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

Les Misérables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DoYouHearThePeopleSing

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

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

barricade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Greatest Showman

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

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

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

greatest show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oscars this is me

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

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

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

Up Next: Les Mis

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

Newsies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

newsies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time: Another New Yorker, The Greatest Showman

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

Down with Love

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

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

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

down with love

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

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

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

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

Next Time: Newsies

“So exciting, the audience will stop and cheer. So delighting, it will run for fifty years.”

Moulin Rouge

I did not watch this until I was in college, because I was uneasy on the subject matter. The film stars Ewan McGregor (voice of Lumiere in the live-action Beauty and the Beast, Down with Love, Miss Potter, Obi-Wan Kenobi) as Christian, Nicole Kidman (Australia) as Satine, and Jim Broadbent (Professor Slughorn, Professor Diggroy in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Archmaester Ebrose in Game of Thrones) as Harold Zidler. It’s directed by Baz Luhrmann, which is the reason for some of the odd visuals I believe. The story is set at the turn of the twentieth century in Paris, in the Moulin Rouge district. Christian is an English writer who has come to live the Bohemian lifestyle and write about truth, beauty, freedom, and above all, love. His neighbors, who literally crash into his room, are also Bohemians and are producing a play. They ask Christian to fill in since their lead is a narcoleptic Argentinean and Christian manages to help their production by suggesting “the hills are alive, with the sound of music.” (I was shocked this appeared when I first watched the movie; until I realized it was the whole premise of the movie; incorporating modern songs). The rest of the cast loves it and the current writer leaves. But, to put on their play, they need to convince the owner of the Moulin Rouge, Harry Zidler; and to do that, they have arranged for Christian to privately meet the star of the Moulin Rouge, Satine.

What the Bohemians don’t know is that Zidler has arranged for a wealthy Duke to privately “meet” with Satine so he will invest and help turn the Moulin Rouge into a proper theatre, and Satine can become a proper actress. The dancers perform Lady Marmalade (which I enjoy, aside from the creepy older men; but that was the point of the Moulin Rouge) and a Can Can, then Satine descends for Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend (with a chorus from Material Girl). Zidler is telling Satine about the Duke, but Christian’s friend Toulouse gets mixed in and Satine believes that Christian is the Duke and takes him back to her room for a “private poetry reading.” Christian tries to recite his poetry, and Satine believes she should be getting riled up…it’s a bit of an awkward, but funny scene, well acted. Then Christian just belts out, “my gift is my song,” and continues with Elton’s John Your Song. Satine is impressed. Then the truth comes out that Christian is not the Duke; in fact, the Duke is waiting outside the door for Satine. So she must distract the Duke while hiding Christian and trying to coax him out; she starts singing Christian’s song. And claims it is from a new show, “Spectacular, Spectacular.”  If the Duke will invest in the new show, Satine will sleep with him, but not until opening night.

spectacular

The Duke leaves, and Satine faints (she’s already fainted once before). Christian attempts to awkwardly put her to bed and the Duke inconveniently walks in. Satine comes to in time to save Christian and with the help of his Bohemian friends and Zidler, they spitball the storyline of the play while singing Spectacular, Spectacular; a courtesan falls in love with a penniless sitar player, but is pursued by an evil maharajah (hmm, sounds like the storyline of the movie; the Duke is not the brightest man). They convince the Duke; “no words in the vernacular/ can describe this great event/ you’ll be dumb with wonderment,” everyone sells.  A little later that night, Christian returns and discusses love with Satine; she is more practical, due to her profession. There is a wonderful medley of love songs, including All You Need is Love by the Beatles, Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong, and ends in a kiss.

Trouble begins to brew with the Duke; he wants Satine exclusive to him: “I don’t like other people touching my things!” And extra insurance for his investment; he will hold the deed to the Moulin Rouge. The play goes into production. The Duke attends rehearsal as a part of “artistic influence;” but Satine keeps stalling him, or making up excuses for Christian to be around. Satine is still sick at times and Zidler is told she is dying. And he has discovered her dalliance with Christian and tells her to break it off. She collapses again and Zidler has to cover with the Duke. Which leads to an awkward interlude of Like a Virgin.

Satine does talk about the arrangement with the Duke to Christian and he promises not to get jealous. He suggests they include another song in the show, symbolizing that they love each other; Come What May. But one of the other dancers is jealous and hints to the Duke about Satine and Christian. He insists they change the ending; the maharajah will win. Satine sides with the Duke to pacify him and the rest of the performers must wait while she seduces the Duke. Christian does not remain impartial and the Argentinean advises that one should not fall in love with a woman who sells herself; El Tango de Roxanne and the room is filled with the Argentinean tango (love this part). The Duke sees Christian approach and turns on Satine; he comes very close to forcing himself on her, but one of the large men from the show has snuck over and hits the Duke over the head before it goes too far. Satine seeks comfort with Christian and they decide to leave Paris.

