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Entries in musicals (291)

Wednesday
Jan202016

Judy by the Numbers: "Americana"

Anne Marie here with one of the foundational building blocks of the legend that is Judy. This week it's the story you've probably heard: young Judy Garland sings in a two-reel with another mostly-unknown MGM child actor named Deanna Durbin. Mayer sees the short and decides to dump one of the girls. Which he chooses and why is up for debate, but the practical fallout turns one girl into a big star at a small studio, and puts the other on the road towards a mythmaking career.

The Movie: "Every Sunday" (MGM, 1936)

The Songwriter: Roger Eden

The Players: Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin directed by Felix E. Feist

The Story: When young Judy had signed with MGM, she had done so without a screentest. The powers that be decided to rectify that in 1936, casting Judy with Deanna Durbin, another girl singer whose classical style contrasted nicely with Judy's big, swingtime voice. Durbin's option at MGM was about to expire, and the studio decided not to renew it. Durbin was rapidly scooped up by Universal, cast in Three Smart Girls, and became a nearly overnight sensation. These are the facts as we know them.

Many variations on this storyfeature heavily in the Judy Garland myth. In some versions, Mayer tells an underling to "get rid of the fat one," and the studio mistakenly lets go Durbin. In others, Arthur Freed recognizes young Garland's talents and intercedes on her behalf. Whatever the real reason was, this story remains the most romanticized near-miss in Hollywood musical history. It's a story of foils: Classical Deanna vs Brassy Judy, the flashpan sensation vs the undying star, the nonegenarian vs the talent gone too soon. Every good myth needs an origin story, and this moment, when Judy's career nearly stopped before it began, serves neatly as the genesis for Judy Garland, Child Star.

Tuesday
Jan192016

Well "Hello, Dolly!" ...Again (Feat: Channing, Pearl, Bette, and Babs) 

Bette on the Tonight Show in 2014Bette Midler basically gave the game away in a tweet last night but today it's official: The Divine Miss M will be taking over Carol Channing's signature role Dolly Levi in a Broadway revival of "Hello, Dolly!" due in the Spring of 2017. Carol Channing made a huge enduring career out of the role, of course, playing it three different times across four decades on Broadway and touring with it, too. Barbra Streisand tried to wrestle the role away from her in the movie musical adaptation in 1969 -- there are multiple catty anecdotes about this in the trivia-filled gossipy book "Roadshow! The Fall of the Film Musicals in the 1960s" that do not paint a pretty picture of Babs --  but despite the plentiful Oscar nominations thrown that movies way, it didn't really stick and no one thinks of Dolly as anyone's but Channing's.

Babs, Bette, Carol Channing & Pearl Bailey after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan132016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Texas Tornado"

Anne Marie back with the next installment in our new Judy Garland series. Before she was a legend, Frances Gumm was a contract player. This meant that MGM could loan her out to other studios. It was common practice for both large stars and minor players. But what makes you Frances unique is how rare it was for her. Today's musical marks the only time MGM loaned out Judy Garland; the rest of her contract with the studio would be spent snugly - if not comfortably - within the white walls of Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Judy's next short would kick off the Garland legend, and jumpstart the young teen's career.
 
The Movie: Pigskin Parade (20th Century Fox, 1936)
The Songwriters: Lew Pollack (Music), Sidney D. Mitchell (Lyrics)
The Players: Stuart Erwin, Patsy Kelly, Betty Grable, Jack Haley, Judy Garland, directed by David Butler
The Story: Already under contract to MGM at the age of 14, the newly renamed Judy Garland's first feature film was a loan out to 20th Century Fox. Pigskin Parade was a low-budget musical - Fox's favorite kind - that cashed in on the early 30's fad for college crooners. Judy plays the hick sister of a barefoot football prodigy (Stuart Erwin) who's invited by accident to play for Yale. Judy gets a handful of numbers, all shot and sounding more or less exactly like this one: she stands, feet planted, and belts pep songs in medium closeup. Young Judy hasn't quite mastered lip synching yet, but already one of her defining features shines: she looks like she's having a hell of a lot of fun performing.
Monday
Jan112016

Baz's The Get Down Gets A Trailer

Manuel here. Can it be possible that it’s taken us this long to talk at length about the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Netflix series The Get Down? I guess we’ve been busy, what with writing up our year end review, following all the precursors (including last night’s Golden Globes), counting down the shortlisted docs, and of course, obsessing over who’ll be nominated this Thursday. Well, let’s remedy that because nothing will cleanse your palate from the always fun/frustrating gamble of Oscar predictions than some flashy Baz.

