Posts Tagged ‘musicals’
September 3, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
One of my “parlor tricks,” if such you can call it, used to be performing the Kurt Weill standard “September Song” in the voice of Lotte Lenya. I can’t pretend anyone ever requested this, per se, but from the ages of fifteen to about twenty-one, I broke into it on the slightest pretext. Among other things, the rendition was very loud. No record exists of my performances: small mercies, et cetera.
“September Song” was famously written for Walter Huston’s limited vocal range, and his initial rendition—as an elderly Peter Stuyvesant in 1938’s Knickerbocker Holiday—remains, for many, the most poignant. (To anyone who would laugh at the thought of a seventeenth-century Dutch colonist singing one of musical theater’s great laments on aging, I would merely point out that “Memory” is performed by an anguished cat.) My grandfather always talked about first hearing the song when Walter Huston visited the radio program for which he was a writer in 1938. He cried, he said. When he died, it was sung at his funeral. Read More »
August 5, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
The Broadway Melody of 1929 won the Oscar for best picture. The highest-grossing film of the year, it was the first all-talk musical, and MGM’s first musical, period. It contained a groundbreaking Technicolor sequence.
Even if you’re not a cinephile, the film’s a great, pre-Code watch. While the acting is certainly dated, and the story somewhat melodramatic and lurid—it centers around a sister-act love triangle—it’s an emotionally and visually satisfying spectacle. Read More »
April 20, 2015 | by Jeff Seroy
An American in Paris leaps from screen to stage.
About halfway through Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 film An American in Paris, we glimpse a sign: À LOUER—APPARTEMENTS STUDIOS DE GRAND LUXE—RENSEIGNEMENTS AU FOND DE LA COUR. We see it in a courtyard through which Milo Roberts, the beautifully appointed parvenue, leads Jerry Mulligan, the scrappy, penurious painter; they ascend a staircase into an artist’s atelier that anyone would dream of. In addition to the essentials—a double-height wall completely of glass, new brushes and paints in every imaginable color, a sturdy easel—the room boasts a marble mantelpiece, fresh flowers, and an enormous sofa upholstered in red toile de jouy. That’s part of the allure of Minnelli’s film: it wrings every drop of naive charm out of the Paris of myth and cliché. Despite its legendary status, though, the movie’s charms are often enforced with a lead pipe—or perhaps a pipette of the kind geese are fattened with to produce foie gras. I couldn’t help but read too much, then, into that sign advertising rooms for rent. The movie itself can feel like a rented room; there’s plenty of space for someone else to move in, to make it deeper, better, more accomplished. That’s what the new musical on Broadway attempts, and—though not without its longueurs and contrivances—on many levels it has the film beat by a mile. Read More »
August 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Menahem Golan, the B-Movie auteur, is dead at eighty-five, the Times reports. In the course of his prolific career, Golan—who directed more than forty films and produced more than two hundred—worked with Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Vanessa Redgrave; though he had a hand in several distinguished productions, he and his cohort trafficked in unabashedly debased material. The Golan milieu is one of superabundant corn-starch blood and suspenseful synthesizer sound tracks. As the Times has it, they “churned out movies about ninjas, cyborgs, chain saws, and the likes of Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde (1993).”
A bit of YouTube spelunking has led me to The Apple, a 1980 musical written, directed, and produced by Golan—perhaps one of the most gloriously catastrophic concepts ever committed to celluloid.
“A young couple enters the world of the music industry, but also the world of drugs,” the IMDB description reads, as if those worlds have ever been separate—and to that synopsis, allow me to add that the movie takes place in a dystopian future that’s very, very, very far away: it’s set in 1994. (“Life is nothing but show business / in 1994,” one song tells us, helpfully.)
In The Apple, Boogaloo International Music (BIM) controls the world—in the movie’s one prescient plot point, the citizenry is addicted to “the Worldvision Song Contest,” a talent show almost identical to American Idol or Eurovision. Any similarities to the actual future end there. BIM, headed by the nefarious Mr. Boogaloo, judges the success of its performers by counting the number of heartbeats in the crowd; when a sweet young couple threatens to overtake BIM’s pre-selected stars in the heartbeat rankings, Boogaloo throws the contest, invites the innocent couple to his swanky corporate HQ, and has his henchman drug the young woman. Things get progressively worse from there.