The Duke informs Zidler that Satine must break it off with Christian and come to him after the first show; or he will kill Christian. Zidler warns Satine and when that is not enough, informs her that she is dying. If she loves Christian, she must break his heart, to save him. The Show Must Go On they all intone. Christian doesn’t believe Satine and tries to see her again, only to be thrown out in the rain. His friends attempt to comfort him, but once opening night begins, he sneaks back into the theatre. Narcolepsy hits the Argentinean again and Christian takes his costume, intent on paying Satine. They end up on stage and the audience believes it is part of the show. Christian throws the money and walks away. Satine begins Come What May, calling Christian back. The Duke is furious and mouths to his bodyguard to kill Christian. The rest of the cast figures it out and help knock the gun away. The audience still has no clue what is real and what is show and Toulouse shouts out the theme of the movie: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.” The show ends on a high note, the Duke leaves. As the curtain drops, Satine collapses again. She gets a few final words with Christian and dies. (The talented Ewan McGregor breaks all of our hearts with his sobs).

The film wraps back to the beginning, a depressed Christian in his room, typing out Satine’s story. With his story, their love will live forever. The end.

Some parts of the show are funny, like Spectacular, Spectacular. I find the Can Can fun; I remember the older girls performing once during a dance recital when I was young.  Now every time I hear Your Song, I think of this film.  Come What May is heartwarming and I still cry at the end every time. This show does not end happily, like typical musicals, thus not really a favorite of mine. There are awkward moments, as already stated, the Like a Virgin. Some people probably like it or find it funny…I’m not one of them. I did like that they used more modern music and wove it in to the story; it attracted a modern audience. The leads were excellent and I was shocked at Ewan’s singing voice; since I knew him first from Star Wars.

Up Next: Another Ewan McGregor film, Down with Love

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

Mamma Mia

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

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

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

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

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

dancing queen

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

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

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

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

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

first credits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

second credits

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

Up Next: Moulin Rouge

You Should Always Pay Attention to Maggie Smith

Sister Act

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

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

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

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

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

sister act

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: Mamma Mia

“A Wop Bom a Looma, a Wop Bam Boo!”

Grease

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

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

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

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

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

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

grease group

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

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

Next Time: Sister Act

A Random Fandom Update

Thought I’d take a step away from my musical blogs (don’t worry, already got the next one planned) and mention the elephant in the room: staying at home because of coronavirus. I work retail, so I have not been to work in several weeks. For the most part, I’m handling it fine; I’ve managed to work on other writing projects, I’ve crocheted several afghans, I’ve gotten back to my books (huzzah!), and I’ve caught up on some movies and shows.

So let me go ahead and state: SPOILERS ALERT!

Finally watched Frozen II; I liked the story. I don’t think the music was quite as memorable as the first and I still can’t stand Olaf, but the sisterly bond was great and very interesting to delve into their family history. (Puts to rest the fan connection between Frozen and several other Disney movies, including Tangled).

Also finally watched Crimes of Grindlewald. Excellent. Though while watching, I had to remind myself that Leta Lestrange was not a direct relation of Bellatrix (same family, but distant cousins). And the Dumbledore angle was better than I feared it to be; I thought they would focus entirely on Dumbledore’s infatuation with Grindlewald, but SPOILER a blood pact is a more solid excuse. And I totally do not believe Grindlewald about Creedence’s real name; the only plausible way he is a Dumbledore is as a cousin.

Supernatural has put filming their final season on hold, but it’s ramping up to be a doozy. News was just released that the final seven episodes will air in the fall. Jack is back, yay I guess. I have loved seeing some old favorites again; Benny was seen briefly. Loved that Eileen was back (then dead, then back!) and I really wish that she could get together permanently with Sam. (Then we find Dean someone, unless they make Destiel canon, which would be cool). And it was hilarious to have both Daneel Ackles and Genevive Padalecki back and in the same episode! The alternative universe Sam and Dean were hilarious as well (though can’t beat their father coming back; love that episode and cried along [unless you watch the blooper where Jared hits Jeffrey somewhere with the pearl; everyone is on the floor in laughter]). I really want to punch Chuck in the face and I hope Amara may come back to help. The boys are shaping up to fight God; I believe they will win and save the world because that is what they and the show are all about; but it’ll cost them. I still figure there is a decent chance the show will end with both boys dead; unless they are serious about producing a film later. If not, the only way for the fans to accept that it is over, is for our beloved boys to die. Even then, we’ll still write fanfiction.

