Are They Fighting or Are They Dancing?

The Mask of Zorro

Another of the swashbuckling movies produced in the nineties, like Three Musketeers and Prince of Thieves and like those two, it’s very well done.  Stars Anthony Hopkins (a classic Welsh actor who is Odin in MCU Thor, famous as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs [and I refuse to watch that movie, I do not need the nightmares], was Van Helsing in 1992’s Bram’s Dracula, was in A Bridge Too Far with the other great actors of that time) as Don Diego de la Vega, Stuart Wilson (an older Robin Hood in Disney’s Princess of Thieves) as Don Rafael Montero, Tony Amendola (Marco/Geppetto in ABC’s Once Upon a Time series amongst other TV series) as Don Luiz, Antonio Banderas (this is probably his most famous role) as Alejandro Murrieta and Catherine Zeta-Jones (who is actually Welsh, and married to Michael Douglas since 2000; this was her breakthrough role, and she went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2002’s Chicago) as Elena.  This is not the first appearance of the character Zorro; he dates to 1919 and was originally supposed to be a one-time character, then the popularity of the 1920 movie had the author create dozens of further stories.  However, this is probably one of the more well-known iterations.

The story begins in 1821 as Spain is leaving Mexico due to a rebellion led by General Santa Anna.  The last governor, Don Rafael Montero is ordered to leave, but has one last piece of business to take care of.  He gives his friend Don Luiz orders to distribute the Spanish land amongst themselves and pay taxes to Santa Anna, thereby maintaining their wealth.  Montero is planning to execute three innocent men amidst a protest.  Two boys are waiting for the legendary Zorro to appear and he does not disappoint.  The boys even save Zorro from a trap and in return, he gifts them with a medallion.  The crowd cheers for their hero and protects him from the guards.  He confronts Montero and marks his neck with a “Z”, three slashes for three men.  Montero would murder a hundred innocent men in order to kill Zorro.  But Zorro rides away.

There is a lair beneath his estate (the original Bat cave; in fact, Zorro is considered an influence to Batman); Zorro remarks to his faithful black steed that they are both getting too old for their activities.  Zorro without the mask is Diego de la Vega and he visits his infant daughter in her nursery and tells her stories about his escapades.  His wife, Esperenza joins the pair.  They are interrupted by Montero and his guards.  Montero has an inkling at this point that de la Vega is Zorro and pressing on his arm reveals a bloody scratch de la Vega received during the fight that day.  He attempts to arrest de la Vega as a traitor to both his country and his class, and oddly apologizes to Esperenza.  Turns out, Montero loves Esperenza and is upset that she married de la Vega; but now, he probably is thinking with de la Vega out of the way, he can claim Esperenza.  But Esperenza tries to protect her husband during his duel with Montero and a guard accidentally shoots her.  Montero dispatches the guard, and de la Vega goes for his crying daughter; a fire has started during the scuffle.  Montero knocks de la Vega out, puts him in chains, and claims his daughter.  Montero leaves with young Elena for Spain and de la Vega is taken away to prison to rot; Montero’s parting words to de la Vega: you must “live with the knowledge you have lost everything you hold dear,” and “your child should have been mine.”  (This of course, takes away the notion of Esperenza’s own choice; she seems very happy with de la Vega and aware of his secret, most likely meaning it was a love match, so no, Elena should have never been Montero’s child.)  de la Vega swears to Montero, “you will never be rid of me!”

Twenty years later: the Murrieta brothers have been caught…well, actually, they were in on their capture so they could steal the guard’s money and redistribute it to the poor (a la Robin Hood).  But there is a new Captain in town, Captain Love from Texas; he ends up shooting Joaquin and capturing Jack.  Alejandro escapes, but watches his brother shoot himself instead of being captured.  Alejandro collects his brother’s medallion, then tries to barter it away for a drink.  In the meantime, Montero has returned to California.  His first stop is the prison, in order to be sure that Zorro is dead.  Several prisoners claim they are Zorro (like the famous “I’m Spartacus” scene), but Montero doesn’t believe any of them.  He walks right by an old man with an eye patch, pauses for a moment, but dismisses him.  He deduces Zorro is dead.