All I really needed to know about The Get Down was that it comes from, as the trailer below states, the Australian “visionary director.” Even when his films don’t quite hit the mark (see Australia, The Great Gatsby) they are never nothing short of fascinating and as his Fitzgerald and Shakespeare adaptations show, few directors can match his cinematic vibrancy when it comes to using music to infuse his own storytelling.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan062016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Land of Let's Pretend"

Judy at 8. In just ten years time she'll have a mini "Juvenile" Oscar!Editor's Note: With Anne-Marie in grad school we're taking it easier on her for 2016. After her invaluable deep dives into Katharine Hepburn with "A Year With Kate" and female directors in "Women's Pictures" something much shorter but reliably tuneful for you each Wednesday morning in '16: Judy Garland numbers! 

Anne Marie returning to you. Welcome to a new series exploring Judy Garland through the music she made famous and the songs that made her a star. Before she was Judy Garland, Frances "Baby" Gumm was the youngest of a three sister Vaudeville act. The child of Vaudeville performers, a family story states that she made her stage debut at 30 months singing "Jingle Bells." She was so entranced by the footlights that her father had to remove her after she sang the song - 7 times.

The Movie: "Bubbles" (Vitaphone Short, 1929 or 1930)
The Songwriters: Harry Akst (Music) and Grant Clark (Lyrics)
The Players: The Gumm Sisters, directed by Roy Mack

The Story: "Bubbles" is close to Frances Gumm's film debut; she and her sisters made a series of Vitaphone shorts for Warner Brothers. Though she's just 8 years old, it's already clear that there's something about young Frances - the short one on the right who mugs to a spot right of camera during her brief closeup. At the moment, that "something" is a big smile and an equally big (if tinny) voice. But such small stuff is what stars are moulded from.

Thursday
Dec032015

THE WIZ LIVE! Live Blog with Anne Marie and Margaret

MARGARET: Good evening, Kansans and citizens of Oz! Margaret here with Anne Marie, ready and excited to ease on into NBC's The Wiz Live! 

ANNE MARIE: Last year Margaret and I re-capped that musical where Christopher Walken kinda sang a little bit, to the joy of few and the dismay of many. HOWEVER, this year The Wiz Live! looks like everything we ever wanted and more! The live-blog begins after the jump!

Click to read more ...

Monday
Nov232015

Remember Jesse L Martin's "I'll Cover You"

Ten years ago today the quickly forgotten film version of Rent (2005) premiered in movie theaters. At the time Rent had been a visceral sensation on stage for nearly a decade and was just a few years short of closing its nearly $300 million grossing Broadway run. Let's just say the movie didn't have a prayer of measuring up, even financially, grossing only $31 million worldwide in theaters. Rent (the movie!) was a dubiously near-perfect example of all the things that can go wrong with movie musicals and despite many other films teaching Hollywood the same exact not-all-that-complicated lessons, Hollywood is still having trouble learning.

You nearly always need these three things: visually stylish directors who also understand storytelling within the musical idiom (it's not an easy thing to move from the abstract friendly medium of the stage to the usually literal medium of the cinema); sly confident casting and gifted performers (transferring entire Broadway casts absolutely won't do. And neither will its opposite, replacing them all with "names" whether or not they can sing and dance. Why? Both strategies just reek of insecurity); and, finally, the right blend of zealous passion and merciless intelligence from the filmmaker since musicals are complicated and needy and fragile and they tend to come with a tricky but essential mix of artifice and sincerity. 

Of course Rent had it's own problems apart from failing to meet those three essentials. It is also a story wherein New York City is as much a leading character as Roger, Mark or Mimi. In the abstract friendly environments of the theater, a simple flourish like a fire escape can represent and entire teeming city with millions of stories in it with ease. If you try to fake New York City in the movies without a stylized visual approach, it just going to look cheap and weak.

But for all of its problems Rent (2005) did give us Jesse L Martin singing onscreen and for that we'll always be grateful. I mean, just listen to his superbly emotive instrument.

A couple of years ago Martin was supposed to headline a biopic about Marvin Gaye and though his casting was inspired financing fell through somewhere along the production phase so the movie seems like one of those phantom features now, caught somewhere between development hell and actual existence. Other roles for Martin just haven't satisfied his musical fans. The much missed Smash (RIP) did a lot of things wrong in its two seasons as a network musical but one of its true unforgiveable sins was actually giving Jesse L Martin a job IN A MUSICAL and then denying the audience that voice. (We keep waiting for The Flash to have a meta-human musical episode since a hefty percentage of its principle cast comes with gorgeous pipes and real musical theater cred.)

Did you ever see Rent on stage? If not do you have any strong memories of the movie?

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