Posts Categorized: Mova

Rodgers and Hammerstein Take on the Movies – A Full R&H Movie History

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This Sunday’s Curtain Call @ MOVA Lounge DC pays tribute to what is arguably the most prolific songwriting team in American musical theater history: Rodgers & Hammerstein. Particular attention is paid to the 6 screen adaptations of their most famous works, from OKLAHOMA! (1955) to THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). During this 10 year span, the tunesmiths had their creations showcased on motion screens all over the world.
OKLAHOMA! was produced by Rodgers & Hammerstein themselves. They did not trust their “baby” to Hollywood. In fact, to guarantee a faithful stage-to-screen adaptation, the team enlisted the talents of those who had contributed to the Broadway hit: choreographer Agnes de Mille, art director Oliver Smith, orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett, and conductor Jay Blackton. Because Rodgers & Hammerstein were by then household names and the title equally famous, they did not have to solicit big stars to add luster (and expense) to the marquee. On location filming near Nogales, Arizona (because it was more photogenic than 20th century Oklahoma) and the decision to basically film each scene twice – once in 70mm TODD-AO and once again in 35mm CinemaScope– had already guaranteed this was the most expensive film musical up to that time. OKLAHOMA! also had the distinction as the first film musical to be distributed as a prestigious “road show,” one-theater-per city, at advanced prices, with just one screening per night (twice daily on matinee days), all seats reserved. Watch Gordon MacRae entice co-star Shirley Jones about “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top”:

Rodgers & Hammerstein left production chores to 20th Century-Fox for their next film outing: CAROUSEL (1956). Frank Sinatra had been signed to play the lead, but he left the production early on. Star Shirley Jones once remarked her portrayal as Julie Bigelow would have benefited dramatically had she played opposite Sinatra. Seen today, the film suffers from poorly matched location shots and those obviously studio bound sets, often in the very same scene. However, this movie greatly benefits from what is arguably Rodgers & Hammerstein’s best score, and it was Rodgers’s personal favorite. One of the most popular musical number from the film was “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” shot entirely in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, as seen here:

THE KING AND I (1956), released just months after CAROUSEL, was personally produced by 20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck . Starring Deborah Kerr and reprising his Broadway triumph as the King of Siam, Yul Brynner, the production benefited from the stellar performances of its charismatic leads, a handsome production design, and superb musical direction by Alfred Newman. Brynner collected a Best Actor Academy Award and created a trend: many young men at the time shaved their heads after having seen THE KING AND I. Watch Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner in a brief clip from the movie.

Rodgers & Hammerstein returned to film producing for a final time, 1958’s SOUTH PACIFIC. Starring Italian actor Rozanno Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor, the film was 1958’s most popular. Like OKLAHOMA!, it was initially distributed on a “road show” basis in TODD-AO before it was broadly released later in standard 35mm Panavision. Watch several songs from SOUTH PACIFIC here, including “Bloody Mary,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “Happy Talk,” “My Girl Back Home,” and “Carefully Taught” here:

I once thought the film version of SOUTH PACIFIC was overproduced, with its garish, distracting color filters used in its musical numbers, until I watched the Glenn Close vanity production. This SOUTH PACIFIC television version suffers greatly from miscasting: Close was far too old and sophisticated to portray provincial Little Rock-born Nellie Forbush. When she sings “Cockeyed-Optimist,” it is not very convincing. The dramatic tension Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan had created on stage and adapted in the film version between the naïve, racist navy nurse and French born island plantation owner was absent here. Only Harry Connick Jr. as Lt. Joe Cable was adequate.
1961’s FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961) was the first big-budget film to feature an all-Asian cast. Set against the backdrop of contemporary San Francisco, the film stressed the tension between the old and young generations (“The Other Generation”) and the Old World versus the New (“Chop Suey”). This movie faced formidable competition from the multi-Oscar-winning “West Side Story” that year but was a mildly popular success. Watch Nancy Kwan sing about San Francisco’s wondrous “Grant Avenue”:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC was the most financially successful film adaptation of all Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. No one can deny its popularity. Premiering March 2, 1965, it was not withdrawn from its first release until Labor Day, 1969 over 4 years later. It was not unusual for the film to have runs lasting a year or more in major markets, and in Washington, DC, THE SOUND OF MUSIC had an exclusive run at the Ontario Theater for 97 weeks on a reserved-seat basis. Extravagantly underestimated by the critics, who took perverse delight in tearing it to shreds due to its “sugary” sentiment, the movie lured people again and again. Repeat business was phenomenal. It collected 5 Academy Awards including “Best Picture,” impressive when factoring its major Oscar competition, epic blockbuster “Doctor Zhivago.” Watch Peggy Wood as The Mother Abbess counsel Maria (Julie Andrews), singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”:

Magic To Do: Tribute to the Talents of Bob Fosse

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This Sunday Evening, November 11, 2012, Curtain Call Sing-Along @ MOVA Lounge DC presents “Magic to Do“, a tribute to Master Director-Choreographer Bob Fosse.  Here is a preview from VJ Jonathan Large.

Fosse was larger than life in many respects: creative, innovative and he burned the candle at both ends. Fosse’s jazz-ish dance style was “instantly recognizable, exuding a stylized, cynical sexuality.” Other trademarks included the use of turned-in-knees, sideways shuffling, and rolled shoulders (in a television interview, Fosse explained his shoulders were rounded; rolled shoulders were a way to distract this physical characteristic). Gloved hands were another Fosse trademark because he did not like his hands. Hats: Fosse was self-conscious of his early male pattern baldness so he clad his dancers with hats according to Fosse biographer Martin Gottfried.

The first number, “Magic to Do” is from the Broadway musical PIPPIN, featuring Ben Vereen with music by Stephen Schwartz. Fosse was awarded with a Tony in 1973 for PIPPIN (also in 1973, he won an Academy Award for CABARET and an Emmy for LIZA WITH A Z, the first person to win these awards the same year). Reportedly, Fosse was less than impressed with Schwartz’s score and rewrote the book. Critics lauded Fosse’s staging and were polite at best when mentioning the score.

Cole Porter’s KISS ME KATE, a Broadway musical retelling of Shakespeare’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, features an early Bob Fosse in a number not from the stage production, “From This Moment On”. Reviewed decades later by a New York Times critic for a then recent movie revival: “His big number, from ‘This Moment On,’ has the irrespirable sparkle of history being made on screen,” that Fosse capitalized his “liabilities – pigeon-toed gait sunken chest, stooped shoulders – and turn them into the loops of an original signature . . . Fosse provided the nascent artistry of a boy genius working out his ideas right in front of you.”

1957’s THE PAJAMA GAME featured Fosse’s volcanic choreography in several numbers, including “Seven and a Half Cents,” “Steam Heat,” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” featuring the show’s Broadway lead, Carole Haney. Fosse was partnered on screen with wife Gwen Verdon in 1958’s DAMN YANKEES in the mambo dance number “Who’s Got the Pain.” He had choreographed this number for both stage and on screen.

SWEET CHARITY was a vehicle for Gwen Verdon on Broadway in 1966, but the Universal preferred Shirley MacLaine for its film version. The movie provided Fosse the opportunity to direct as well as choreograph for the first time. One of the most popular numbers in the film is “Rich Man’s Frug,” featuring once again Fosse favorite Ben Vereen and taking place at a swank Manhattan night club. The film was released as a “road show” attraction in March 1969 but failed to recoup its investment. MacLaine’s performance as a taxi dancer in a seedy Manhattan dance hall was Oscar nominated, but many critics at the time deemed Fosse’s direction as self-indulgent.

This is not the version Jonathan picked out, I liked this live version from 1966 more.

The critics changed their tune a few years later, however, regarding Fosse’s brilliant cinematic adaptation of Broadway’s CABARET. Fosse completely reworked the play for film, eliminating all the integrated “book” songs from the score. All musical numbers would be performed at Berlin’s Kit Kat Club cabaret – including the composed for movie “Mein Herr” (exception: the chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” takes place out of doors at an impromptu Nazi rally). Stars Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey were rewarded with Oscars, as was Best Director Fosse. He faced formidable competition from “The Godfather” and its director, Francis Ford Coppola in the Oscar race.

LIZA WITH A Z, starring Liza Minnelli, features all the aforementioned Fosse trademarks – gloves, hats, rolled shoulders, etc. “Ring Them Bells” was one of the most memorable musical numbers in this television special and was a popular and critical smash.

CHICAGO opened in June 1975. It featured another Kander and Ebb (CABARET) score, stars Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach – and direction and choreography by Bob Fosse. Watch Jerry Orbach and chorus from the original production perform “All I Care About.” CHICAGO was nominated for several Tony Awards but was shut out by another landmark musical that season: A CHORUS LINE. However, CHICAGO would take on a new life with its still-running revival and a very popular Oscar-winning film adaptation.

Fosse’s last screen appearance was as “The Snake” in the Lerner and Loewe screen adaptation of Antoine de Saint- Exupery’s THE LITTLE PRINCE. The 1974 film was such a flop that its studio, Paramount, yanked the film from distribution after only a few weeks. However, the film not only featured Fosse but other Broadway luminaries, Richard (MAN OF LA MANCHA) Kiley and Donna (A CHORUS LINE, COMPANY) McKechnie, as well as Gene Wilder. Nonetheless, Fosse’s number, “A Snake in the Grass,” is a tour-de-force. Watch closely, and you will discover the source material for several Michael Jackson videos.

Wedding Themed Showtunes You May Not Have Heard Of

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For a very long time, musical theater composers have visited – and revisited – the subject of marriage. This week’s “Curtains,” Sunday Showtunes at Mova Lounge, highlights marriage, its highs and lows with 7 songs relating to marriage, from composer Stephen Sondheim’s caustic take on the institution (“Not Getting Married Today”) to a joyful wedding reception (“Flash! Bang! Wallop!) in the underrated “Half A Sixpence.”

The first song, the wistful “If Mama Was Married” by Jule Styne and Sondheim from the musical “Gypsy,” is sung by Mama Rose’s two daughters, Dainty June and Louise. They wish for normalcy, a home to call their own, and, as June sings, “and for once and for all to get Mama out of my hair.” Yes, kids don’t want mothers controlling their lives, not then and not now, and Mama Rose was perhaps the most infamous Stage Mother of all time. Rose’s marriage to Herbie, their stage manager, would solve all their problems.

After his partnerships with Leonard Bernstein (“West Side Story”) and Julie Styne (“Gypsy”), Sondheim became a force to be reckoned as a double threat: lyricist and composer. After his first hit, “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum,” followed by his unsuccessful “Anyone Can Whistle,” Sondheim acquitted himself quite nicely with his landmark “Company,” often noted as one of the first so-called “Concept” musicals. “Not Getting Married Today,” one of but many memorable songs from its score features an insecure bride-to-be, her mother and the groom. This version is from a Sondheim concert is performed by the incomparable Madeline Kahn, as seen here:

“His Love Makes Me Beautiful” from the screen version of “Funny Girl” is an amusing take about a bride (Barbra Streisand, in an auspicious Oscar-winning debut) who is “in the family way.” Against a lavish Ziegfeld Follies backdrop with beautiful, scantily dressed chorus girls, Streisand’s expert comic delivery (we all know she has the vocal chops) makes this number a true show stopper.

A popular number from the celebrated “My Fair Lady,” “Get Me to the Church On Time” is performed by Stanley Holloway who originated the role as Alfred P. Doolittle both on Broadway and in the West End. Watch here as Doolittle and his cronies make a night long pub crawl in the memorable “Get Me to the Church on Time” by Lerner and Loewe:

A standard at weddings for years, “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof needs little introduction. Its universal themes of parenthood, childhood and the life cycle transcend mere musical theater. Director Norman Jewison exacted sensitive portrayals from all concerned. The music is adapted and arranged by Oscar winning John Williams. Watch it here:

“Trinkt le Chiam,”another Jewish Wedding Song was composed especially 1967’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” I have included it here for the sole reason because Julie Andrews – yes, that Julie Andrews, sings Yiddish! Her clipped English diction works marvelously here. Yes, a Brit sing Yiddish, and it has to be seen (and heard!) to be believed!

As a finale to the marriage theme, what could be more appropriate than a wedding reception? “Flash! Bang! Wallop!,” performed by star Tommy Steele and chorus, provide a veddy British rousing romp. Excitingly choreographed by Gillian Lynne, who would go on to stage “Cats,” “Half A Sixpence” was little seen in the U.S. but scored a box office triumph in its native England.

These are just a handful of magical musical numbers which await you at “Curtains,” Sunday Showtunes from 5 to 9 at Mova Lounge, 2204 14th Street NW (between W Street NW & Florida Avenue NW – U Street is the closest Metro station). Note that all clips are obtained from the best possible source, many of which are subtitled so you and your pals can sing-along!