Wrong.  That old man is de la Vega and he manages to free himself and get smuggled out of the prison by impersonating a dead body; meaning he then digs himself out of the grave.  He will exact his revenge on Montero.  He attends Montero’s official arrival the following day, where Montero plays to the crowd, insulting the other Dons so he can claim he works for the people.  Obviously, de la Vega knows better and starts to make his way to the former governor, until Montero’s “daughter” arrives, Elena.  This halts de la Vega.  He must rethink his plan.  On his way to his hideout, he comes across Alejandro and his old medallion as Alejandro prepares to barter it away.  He easily bests Alejandro in a fight, but offers to train the young man.

mask of zorroAlejandro is eager to start fighting, though his answer of “the pointy end goes in the other man, [sounding like Jon Snow or Arya Stark]” shows de la Vega that he must start with the basics.  The master has a new apprentice.  de la Vega has Alejandro bathe and trim his hair.  After disarming the old fox once, Alejandro figures he is skilled enough to capture a black Andalusian, like Zorro’s Tornado.  Alejandro, in a mask, encounters Elena and she is quite taken by the dangerous man.  When his plan goes a bit awry, Alejandro hides in the church and ends up hearing Elena’s confession, that she is starting to have thoughts about the masked man and her heart is too wild for her father’s liking.  Alejandro manages to escape before Captain Love appears, but he leaves the “Z” mark to let them know Zorro has returned.

de la Vega, expertly using a whip to extinguish candles (Hopkins could do that trick and was added into the movie), is not pleased with Alejandro; Zorro serves the people, not himself.  Alejandro is tired of the lectures and demands de la Vega duel him.  The older man holds up a spoon.  Alejandro must have the polish of a proper gentleman, and needs to spy on Montero.  The two men attend a gala held at the estate, de la Vega masquerading as Alejandro’ s servant, who goes by the title Don de Castilio.  Alejandro is properly presented to Elena, but his gentleman charm does not impress her, though he is impressing Montero.  However, when Alejandro has to stall Montero, he dances quite passionately with Elena (it is a wonderful and lively dance).  Alejandro gains an invitation with the rest of the Dons and Montero reveals his plan; he means for the Dons to claim California.  They will buy it from Santa Anna with gold from a mine on his own land that he is unaware of.  Santa Anna will take the gold because a war with the United States is expensive.  Montero shows off the mine the next day and Alejandro discovers that poor Mexicans who have gone missing have been taken to the mine.

Elena has a conversation with de la Vega the next day in the stables, only knowing him as Alejandro’s servant.  But de la Vega remarks that she looks like her mother.  Elena has been told that her mother was very proper.  And de la Vega’s voice is familiar.  Then, in the market, her former nursemaid makes a gift to her, recognizing her as the daughter of Esperenza de la Vega.  Elena tries to tell the woman she is mistaken and that she was born in Spain.  But she’s already encountered native Californian flowers she remembers the scent.  Montero’s tale is starting to unravel.

de la Vega gifts Alejandro with a proper Zorro mask and instructs him to sneak into Montero’s office; they need the location of the mine.  de la Vega sets a flaming “Z” on the hillside as a distraction, but Alejandro still encounters Captain Love and Montero and even duels them both.  he escapes through the stables and faces off with Elena, who is skilled in sword fighting as well (I love that she’s an action woman).  He does delicately cut her clothes off her as a way to stop her (her hair covers her top).  Alejandro still has hilarious issues with his new horse, but does demonstrate that he is a good rider.  de la Vega returns that evening to confront Montero and demands that Elena be brought out.  Montero’s tale fully unravels; the name “de la Vega” is a clue from the woman in the marketplace and the truth comes out.  She persuades de la Vega to put down his sword to save himself from being shot.  At this point, Elena must be wondering what did Montero do that he was able to take her from de la Vega and what truly happened to her mother.  Then she later frees him from the cellar he’s been thrown into and they race off to help Zorro.

zorro dance

Zorro sneaks into the mine and discovers the people are locked in.  Captain Love’s suggestion is to blow up the mine once all the gold is out and kill the people as well so there are no witnesses.  But when Zorro shows up, Love cuts the fuse so he has time to deal with the nuisance.  de la Vega confronts Montero again as Elena watches.  Montero seems willing to kill her to stop de la Vega, but he wouldn’t actually hurt the woman he views as a daughter, though it gives him the chance to shoot de la Vega.  Zorro dispatches Love, even after being stabbed and unmasked, then Montero is caught behind the wagon as it falls.  Elena goes to rescue the trapped people and the fuse has restarted.  Zorro helps her with the last cells and they save the day!  Alejandro holds de la Vega as he bids his daughter farewell; she has the same spirit as her mother.  He even blesses Alejandro and Elena, then passes away.  Elena mourns de la Vega; not Montero.