Above is a clip of the musical’s title track, “The Apple,” in which the entire cast is transported to Hell and the classic forbidden fruit is dangled before our unsuspecting heroes. “Juju Apple / Voodoo Apple,” sings a mildly hunky shirtless guy. “Take a little bite / Spend a splendid night / In our garden of delights.” 1994, man—it was wild!
If Menahem Golan is, as I write, in transit to some kind of afterlife, I hope it’s infinitely more pleasant than the one depicted in The Apple.
January 9, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Not that long ago, I was walking down a Brooklyn street and encountered an elderly woman surrounded by grocery bags. I offered to help carry them into her apartment, and I was sort of disappointed when she said yes and I saw what a long staircase it was and how heavy the bags were. After several trips we’d gotten them all in and she thanked me. “I was worried I was going to miss the beginning of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on TV,” she explained. “It’s my favorite movie.”
“You know,” I said, “it’s out on DVD now. I’d be glad to loan it to you.”
“Oh, I have the DVD,” she said blithely.
The film inspires such irrational devotion. Whenever I am down, I go to YouTube and watch the barn-dance scene, which is famous not just because of the number of accomplished dancers in the cast but also because of the sheer, exhausting athleticism of Michael Kidd’s choreography. As a child, I decided that my wedding party would replicate the entire number—I was going to be Milly and do the pas de deux in the middle—but then you grow up and realize that unless you are a dictator on an international scale, this kind of thing is impossible. Nevertheless, I defy anyone to watch it and not get just a little bit cheered up. Read More »
November 29, 2013 | by Matt Weinstock
“If I had any visual talent, I would have loved to be a filmmaker,” Stephen Sondheim told me in a recent phone interview. “But I didn’t. So this is what I became.” It’s jarring to think that the legendary composer-lyricist of Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods only resorted to musical theater out of an inability to compose a wide shot. In the 1950s Sondheim directed amateur horror movies (“The photography is like a five-year-old’s”) and he later co-wrote the enjoyably chilly mystery film The Last of Sheila, but he has made a relatively piddling contribution to the art form that is deepest in his bones. As he told Frank Rich in 2000, “Movies were, and still are, my basic language.”
It’s the language he used to write Follies, the sumptuous 1971 Broadway musical about middle-aged showgirls gathering for a boozy, confrontational reunion on the eve of their old theater’s destruction. While critics have treated the show as an elegy to the theater, Hollywood seems to have been the headiest influence on Follies’ creative team. Sondheim has said that during the writing process, he “could only imagine the spectacle of a Ziegfeldian ‘Loveland’ in terms of movie musicals,” and co-director Harold Prince’s concept for Follies as a story about “rubble in the daylight” grew out of a Life magazine photo of Gloria Swanson standing in the ruins of the Roxy movie palace. Prince insisted that the libretto be rewritten to include cinematic techniques like dissolves, close-ups, and black-and-white flashbacks, and the orchestrations were deliberately rigged with MGM-isms (like the thrilling piano-to-orchestra swell midway through “Beautiful Girls”). Even the casting of old vaudevillians in many of the roles was inspired by Billy Wilder’s casting of silent movie actors in Sunset Boulevard. “We just kept hoovering up people who were close to the story,” Prince explained to me in a phone call. “That’s what Billy Wilder did: he put Swanson in the part so you thought, ‘Hey, she’s playing herself.’ She wasn’t, of course, but you made that connection.”
Was the fabled original production of Follies always pining away to be a movie? I called Sondheim and Prince after learning that they actually had cooked up a scheme to make a film version in the early 1970s, featuring dozens of faded stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age congregating on a studio backlot about to be torn down. It is intoxicating to imagine such a film, with archival footage of the stars sewn into the plot, and each cut functioning like an electric restoration of youth.Read More »