she wants to be single all her life, but the right man has not come along. Most stage productions, including ours, include the song My White Knight, which I find rather romantic, for she doesn’t want a true white knight, but rather a more common man, but with shared interests. But the 1962 film switched it to Being in Love. The town is excited when the Wells Fargo Wagon rolls into town, each wishing for something special. It carries the instruments and Winthrop excitedly shows it to Marian, speaking for the first time in years, not worried about all the “s’s.” The look in Marian’s eye changes. In fact, she rips a page out of a book before handing it over to the mayor.

Life continues peacefully for a few days, until one of the salesmen from the beginning train stops back into town and runs into Marian. He has proof to put Hill away, but she distracts him. She has begun to care for Harold and eventually agrees to meet him at the footbridge during the town’s evening social. The young people enjoy the Shipoopi dance. On the bridge, Marian reveals her feelings to Harold, Till There Was You. She knew that Harold was lying shortly after he arrived; Gary, Indiana didn’t have a Conservatory class in 1905, because the town wasn’t built until 1906. Harold’s friend has noticed that the salesman is in town and advises Harold to leave, but Harold doesn’t want to know, because he has fallen for Marian. He attempts to hide at her house while the town searches for him and answers Winthrop’s questions about his lies. He’s caught and brought before the town. Marian defends him; River City has been a better place since Harold’s arrival; the children have been excited for weeks. Tommy brings the kids’ out in uniform and Harold directs as they play (badly) Beethoven’s Minuet in G. The parents are so proud. Then he gets to lead a parade, complete with 76 trombones.

76 trombones

In my production, I remember the ladies come up to Marian at the end; they’ve finally tried her book suggestions and love them.

In 2003, Disney produced a version starring Matthew Broderick (the voice of Simba, the titular Ferris Bueller, and paired up with Nathan Lane for The Producers two years later) as Professor Harold Hill, Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda in Wicked and Lily St. Regis in Disney’s Annie) as Marian Paroo, and Victor Garber (he keeps popping up; Disney’s Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Disney’s Annie, and Titanic) as Mayor Shinn. While a good rendition, I feel that Matthew Broderick is missing some of the pizzazz that Robert Preston showed in the role.

Up Next: South Pacific