Speaking of fanfiction; I was reading something on Facebook the other night about how fanfiction started. I mean, I had an idea, but it was interesting and a little unnerving. I realized why disclaimers are always posted at the top because you don’t want some bigwig suing you, but to find out that fan writers were punished… Some of the more recent successes give me hope; but I still am not likely to post what I have written. I share with a few friends, but I use it for my own practice. And some of this may end up as an essay or article. In case you’re interested, Supernatural accepts its fan writers and the fandom that has sprung up around it, which makes me love the fandom and the stars even more.

MacGyver just finished its fourth season, which went in a different direction than I originally imagined, and has been renewed for a fifth season. Yay! Their season got cut short due to the virus, but they must have filmed enough ahead to finish things up. I personally miss Jack and wish they would at least mention him in the story. Mac’s spiraling a bit and the fans know that Jack would help him. Still not a hundred percent sure of Russ’s motivations, but he at least tries to keep Mac alive; and Matty is still there, yay! I adored the episode with the plane and Mac in Tesla’s house; the writing has been excellent this season. Personally, I have never been fond of pairing Mac with a woman because I feel it detracts from the story and female characters should exist in shows outside their connection to a man. I’ve warmed up to Desi, but still not wholly sure. I like Riley, and I’m liking the Riley – Mac dynamic, but this triangle is only going to end badly. I shed tears when SPOILER James died. And I’m even sad that Auntie Gwen died; because she had just decided to protect Mac and it would have been great for Mac to have a familial connection, particularly to his mother. Though, baby Angus MacGyver is the cutest baby in the world! (And I refuse to believe that he’s named Angus because of a sign for beef; that’s demeaning to the character). Fanfiction should keep me occupied until it’s back.

Also been re-watching Hallmark’s Good Witch, going through the most recent episodes and the movies and now starting at the beginning of the show. Some days I can handle Hallmark and some days I just get annoyed; real life does not give us the right guy and the right job to keep us happy. But I love the magical elements of Cassie and the story. She and Sam are adorable. I’d love to live in Middleton. And when things get rough, there is a comfort in knowing that things will turn out alright; it’s Hallmark.

My mother and I have also managed to catch up on Outlander; we got behind. I miss them in Scotland; that was a reason I loved the show. Not fond of the time they were in the Caribbean, but now that they’ve settled in the colonies, my interest is peaking again. I’m glad Brianna has joined her mother and is bonding with her father. And proud that Roger has followed (though at times he was a bit of an idiot). I’m glad Stephen Bonnet finally was stopped; though I wished it had happened sooner. Whenever I would see Billy Boyd, I kept commenting “bad Pippin!” though I had to explain to my mother what I meant. I like the family that is growing at Fraser’s Ridge, and Ian has returned. Brianna, Roger, and Jemmy have also ended up staying, yay. The final episode; they actually found Claire sooner in the episode I thought they might, but we did get to see Claire’s struggles with the aftermath. I’m sure the time-traveling Native American will return; we’ll have to see what sort of time jump there may be before the next season.

Also enjoying watching the original MacGyver series with my parents and catching episodes of Race to the Edge (still love the show!). We’ve put on a few other movies, like some older James Bond (which was a bit weird), and re-watching the Librarian films (I’ll be covering all of those and the show upcoming. And it also gave me a writing idea). We are also going back and re-watching the newest Star Wars movies in preparation for finally getting to Rise of Skywalker (never fear, they are on the list to cover…down the road; MCU stands between us and them).

As for books; since I am first and foremost a reader; I have made a tiny dent in my “to-read” pile (and bought a few to add). Finally finished Raging Heat, a Richard Castle book (based on the show Castle that I don’t think I’m going to be covering, due to length) and Ireland’s Pirate Queen about Grace O’Malley, which have been on the back burner for a while. Enjoyed Castle and Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Read Jeffersonian Key by Steve Berry. Few other books in there that weren’t great, but a relatively quick read; got around to Sense and Sensibility and that was a bit boring; the movie helped make sense. Just finished a Philippa Gregory book, The Lady of the Rivers which is a prequel in a way to White Queen (my mother and I have watched the first episode of the series). Parts are interesting and it is relatively well-written, but parts are now appearing a bit implausible (which happens with her books). Now I can move on to other books on my list. My Richard Castle, Nikki Heat series is up to date, but I want to get to some others first. I’ve got half a shelf of romances that I need to catch up on, so I can go looking for those newest books. Picked up another Librarians novel (based on the show) and some Peter Jackson/ Lord of the Rings books (like I need more of those). Some history series and the first book to a couple fantasy series I’d like to try. Some fun books I am holding off on as a reward, like behind the scenes of MacGyver, the last How to Train Your Dragon art book (I am that much of a nerd).

What are you guys doing to keep your minds occupied? Any good movies or books? Creative projects?

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

Annie

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

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

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

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

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

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

easy street

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: A more modern classic, Grease

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