There must always be a Zorro; it is a destiny and a curse, for there is always another battle.  But both Zorros have loved Elena.  And now Alejandro tells the story to his son.

In 2005, there was a direct sequel to this film, The Legend of Zorro, bringing back both Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones to reprise their roles.  Rufus Sewell (Knight’s Tale, Tristan and Isolde, Victoria) joins as Armand, a former friend of Elena de la Vega’s when she grew up in Spain.  This film is not nearly as good as Mask of Zorro.  The premise is that California is voting to become part of the United States in 1850, but there is a secret organization attempting to block it.  Zorro is doing his best, but since he is gone often, his marriage is strained and he’s missing out on seeing his son grow up.  His secret is found out by mysterious men, who blackmail Elena into working undercover for them.  She divorces Alejandro and he must make a choice between being Zorro and saving his family.

Of course, several of the fight scenes are still good and Elena retains some of her action-girl status.  But there are several glaring errors.  California at that time was Catholic; divorce was not allowed and Elena’s status would have surely suffered.  Mentions of the Confederacy are inaccurate since it didn’t form until 1861.  The inclusion of nitroglycerin is just barely factual; it was invented in 1847 as an explosive, but to me, still seems a bit farfetched.  The overall feeling I get from the film is that they were trying too hard.  The villains are flat.   Of course, the son learns who his father is, and the marriage is put to rights.  I argue how could Elena say to Alejandro “we were never meant to be together?”  You married him knowing full well who he was and what he did.  That was what attracted you to him.  There was a more logical way to deal with the matter.

So, definitely watch Mask of Zorro, it is a classic.  Hopkins is excellent and I actually would love to see more of him in that role.  Antonio is charming and this is why Puss in Boots in Shrek is a takeoff on Zorro, since Antonio voiced the cat (despite the tale being French).  As I’ve stated before, I love a good sword fight.

Next Time: Top Gun

Tiding Over

A Random Fandom Update:

I happen to be listening to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks recently, which makes me want to re-watch the first trilogy.  They also have inspired a few scenes and notes for my eventual fantasy epic (which is good, because it needs some major work).  And yep, still love the first three movies!  The original is still the best and looking back, I feel some pity for the special effects team because it could not have been easy timing all the moonlight skeleton effects.  Orlando Bloom is young a dashing (he was a celebrity crush when I was a teen) and still swoon at the kiss at the end 🙂

I like elements of Dead Man’s Chest soundtrack and the battle against the Kraken is thrilling.  And the ending of At World’s End is full of emotions.  That flourish in the orchestra during Will and Elizabeth’s wedding times perfectly with the spin, squee!  And Most.  Epic.  Kiss.  Ever!  Of course, I have to find the few clips of Will in the fifth movie and I think it’s sweet that they use Will and Elizabeth’s theme in the background while he talks to his young son, Henry.

I also really want a good crossover fic between Pirates of the Caribbean and Once Upon a Time because there is such a realm of possibilities between Killian Jones knowing either Jack and/ or Will.  If anyone finds a good story,  let me know so I can check it out!

In the meantime; I’ve read several novels off my shelf, re-reading a couple different fanfiction stories, but haven’t gotten much writing done.  The action-adventure blogs will be starting soon, just gotta get my brain to focus, lol!

Let me know what fandoms have been keeping you entertained!

“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

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

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chitty

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

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

Next Time: The beloved Mary Poppins

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

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sub loc battle

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

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

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

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

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

1776

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1776 end scene

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

 

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

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

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

Cats

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

Onwards!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time: 1776

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

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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

dreamcoat

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: Cats

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

The Phantom of the Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat