“My heart want to sings every song it hears”

The Sound of Music

Probably my favorite musical of all time and I don’t even mind that it’s nearly three hours long.  It’s a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic and the range is well suited to my voice; I’d love to perform it sometime.  It too stars Julie Andrews and was released one year after Mary Poppins.  It won Best Picture in 1965, and Julie was nominated for Best Actress.  Julie is Maria, and the cast includes Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp.  It is based on the life of the Von Trapp family singers, who did escape Austria trapp family lodgebefore war broke out.  They traveled in the United States, singing, before they settled in Vermont, where they founded the Trapp Family Lodge (it reminded them of the mountains of Austria).  But some aspects of their lives were changed for the film; their father was not as cold as he appeared and there were more children with different names.

The film opens on the mountains and Maria twirls around, “the hills are alive/ with the Sound of Music/ with songs they have sung/ for a thousand years.”  Bells ring after the song and she has to run back to the abbey.  The audience is treated to a little tour of Salzburg [ironically, the movie is not all that well known in Austria].  The other nuns in the abbey ask Mother Superior, “how do you solve a problem like Maria.”  “How do you catch a cloud/ and pin it down…but how do you make her stay/ and listen to all you say/ how do you keep a wave/ upon the sand?”  In the end, she’s a girl, not a demon nor a lamb.  But Mother Superior does speak to Maria.  The young woman can’t stop singing and she may not have been prepared for the kind of life that nuns lead.  So Mother Superior will have her act as a governess to seven children, to see if she can really live the nun’s life.  Maria is nervous at first, but finds I Have Confidence.

von trapp familyHer introduction to the Captain is not the best.  He expects his home and his children to be run with discipline and calls for his children with a whistle; like one would on a ship [that never happened].  Maria refuses and admits she was trouble at the abbey [the truth].  Liesl is 16, Friedrich is 14, Louisa 13, Kurt 11, Brigitta 10, Marta 7, and Gretl 5.  As many children are wont to do when someone new arrives and they’re trying to get attention, they play tricks on Maria.  But she surprises them and takes them in stride, and I believe that is why some of the younger girls begin crying at dinner.  Liesl sneaks out to meet the telegram boy, Rolf.  She is Sixteen Going on Seventeen, while he is seventeen, so Liesl hopes Rolf will tell her how to act in a grown up world.  They dance in the gazebo while it rains and at the end, Rolf pulls Liesl in for a kiss.  She grins in joy later, then has to sneak in to Maria’s room.

Maria discovers from household gossip that Captain Von Trapp is considering marrying Baroness Schrader, but the Captain will not grant Maria’s request for play clothes for the children.  She makes inroads with Liesl, so the young woman admits she may in fact still need a governess.  Gretl runs into Maria’s room, scared of the thunder, quickly followed by the other girls.  The boys join a minute later, to “make sure the girls weren’t scared.”  Maria shares that she thinks of My Favorite Things when something scares or saddens her (I adore this song), “and then I don’t feel/ so bad.”  The children begin laughing and they’re having a merry time, until the Captain appears.  Maria covers for Liesl, but the Captain asks that Maria acquire discipline while he is gone.  She gets an idea from her curtains as she finishes her song.

do re miWhile the Captain is away, Maria makes new play clothes for the children from her old drapes, since new ones are to be made.  They traipse about Salzburg and Maria takes them to her hill and teaches them to sing.  “Let’s start at the very beginning/ a very good place to start/ when you read/ you begin with A B C/ when you sing / you being with Do Re Mi.”  (This is a classic choir song and the solfeg is actually very helpful.)  The Captain returns home with the Baroness, and Uncle Max.  The Captain feels that the Baroness has brought meaning back into his life and she does not want to speak out of turn with Max.  Though she admits that wedding bells may be ringing, but she’s very fond of the Captain.  Max wants to keep the money between the two in the family.  They are surprisingly joined by the children from the river, where they tip over the boat (the young actress playing Gretl couldn’t swim, so she was carried out of the water).  The Captain sends his children in to change, but doesn’t want to discuss them with Maria.  She stands up to the Captain, insisting they are children and all they want is love.  A sound breaks their argument; the children singing.  The Captain is surprised.  Maria watches as he joins his children on The Sound of Music and the family hug afterwards.  The Captain apologizes to Maria in the entryway and asks her to stay.  She managed to bring music back into the house.

Life is merrier.  The children show off a puppet show and The Lonely Goatherd to the other adults and Max wants to enter them into a local music festival.  The Captain refuses; his children will not sing in public.  They do ask their father to sing; he chooses Edelweiss (which is not actually an actual Austrian folk song or national anthem; in fact, it was the last song Hammerstein wrote).  The Baroness notices the looks the Captain gives Maria and so suggests a party, so all of his friends can meet her.

Underlying the family storyline are the historical events of the end of the thirties.  Hitler has begun his rise in Germany and wishes to annex Austria and join it to Germany, the Anschluss.  Rolf has already mentioned it and Herr Zeller attends the party, noting the Austrian flag hanging in the Captain’s home.  Captain Von Trapp was a hero of the Austrian navy in the first world war.  Zeller butts heads with the Captain a little, but they keep it light since it is a party.

Maria starts to show the children an Austrian folk dance, but Kurt is too short.  The Captain assists.  Maria flushes.  The Baroness witnesses.  Then it is time for the children to say good night.  The guests assemble for So Long, Farewell; Gretl is such a sweet child.  Max insists to the Captain that Maria stay with adults for dinner and the Baroness offers to help Maria change.  She mentions to Maria that the Captain has been noticing her; the Baroness can tell that Maria loves the Captain, and the Captain may even think he is in love with her.  Maria decides to leave and the Baroness agrees.

Intermission.  After the Entr’acte back through Salzburg, the children are despondent.  They are not happy with the Baroness and she even remarks to Max that her solution to the children is boarding school.  The children don’t even want to sing anymore.  They venture to the abbey and ask to see Maria, but she’s in seclusion and not seeing anyone.  Mother Superior calls her in to find out what happened with the Von Trapps.  Maria was not mistreated, but she can’t face him again.  Mother Superior asks her plainly, “are you in love with him?”  “I don’t know!” Maria exclaims.  Mother Superior counsels the young woman that she has a great capacity for love, but she must decide what she will do with it.  Maria should return to the Von Trapps, face her problems, and discover the life she was born to live.  Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Mother Superior counsels; “follow ev’ry rainbow/ ’till you find your dream/ a dream that will need/ all the love you can give/ ev’ry day of your life/ for as long as you live.”

Maria does return, as the children sing My Favorite Things to lift their spirits (after claiming to have eaten loads of berries and missing dinner).  They’re thrilled, as is Maria, until she discovers the Captain’s engagement.  She tells the Captain she will remain until a new governess is found.  But the Baroness and Captain break off the engagement.  The Captain admits he has not been fair to the Baroness, loving someone else.  And the Baroness needs to be needed, or at least, need her money.  The Captain goes to Maria that evening at the gazebo and kisses her.  Something Good has come to their lives.  Their wedding follows at the abbey, with the organ and choir reprising Maria.

Max has the children rehearse for the festival while Maria and the Captain are on their honeymoon.  The Anschluss has occurred and Nazi flags drape the buildings [there were concerns with filming whether the people would dislike the flags so soon after the war, but it was better than using news film].  Zeller wishes to speak to the Captain, but he has not returned yet.  He insists that “nothing in Austria has changed,” everything is still the same.  The Captain and Maria have in fact returned home to find a Nazi flag on their house.  There is a telegram delivered from Rolf via Liesl ordering the Captain to report for a position in the Third Reich.  He decides the family must get out of Austria, tonight.  The Germans are waiting for the family that evening when they try to sneak out (the butler was a Nazi-sympathizer).  The family uses the festival as their excuse and in fact final concertperform as a whole.  It’s a rearrangement of Do Re Mi and the Captain follows by singing Edelweiss with the crowd.  Max reveals the Third Reich’s plans for the Captain, causing the audience to mutter against the Nazi invasion; the family will perform a final encore, So Long, Farewell.  When the winners of the festival are announced, the Von Trapp family is gone.

They take refuge at the abbey and Mother Superior hides them in the cemetery.  There are always nerves as the Nazis shine their flashlight, searching for the family, even if it’s the dozen-th time I have watched the movie.  Rolf hides and discovers the family as they start to get away.  He pulls a gun on the Captain; it’s him the Nazis want, not the family.  The Captain manages to get the gun and begs Rolf to come with them, he’s only a boy.  But when he says that Rolf is not a Nazi, Rolf raises the alarm, just to prove that he is.  The nuns have taken pieces of the Nazis cars to stop them from following the Von Trapps.  The family hikes into the mountain and will cross into Switzerland on foot.  A choir reprises the chorus of Climb Ev’ry Mountain as the family passes by [what actually happened is that they took a train into Italy, then made their way to England and ultimately the United States.  If they had gone over the mountains, they would have ended up in Germany, near Hitler’s mountain retreat.]

The family storyline in the film is heartwarming; a father learning to reconnect with his children, especially through music.  The music is superb; there’s a reason it is one of the best known musicals.

Further Reading:

Agathe von Trapp: Memories Before and After The Sound of Music, written by the eldest von Trapp daughter and contains the actual history of the family.  It’s a nice read; even though the family initially disliked the film since it portrays their father colder than reality, they recognize the impact it has had on moviegoers.

The Sound of Music Companion by Laurence Maslon and Julie Andrews, behind the scenes of filming and bringing the original stage production to life.

Julie Andrews also has two autobiographies out at this time, Home and Home Work

 

This  film with the half dozen previous posts, made up a big portion of my childhood.  Definitely danced around the living room to the soundtrack of Joseph.  As already noted, my brother and I watched these on repeat as children.  I still love to sing along to these soundtracks.  1776 was the influence of a paper I wrote in college; aided by a dozen of my mother’s books on John Adams.

Ah yes, by now I have watched Hamilton thanks to Disney +.  I didn’t mind the middle part, but it started to drag on at the end.  It’s a very cool concept, to mix American history with modern music and dance.  But…I will always love 1776.

Up Next: I’ll start the action/adventure section.  Posts might be spread out a bit more to give me a chance to truly analyze story and character aspects.  It’ll definitely take us through Christmas.  I begin with the Zorro movies.

“The biggest word/ you’ve ever heard/ and this is how it goes!”

Mary Poppins

An iconic Disney musical.  And it so happened to have been on television both the night my brother was born, and the night I was born, twenty months later.  The original book series was written by P.L. Travers.  For the film, music was composed by the Sherman brothers and production was overseen by Walt Disney himself, as showcased in Saving Mr. Banks.  I have seen the film and it was an interesting look into how the film was created, though a bit sad as well.  Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson were excellent in it.  The classic movie stars Julie Andrews (Sound of Music, The Princess Diaries) in her first major movie role (though she was already experienced on the stage) as the titular Mary Poppins.  [And a note about that; Julie had starred as the original Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady on stage and had hoped to earn the role again in the film.  But it went to Audrey Hepburn.  Mary Poppins won the Oscar that year.]  Her co-star was Dick Van Dyke (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) as Bert, David Tomlinson (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) as Mr. George W. Banks, Reginald Owen (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) as Admiral Boom, and Arthur Treacher (yes, of the Fish and Chips restaurant line; he also appeared in several Shirley Temple films) as the Constable.

The establishing shots of the London skyline tell us we’re in England and we see Mary Poppins sitting on a cloud.  Bert is a one-man band, entertaining a crowd, until the wind blows by: “something is brewing/ about to begin.”  Then he addresses the audience, as we asked for directions to Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane.  We pass by Admiral Boom, who has rigging on the top of his home, as well as a canon to mark the time.  The world takes its time from Greenwich, but Greenwich takes its time from Admiral Boom.  There is an argument brewing at Number 17; seems Katie Nana has lost her charges, but blames them, so she is leaving.  Mrs. Banks arrives home from her Sister Suffragette rally, though it takes several tries to inform her that her children are missing.  She quickly puts her things away so as to not upset her husband.

Mr. Banks arrives home cheerfully, it’s 1910, “King Edward’s on the throne/ it’s the Age of Men,” and he is pleased with The Life I Lead.  Everything is on schedule, his servants and family treat him with the respect he deserves as head of the household (noblesse oblige) and it takes several minutes before he realizes his children are missing.  The kindly constable brings them home and tries to encourage Mr. Banks to not be hard on them, but Mr. Banks dismisses him.  With the same tune, he has his wife take down an advertisement for a new nanny.  No-nonsense is the first requirement, “tradition, discipline, and rules/ must be the tools/ without them/ disorder, catastrophe, anarchy/ in short, you have a ghastly mess.”  Jane and Michael have their own advertisement and though their mother follows her husband’s commands, she does insist that they listen to their children.  Their first requirement is a cherry disposition, and a desire for games, all sorts.  After the children are sent to bed, Mr. Banks tears up the notice and throws it into the fireplace.  What he doesn’t see are the pieces float out the chimney.

There is a queue of nannies in the morning, but before Mr. Banks can begin interviewing there is a large gust of wind that blows them all away.  Mary Poppins gently floats down and lands at the door.  In her hand are the children’s qualifications, not Mr. Banks’ and so he wonders over at the fireplace what happened.  Mary gives herself the job, but Mr. Banks seems suitably impressed and takes credit for it when his wife asks.  Mary does the most extraordinary thing and rides the banister up.  She quickly takes control in the nursery, putting her things away, after pulling them out of an empty carpet bag (loved that part as a kid).  Michael thinks she’s tricky.  Jane thinks she’s wonderful.  Mary also pulls out her tape measure, to see how the children measure up.  Michael is extremely stubborn and suspicious, while Jane is prone to giggling.  Mary Poppins is “practically perfect in every way.”  Time for their first game, tidying up the nursery.  “In every job that must be done/ there is an element of fun/ you find the fun/ and snap, the job’s a game.”  A Spoonful of Sugar helps the medicine go down.  Snapping puts the toys and items laying about away, though it takes Michael several tries.  It gets a little out of hand and Mary Poppins puts an end to it, but the children eagerly join her for a walk afterwards.

Today, Bert is a street artist and the trio arrive.  He recognizes Mary Poppins and knows Jane and Michael from their adventures nearby.  He tries some magic to pop the children into a drawing, but Mary Poppins steps in to do it properly.  Now the children run off to a fair in new outfits and Bert remarks to Mary “it’s a Jolly Holiday…when Mary hold your hand/ it feels so grand/ your heart starts beating/ like a big brass band.”  Animated animals come up to them and even join in the singing [animation style reminds me a bit of 101 Dalmatians].  The pair end up at a cafe with dancing penguins (I love this part!)  Bert joins in the dancing and it’s wonderfully hilarious.  He is quick to insist “cream of the crop/ tip of the top/ is Mary Poppins/ and there we stop.”  They do join the children on a merry-go-round, but Mary has the horses jump off the carousel.  They join a fox hunt, with Bert rescuing the Irish fox and that leads to a horse race.  Mary’s manners lead her to the front and when the interviewers congratulate her, she reveals there is a word to use when one does not know what to say.  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (just about the best song of all time).  “Even though the sound of it/ is something quite atrocious/ if you say it loud enough/ you’ll always sound precocious.”

Rain ruins their day and they’re back in London in their regular clothes.  Mary shows further magic when her medicine changes color and flavor for each person’s preference.  When the children insist they are much too excited to go to sleep, Mary lulls them to Stay Awake.  Of course, they drift off, but are cheerful the next morning, to their father’s chagrin.  He feels Mary Poppins is undermining the discipline in the house; indeed, everyone is in a good mood except him.  But he goes off to work and Mary takes the children out on errands.  The dog, Andrew, barks he needs Mary’s help; so the children meet Uncle Albert.  Bert is already there, and oddly, Uncle Albert is floating near the ceiling.  I Love to Laugh, he declares, “loud and long and clear.”  “The more I laugh/ the more I fill with glee/ and the more the glee/ the more I’m a merrier me.”  Everyone joins him on the ceiling, though Mary simply floats up.  She raises the tea table, but a little later, insists they must get home.  And that is the secret to getting down; one must think of something sad.  Bert stays with Albert.

Mr. Banks confronts Mary Poppins at home about the nature of her outings.  He dislikes filling his children’s heads with silly nonsense.  If they must have outings, they should be practical.  Like taking them to the bank, suggests Mary.  She tells the children that she never puts notions in someone’s head; it’s just the logical following of what they were saying.  She urges the children to look for the bird lady at St. Paul’s Cathedral and to hear her cry of Feed the Birds (one of Walt Disney’s favorite songs).  The song lulls the children to sleep again.  They eagerly accompany their father, but he won’t let them use their money to feed the birds.  Instead, he shows them to the leaders of the bank; several old men who use financial terms that confuse the children.  The eldest, Mr. Dawes Sr (played by Dick Van Dyke as well) wants Michael to give his tuppence to the Fidelity, Fiduciary Bank.  One must think prudently, thriftily, frugally, patiently, and cautiously.  Of course, these all go over the children’s heads (and mine).  When Michael is a bit confused, Dawes Sr. grabs the tuppence.  So Michael shouts “give me back my money.”  The other customers hear and start demanding their money as well.  In the chaos, Michael and Jane run off.  It’s a bit scary for a moment and they run into a man covered in soot.  Luckily, it’s Bert.  He calms them down and leads them home.  Today he is a chimney sweep, “you may think a sweep’s/ on the bottom-most rung/ though I spends me time/ in the ashes and smoke/ in this whole wide world/ there’s no happier bloke.”  Chim-Chim-Cheree  “Good luck will rub off/ when I shake hands with you/ or blow me a kiss/ and that’s lucky too.”  At the house, Mrs. Banks is off for another rally and asks Bert to look after the children since it’s Mary Poppins’ day off.  The children are interested, until Michael shoots up the chimney when Mary walks in.  Jane quickly follows, so Bert and Mary join them.

They get a beautiful view of the rooftops of London and march about.  They run into Bert’s pals, all of whom are chimney sweeps as well and they entertain their visitors with a Step in Time (love this dance).  Mary even joins in with a rising spin [I wonder what effects they used to film the sequence, since it had to be safe for the dancers.]  Admiral Boom spots the dancers and has his assistant shoot firecrackers at them, chasing them off the roof.  They all end up in the Banks’ home until Mr. Banks returns.  After the exodus of chimney sweeps from his house, Mr. Banks gets a call from the bank; they want him to return later.  He has a conversation with Bert, who points out that it is admirable to want to provide for your family, but soon they will grow and he won’t know them.  Jane and Michael apologize to their father and Michael gives him his tuppence.

The board wants to dismiss Mr. Banks, for causing a run on the bank.  They invert his umbrella, tear his flower, and punch out his hat.  When they ask if he has anything to say, he recalls “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”  He even repeats the joke Michael taught him; for he’s seen what good Mary Poppins has done in his family and has made the decision that they are more important.  He gives the tuppence to Dawes Sr, who starts pondering the joke and then begins to laugh.  He laughs so much, he begins floating and his grown son cries out “Daddy!  Come back!”

Mr. Banks gives his family a bit of a scare; they’ve called the constable because they can’t find him, until he emerges singing from the cellar.  He’s mended the kite and asks Jane and Michael to join him.  Mrs. Banks adds a sash for a tail and they are all excited to Let’s Go Fly a Kite, an absolutely heartwarming number.  The wind has changed, and it’s time for Mary Poppins to go.  The children are sad at first that she’s leaving, but their father’s good mood cheers them up and Mary leaves once the family does.  Bert nods to her and she smiles at her friend.  Her talking parrot umbrella insists that Mary Poppins does love the children, but she states it is proper that they love their father.  “Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking,” and she rises back to the clouds.

Mary Poppins is a lovely family film and is cherished in our home.  We did watch the late sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, which stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, with appearances by Dick Van Dyke, Angela Landsbury, Ben Whishaw, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep.  Did not like it.  It was trying too hard and didn’t have the charm that the original had; there’s just no repeating the magic.

Up Next: The last musical, The Sound of Music

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

The Phantom of the Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

 

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

Les Misérables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DoYouHearThePeopleSing

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

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

barricade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“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?)

“My Heart’s Keeping Time to the Speed of Sound”

I love musicals. Some of my earliest memories are listening to Cats [we named one of our cats “Tugger” after Rum Tum Tugger] or Phantom of the Opera with my mother. (Dad was classic rock on the radio or The Beach Boys). I took dance lessons for eight years and I started singing in church choir in kindergarten; I played the piano, flute, and viola. I would create my own dances in living room to songs as a kid. At one point I wanted to be on Broadway, but I hate practicing and I realized early on that I would have to be very lucky, no matter how good I was. I was fortunate to have good music instructors; the Ellenbergers as a child in church, Dr. Barr once I got to college. I fully support singing in the shower and my favorite part about driving is singing in the car. I’ve learned most songs without ever seeing sheet music or lyrics; just repeatedly listening. I remember music (well, more singing than actually playing) better than some school subjects.  I always sing along to those “try not to sing” videos with musicals and love it when I know a song.

I was excited for high school since it meant I could be in musicals. Freshman year, I did not make it into 42nd Street, so I went on stage crew, which was fun in its own right. Sophomore year was Music Man, junior year South Pacific, and senior year was Brigadoon. I was always in the ensemble; which I was happy enough to at least be in the shows, but still stung a little, especially senior year. I joined choirs in college and wanted to get involved with the theatre, but I already had a double major (Creative Writing and History…like y’all couldn’t tell), and part of the Honors Program and after joining choir, I figured I wouldn’t have enough time to do everything.

I believe I have mentioned before that I was on cast at a local-ish (it’s an hour from my house) medieval faire one summer; and it was a blast. But I can’t always make that time commitment. I still appreciate the work the cast goes through every year. My community is lucky enough to have a volunteer chorale and theatre group, but working retail means I rarely have time to get involved. I managed to participate in the chorale for two years and then left, for reasons.  Still love musicals, always will. I will probably still dance around my room. And now I share that love with all of you.

Some classic or well known musicals that are not entirely my favorites, but I figure deserve at least a mention.

West Side Story: This is an iconic show and Steven Spielberg is actually working on a new version, possibly due out this year. Features gangs in New York City in the 1950s, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and screenplay by Ernest Lehman (he’s also done the screenplay for Hello, Dolly and Sound of Music). The film won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and is a modern re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. I do not like Romeo and Juliet, so I’m not terribly fond of this story (it also ends really sad). But, I love the music and dancing. A lot of what the men do is a crossover between ballet and modern. America is my favorite number. As part of a choir, I have sung a medley of several numbers. Tonight is pretty, but schmaltzy, as is Somewhere (I vaguely remember singing that for high school graduation). Gee, Officer Krupke is a bit funny.

Fun note: the teacher at the dance played Gomez Addams in the 60s television series. Riff, leader of the Jets, is played by Russ Tamblyn, who we will see in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (for some reason, his character reminds me of Captain Kirk from the original series; I think it’s the hair and the fact he wears yellow). The film also famously stars Natalie Wood, and Rita Moreno (I was surprised to learn she voiced the titular Carmen Sandiego in the 90s educational cartoon Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? along with appearing in The King and I).

My Fair Lady: Julie Andrews starred in the original Broadway run of this show, but the part went to Audrey Hepburn for the film; Julie was cast in Mary Poppins instead (for which she went on to win an Academy Award). I don’t mind a couple of the songs, like With a Little Bit of Luck, but the show drags. I do imagine that it is hard for someone who has spoken proper English to spend half the show with a rough accent (maybe we should have studied this in my Historical Development of the English Language Class).

The King and I: A classic Rodgers and Hammerstein that tells the story of British (actually Welsh) Anna Leonowens traveling to Siam (present-day Thailand) as governess to the king’s many children in his effort to join the modernizing Western world. Of course, the two disagree at first, but eventually fall in love. It actually is a bittersweet ending, just when they both realize they care for each other (after avoiding each other for weeks due to an argument), the king dies. The story takes place in 1862, so mentions are made of Queen Victoria and the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln (the king wants to send elephants to aid the war effort). Slavery is brought up and the play based upon Uncle Tom’s Cabin that the one wife creates is…interesting.

shall we dance

The children are adorable. This time period also means that Anna wears large hoop skirts the entire time (a bit humorous when the Siamese ladies try to wear them). There are two songs in this production that I really like, Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance. The film stars Deborah Kerr as Anna, Yul Brynner (who created the role of the King on Broadway, along with playing Rameses in 1956’s The Ten Commandments) as King Mongkut, and Rita Moreno is back as Tuptim.

Singin’ in the Rain: As with many other musicals on this list, I don’t mind a few songs. The titular song that Gene Kelly famously dances is a great piece, but I like Moses Supposes or Make ’em Laugh better. Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds also stars in the film.

Oklahoma: A classic that, like West Side Story, I am not fond of the story; it gets creepy at the end. The only reason we own a version on DVD is because it stars Hugh Jackman.

Yankee Doodle Dandy: An old musical, from the forties, in black and white, starring James Cagney as George M. Cohen, who wrote Over There, Give My Regards to Broadway, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and You’re a Grand Old Flag; all of which appear in the musical. I’ll sometimes watch it around Independence Day.

RENT: I have never seen the show, but I do like Seasons of Love and enjoy parts of La Vie Bohem. My friend Nikki likes the show (oh, and Idina Menzel appears in the movie version).

Sweeney Todd: Saw it once, against my will on a bus trip. Nope, nope, nope. Doesn’t help that it was directed by Tim Burton (I am not a Burton fan), and stars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew). Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and everyone in the most recent movie did their own singing. Angela Landsbury was the first Mrs. Lovatt, and ain’t that a way to mess with your mind. In case you are unaware, a major part of the musical, which is subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is two of the main characters bake people into pies. Hence why I didn’t want to watch it in the first place, but I was outvoted (so I hid), and why I will never watch it again.

Into the Woods: One of Stephen Sondheim’s most well-known shows. I have only seen the film version from 2014. It is a star-studded production with Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone (we’ll see him in Les Mis), James Corden, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and Chris Pine. I admit that Agony with Chris Pine was hilarious. I liked his character, until he turned out to be a jerk. All the performances were great, but it is a darker look on our favorite fairy tales – that’s the point, taking them back to their roots.

Wicked: I have not read the book it is based on, which tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz (I believe I have already mentioned, not a fan of the movie). But, I saw the show in Chicago while on a college choir trip. Idina Menzel really made her name for her role as Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) and played opposite Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda. The show explains the backstory of many of the supporting roles from Wizard of Oz and really makes Elphaba sympathetic. Stephen Schwartz composed the music and I have sung a medley of the tunes in choir in high school, such as One Short Day, For Good, and of course, Defying Gravity (I do like this song and is an awesome solo to belt out). What is This Feeling and Popular are hilarious. There are rumors of making a movie out of the show.

Chicago: I like All That Jazz and Cell Block Tango; I do not like the story. The 2002 film stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere.

Footloose: I actually prefer the newer one. The original starred Kevin Bacon (andnew footloose included music, like the title track by Kenny Loggins, who also did Danger Zone from Top Gun). Big city kid moves to small town to discover they have outlawed dancing due to an accident several years ago. He hooks up with the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, who’s acting out against her father. Everything is eventually resolved and they do hold a dance at the end. The newer version came out in 2011 and starred Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars pro) as Ariel and Kenny Wormald (a professional dancer as well) as Ren. Dennis Quaid plays the town’s preacher. It was updated from 1984 and I like the newer dance moves, though it is a very close remake. There’s a fun country song by Big and Rich, Fake ID (I can stand country music, I will not claim it as a favorite). Ok, the demeaning way his friend talks about women sometimes makes me want to slap him.

Hairspray: The 2007 film was an all-star cast with John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Allison Janney, Brittany Snow, and Zac Efron. I enjoyed it for the most part, and I still remember all the words to You Can’t Stop the Beat (the ending of the movie is a lot of fun), which I sang as a freshman in high school choir [translating to over ten years ago].

High School Musical: I was in high school when these came out. It made stars out of Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, and Zac Efron, and was directed by Kenny Ortega. The original was better than either sequel. It was a bit funny when they featured it in an episode of Suite Life of Zach and Cody with the running gag that Maddie didn’t look like Ashley Tisdale (Ashley played Maddie). When I was in Disney senior year, my friends and I joined that Pep Rally they had going on and learned the dance to We’re All in This Together (so when ABC just did their Disney Sing-Along Night; which I loved period, it was fun to see the cast reunited and doing the dance). The soundtrack is a bit nostalgic.

org hsm

Now, my experience in high school musicals was different than depicted here; a lot of my classmates were involved in the arts (our school supported students being well rounded with academics, arts, and athletics). Our marching band was over 200 strong, the lead guy senior year musical was on the football team (actually, football players had a habit of being in our musicals), track practices didn’t start until musical was done, a bunch of the kids were also in Advanced Placement courses…we were all just a bunch of overachievers. Yeah, we don’t Stick to the Status Quo. I do think this movie helped get more kids interested in musicals, making it more relevant to them.

Next: We will carry on with musicals, starting with Music Man.  Let me know what some of your favorite musicals are.

She has a Friend, Every Time She Paints

Miss Potter

A romantic bopic of children’s author, Beatrix Potter. It stars Renee Zellweger as Beatrix, Ewan McGregor as Norman Warne, her publisher (the two appeared opposite each other in Down With Love, which is coming up soon in my posting schedule). Emily Watson (she was in Testament of Youth [that WWI movie I watched with Kit Harrington] and War Horse) plays his sister, Millie. Beatrix’s father, Rupert, is played by Bill Paterson; we’ve seen him in Amazing Grace and Outlander.

This film beautifully showcases the Lake District of England and is a huge reason why I want to personally visit the scenery at some point in my life. It opens with Beatrix’s voice-over telling us when writing the first words of a story, one never knows where one will end up. We see her struggle to publish a children’s book and be taken seriously as a single, unmarried woman in 1902 London. Her publishers fob her off onto their younger brother who is making a nuisance of himself; if it gets mucked up, it’s no real loss. However, she is determined to look upon this as an adventure and encourages her illustrated animal friends to do the same. There is a flashback to her childhood, showing that she was a talented artist and making up stories even then.

Luckily, Norman loves Beatrix’s book and quite enthusiastic to work with her on it; everything can be done to her specification. Another flashback shows us that when Beatrix was young, her family started vacationing in the Lake District, where Beatrix got a lot of her inspiration. There was even a young man in the area who liked her stories, Willie Heelis. But Beatrix’s mother despairs of her ever marrying, or at least, marrying properly. She has introduced a string of suitable suitors to her daughter, but Beatrix wants none of them. Meanwhile, she and Norman make a good team publishing her book, and Norman encourages her to produce more stories. The first book, Peter Rabbit, is a success. Norman takes Beatrix to meet his mother and sister and Millie is determined to be fierce friends with Beatrix, bonding over their unmarried states.

In turn, Beatrix invites Millie and Norman to her family’s annual Christmas party. Her father comes to her rescue when her mother disapproves of their “tradesman” status. Beatrix’s present for Norman is a new Christmas story, which the party insists she share. She is a bit scandalous, showing Norman her bedroom, but they are chaperoned and Norman leads her in a sweet dance [I saw this movie before Down With Love or Moulin Rouge and was unaware that Ewan could sing]. Norman proposes, but Beatrix’s answer is interrupted. Then she confers with Millie if she minds. Millie encourages her friend to take a chance on love. Beatrix tells Norman yes. The next day, he visits her father. Unfortunately, Beatrix’s parents disapprove, her father mainly on the point that it is too sudden. They compromise; Beatrix can accept in secret. Their family will vacation in the Lake District for the summer again. If the couple still wants to marry at the end after some time, they will give their blessing. Norman bids farewell to Beatrix at the train station in the rain and they send letters back and forth.

Then, Norman’s letters stop coming. Millie writes, informing Beatrix that Norman is ill. She returns to London, sadly to discover that Norman has died. Millie was the only one who knew Norman and Beatrix were engaged. Oh, I cry every time during this part of the movie. Beatrix returns home, utterly depressed. She tries to draw, but her friends run from something. Millie comes to her rescue. Beatrix must get out of the house. She ispotter cottage quite wealthy now with the royalties from her books; she buys Hill Top Farm in the Lake District, from her old friend, William Heelis. Slowly, Beatrix comes back to life. She draws again and has new stories buzzing about. She reconnects with William, and they share the notion that the landscape of the Lake District needs preserved, farms should be kept farming, not bought out by developers.

The film ends back at the beginning, with Beatrix sitting down to write. We are told that eight years after moving to the Lake District, Beatrix married William Heelis and she donated 4,000 acres of farmland to the British people through a land preservation trust.

Miss Potter is not a terribly dramatic movie, which makes it a good movie to put on when I don’t want to have to think too hard on something. The scenery is gorgeous and I love Millie Warne’s views on unmarried ladies. I want a home someday like Beatrix’s cottage; it’s so cute. I have always loved bunnies (though I am quite content to let the bunnies that live in our backyard be as close as I get to having a pet), so I’ve always liked Beatrix’s illustrations.

Up Next: Titanic

A Tale of Woe

Jane Eyre

Another classic novel that has had many film versions made of it; I’ve only ever watched the 2011 film, and that was due to the cast. Mia Wasikowska (opposite Johnny Depp in Disney’s live-action Alice in Wonderland movies) is the titular Jane Eyre. Michael Fassbender (young Erik Lensher/Magneto from the prequel X-Men films) is Mr. Rochester. Judi Dench is Mrs. Fairfax. Holliday Grainger (we saw her in Disney’s live-action Cinderella movie as one of the stepsisters) is Diana Rivers alongside Tamzin Merchant (Georgiana Darcy) as her sister Mary Rivers. And if Mr. Brocklehurst, the overseer of that horrid boarding school looks familiar, he is played by Simon McBurney. He wasn’t terribly nice as Father Tancred in Robin Hood and not exactly nice as Charles Fox in The Duchess. Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlet in BBC’s Robin Hood series, Viserys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, and he appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who as well during David Tennat’s tenure) is Richard Mason. This film did encourage me to read the novel and it wasn’t too bad. Charlotte Brontë is not an author I will rush to read more of, but I see why it is renowned.

The film jumps around the timeline; we begin with Jane running away, laying down and crying when she sinks to the depths of despair, and being taken in by the Rivers, headed by their brother John. Then Jane recalls her childhood, brought up in her aunt’s house after the death of her parents and uncle. Her aunt cannot stand to have her in the house, so makes it out that she is a wretched child and sends her to a boarding school that encourages beating the girls. Jane makes one friend, who comments that Jane is surrounded by an invisible kingdom of spirits. Sadly, the other girl dies. When we jump back to the present, Jane is looking for work. John Rivers finds her a small parish school and Jane recalls fondly her farewell from school and her beginning at Thornfield Hall.

The house is kept by Mrs. Fairfax and Jane is the new governess for Mr. Rochester’s ward, a young French girl, Adele. Jane settles into Thornfield rather well, but still wishes for some adventure. Mrs. Fairfax sends her on an errand, and Jane manages to startle a man and his horse on the road. When Jane returns to the house, she discovers the injured man is her master, Mr. Rochester. Rochester asks if she was looking for her people, the fairies. He is intrigued by Jane and they speak frankly with each other. He toils alongside his help, but is changeable. One night, Jane hears something outside her door. She goes to investigate and discovers smoke in Rochester’s room and saves him from being burned alive. He thanks her, but also cautions her to say nothing. The next morning, he has left again. Then abruptly returns with wealthy guests. Mrs. Fairfax surmises that he will propose to Miss Ingram soon.

After enduring the wealthy guests, Jane leaves the drawing room. Rochester follows, but their conversation is interrupted by a visitor from Jamaica, Mr. Richard Mason. Rochester oddly asks Jane if she would remain his friend even if he faced disgrace. She would. Richard greets Rochester warmly and the two men speak. Jane is woken that night by a scream, as are the other guests. Rochester sends them back to bed, but asks for Jane’s help. She is to keep an eye on Mr. Mason while Rochester fetches the doctor; Mason has been stabbed. But both are ordered to not speak to each other. Jane discovers a hidden door in Rochester’s room, but the man returns before she can investigate further.

Come daylight, Rochester opens up to Jane about a woman who revives him. Jane believes he speaks of Miss Ingram. In truth, “what would Jane Eyre do to secure myjane eyre happiness?” He tucks a small flower in her hair. Later, news comes that Jane’s cousin has committed suicide and her aunt requests she return home. Jane acquiesces, only for her aunt to reveal that she lied to Jane’s other uncle when he inquired of her whereabouts, wishing to bequeath his estate. Jane returns to Thornfield Hall in good spirits, though she is greeted by the rumor of Rochester’s engagement to Miss Ingram. She informs him she will seek a job elsewhere. She and Rochester share a confusing conversation about their souls before Rochester asks her plainly to be his wife. The sun shines brightly and the couple are happy.

Unfortunately, their happy day is interrupted by Richard Mason again. Rochester pulls Jane back to Thornfield and reveals that behind the hidden door is a hidden room containing his wife, Bertha, Richard’s sister. He had married her fifteen years prior in Jamaica, but she turned wild. Jane returns to her room and removes her wedding gown. Rochester pleads with her that night, but she will not marry him while he is married to Bertha. She flees come morning, bringing us back to the beginning. Rochester’s shout of “Jane” echoes through the rest of the film.

Jane imagines in her little cottage that Rochester has been searching for her and finds her, planting a searing kiss on her. Sadly, no, ’tis only John Rivers with news of Jane’s uncle. He has since passed and left her a considerable inheritance. Jane desires to share the money with the Rivers who were kind enough to save her life. But John wants more than friendship and a sibling relationship. He wants her to marry him and become a missionary wife in India. She refuses to marry him and goes searching for Rochester. In her absence, Thornfield has burned. Mrs. Fairfax informs Jane that Bertha lit another fire and Rochester wouldn’t rest until everyone had been rescued. He even went back in for Bertha, but couldn’t prevent her from jumping from the roof. Jane searches for her dear Rochester. She finds him underneath a tree, now blind, but he recognizes her hands. Jane kisses him, the sun shines again, and the movie ends.

While the tale is relatively depressing most of the time, there are some rather tender moments between the two main characters. The film is well acted. We can see how Jane wants Rochester, even before she knows his feelings, without her having to say anything. Not the most romantic movie, but there are others that get me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

Next Time: Miss Potter

“Your Hands are Cold”

Pride and Prejudice

Again, this is the 2005 rendition of Jane Austen’s most famous work and is full of familiar faces. Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) leads as Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Rosamund Pike (the femme fatale of Die Another Day) is her elder sister, Jane. Jena Malone (one of the contestants in The Hunger Games series) is one of the younger sisters, Lydia. Donald Sutherland (who also appears in The Hunger Games and the original MASH movie amongst his illustrious career) is their father, Mr. Bennett. Opposite Keira is Matthew Macfadyen (Athos in 2011’s The Three Musketeers, star of BBC’s Ripper Street [which I have only caught commercials of during Sherlock and The Musketeers, don’t really have a desire to watch], The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood with Russell Crowe, and also starred opposite Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina in 2012 [my mother and I sat through that movie, neither of us ever having read the book and were thoroughly confused. That is the movie that led us to creating our twenty-minute rule with any movie; if we are not interested in the movie within the first twenty minutes, we shut if off; because that was three hours of our lives we will never get back]) as Mr. Darcy.

Kelly Reilly (Mary Morstan in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes movies) is Caroline Bingley.  Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana is played by Tamzin Merchant (she was the young Catherine Howard fated to be beheaded as Henry VIII’s fifth wife in The Tudors series, and even shows up in our next film, Jane Eyre).  The Bennett’s cousin, Mr. Collins is played by Tom Hollander (he showed up in two of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies as Cutler Beckett).  The formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh is played by the as formidable Dame Judi Dench (M in several of the more recent James Bond films).  And another relative of the Bennett’s, Mrs. Gardiner, is played by Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones in Doctor Who and Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey).

The story opens with Mrs. Bennett informing her husband, and her daughters overhearing, that Netherfield Park, a grand estate, has been let at last to a very wealthy young aristocrat. He must see that one of their daughters should marry this Mr. Bingley, but first, Mr. Bennett must visit Mr. Bingley so the women may then visit. Mr. Bennett has already visited Mr. Bingley. There is a ball, where the Bennetts are enjoying themselves when Mr. Bingley arrives, with his sister Caroline, and dear friend, Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley is immediately taken by Jane. Elizabeth seems a little interested in Mr. Darcy; her sister has just warned her “one of these days Lizzie, someone will catch your eye, and then you’ll have to watch your tongue,” but Elizabeth then overhears Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy speaking and Darcy comments that Jane is the only pretty girl in the assembly, Elizabeth is passing enough. She lets on she overheard him when they speak later. Elizabeth also has to put up with her mother speaking rather crassly.

The next day, a letter arrives for Jane, from Caroline, inviting her over. Mrs. Bennett, hoping it was from Mr. Bingley, insists Jane ride instead of taking the carriage to Netherfield. It begins to rain and Jane falls ill. Elizabeth walks over herself to check on her sister. Mr. Bingley already seems taken by Jane. Caroline attempts to make friends with Elizabeth and is quite comfortable around Mr. Darcy. They discuss women’s accomplishments and Darcy reveals that one of his faults is “my good opinion, once lost, is lost forever,” but Elizabeth cannot fault him for that. Then her mother and younger sisters traipse in for a visit and all return home. Mrs. Bennett is quick to point out the expensive furnishings and young Lydia insists the Bingley’s hold a ball. Mr. Bingley helps Jane into the carriage and Darcy helps Elizabeth, though he quickly walks away after.

Mr. Collins, the cousin who will inherit, visits. He is a preacher and his rectory lies near the estate of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who acts as his patroness. He reveals to Mrs. Bennett he intends to marry one of her daughters. She informs him that Jane is expected to be engaged soon, so he settles for Elizabeth. Though it looks like Mary wouldn’t mind marrying Mr. Collins. Meanwhile, the young ladies meet the officers of the regiment that is lodging in town, a Mr. Wickham in particular. Elizabeth is charmed by the young officer, but it quickly becomes known that he and Mr. Darcy have a past. Wickham tells Elizabeth that Darcy’s father loved Wickham better and Darcy never got past that and threw him out.

The Bingleys do hold a ball at Netherfield. Elizabeth hopes to see Wickham, but gets stuck with Mr. Collins who stares at her and bluntly states he intends to remain close to her for the evening. Mr. Darcy surprises Elizabeth and asks her for a dance. She is trying to overcome the different accounts of Darcy she has heard in order to make out his character. He hopes he can provide more clarity in the future. There is an interesting part of the dance when the other dancers seem to disappear and it is just Darcy and Elizabeth together. Mr. Collins, who just interrupts Mr. Darcy, reveals that Darcy is Lady Catherine’s nephew (see the similarities with Becoming Jane? A nephew to a powerful patroness). We also witness the rest of Elizabeth’s family in a competition to make fools of themselves; Mary would rather play piano than socialize, Mrs. Bennett speaks loudly that she is sure Jane will be engaged shortly, Kitty and Lydia are rather too social, and Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lucas remarks that Jane needs to pluck Mr. Bingley up; being too shy will not let him know she is interested.

Mr. Collins asks for an audience with Elizabeth the following morning. She mouths to her father to stay, but they all abandon her. Mr. Collins proposes. Elizabeth heartily declines and firmly tells the man that she will not make him happy and she is certain he will not make her happy. This puts Mrs. Bennett in a kerfuffle, she enlists her husband’s help in making Elizabeth change her mind and accept, in order to keep the house, or else she will never speak to her daughter again. Mr. Bennett tells Elizabeth that she will have to be a stranger to one of her parents then, for he will not see her if she does marry Mr. Collins. Turns out, Charlotte Lucas accepts Mr. Collins, figuring she will get no other proposal (after Collins has already insinuated to Elizabeth that she will receive no better offer). Sadly, the Bingleys have left as well.

It seems some time has passed; Jane visits their aunt and uncle and Elizabeth accepts a visit to Charlotte. There, she meets and dines with the great Lady Catherine. Darcy is there, as well as a Colonel Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth is seated next to Mr. Darcy, and then Lady Catherine quizzes her on her accomplishments. After dinner, she is ordered to play the piano (she does so poorly, as she told the lady.) Darcy visits Elizabeth briefly, and awkwardly the next day. But Fitzwilliam informs Elizabeth that it was Darcy who split Mr. Bingley from Jane, due to objections to the family. Darcy finds Elizabeth in the rain and proposes, well, not the best proposal. Not wise to start it with saying you love someone against your better judgment. Elizabeth questions him on Jane and Bingley and informs Darcy that Jane is shy; she doesn’t even always reveal her heart to her sister, let alone a man. Darcy throws back that the rest of Elizabeth and Jane’s family are fools, but the two eldest daughters are excluded. Elizabeth also questions him about Wickham. They part angry, but Darcy leaves a letter. He (somewhat) apologizes for separating Bingely and Jane and tells Elizabeth what really happened with Wickham; he essentially gambled his inheritance away and when Darcy refused to give him more money, seemed to fall in love with Darcy’s very eligible younger sister and planned to elope. Darcy informed him he wouldn’t receive a penny of the dowry and so Wickham left, and Darcy’s sister was broken hearted. Elizabeth returns home very confused.

Lydia is invited to go to Brighton with family friends and Elizabeth’s aunt and unclepeak district invite her to accompany them to the Peak District (which seems absolutely stunning). Elizabeth attempts to persuade her father to not let Lydia go or else she will become the most determined flirt. Mr. Bennett simply wants peace and feels that Lydia is too poor and insignificant to get into too much trouble. Elizabeth and her relatives break down near Pemberly (where Mr. Darcy lives) and decide to visit. Elizabeth wanders and discovers Georgiana playing, and Mr. Darcy. She flees, but Darcy follows. He then calls at their lodgings and invites them over the following day. Georgiana is a cheerful young lady and is determined to be friends with Elizabeth; it is clear Darcy dearly loves his sister. Their lovely day ends in despair when news arrives that Lydia has run off with Mr. Wickham. Darcy feels it is his fault for not outing Wickham sooner; Elizabeth feels at fault for not sharing her knowledge with her family. The men of the family set out after Lydia. News returns home that Wickham will marry Lydia for a pittance.

She flounces in as a happy bride, showing off her ring to her family. Lydia inadvertently reveals to Elizabeth that it was Mr. Darcy who discovered her and Wickham and paid for everything; “he’s not half as high and mighty as you,” she remarks to her elder sister. Shortly after, Darcy and Bingley return to the Bennetts. After their brief visit, Elizabeth is on the verge of telling Jane she may like Darcy. We see Bingley rehearse, then he bursts back in and requests and audience with Jane: “first, I must tell you I have been the most unmitigated, incomprehensive ass…” Jane accepts his proposal: “yes, a thousand times yes” (which is what I imagine the most romantic proposals end with). Jane wants her sister to be as happy as her, but Elizabeth cannot bring herself to tell Jane of what almost was with Mr. Darcy. Their night is interrupted by a visit from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who speaks to Elizabeth, demanding she does not accept any proposal from her nephew, Mr. Darcy. He is intended to marry her daughter, a match planned since infancy. Elizabeth then orders Lady Catherine out and runs from her family, refusing to speak on the matter.

darcy mistShe takes another early morning walk and meets Mr. Darcy in the mist (an utterly breathtaking scene). She attempts to make amends, for judging him so harshly. Darcy tells her, she must know, it was all for her. His affections have not changed; she has bewitched him body and soul [another line I desire in my own proposal]…”I love, I love, I love you and never wished to be parted” (and this is why we love Jane Austen). Elizabeth gently kisses his hands and their foreheads meet as the sun rises. They return to the Bennett household to get permission from Mr. Bennett. He is confused; they all thought she didn’t like him. Elizabeth tells her father she was utterly wrong about him; they are so similar, and so stubborn. In short, she loves him. She also explains how Mr. Darcy has already helped their family, but he would not want Mr. Bennett to respond.

I adore the ending of this film, even though it is not how the book ended. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are enjoying an evening together and discuss what endearments Mr. Darcy may use. he inquires when he may call her Mrs. Darcy, when he is cross? No, “only when you are completely, perfectly, and incandescently happy.” He proceeds to kiss her, murmuring “Mrs. Darcy,” he time, until their mouths meet. …sigh, swoon!

In truth, I believe I fell asleep the first time I watched the movie; it is one that needs time and a few watching’s to grow fond of. Mr. Darcy improves with each viewing. I did manage to read the novel after watching the film in college. A quick skimming of the ending enforces why I prefer it in film format; it is much easier to digest, dispensing of some of the flowery language. But as Becoming Jane comments, both sisters ended up with good matches and lived happily. The visual artistry of the film is gorgeous. I do like the soundtrack to this film, much better than the last batch of movies; I actually own it. It is mainly piano pieces, which are played by various characters throughout the film. And the dance tracks are lively pieces.

Up Next: The Gothic romance Jane Eyre

 

jane austen dressAn added treat: this is me in a Jane Austen inspired gown that I wore for Halloween one year at college; made by my talented mother (I did not inherit that talent).  I still have the dress.