Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the film musical: just for the fun of it

Last October, my wife and I trekked to the Papermill Playhouse in cozy Millburn, New Jersey to see the stage musical version of  Andrew Bergman's 1992 film comedy, "Honeymoon in Vegas," entirely motivated by Ben Brantley’s enthusiastic review in The New York Times.

I could barely remember the film (except for the bit with The Flying Elvises), but the production promised songs by the estimable Jason Robert Brown, who wrote the scores for the much-admired cult musical, "Parade," and the then-imminent "The Bridges of Madison County."

Anyway, the encounter was sheer bliss - and a reminder of exactly what's been missing from musicals both on-screen and on stage.  It came to me that the light, fluffy musical - the musical comedy - was long gone, replaced by sober, serious fare in which characters suffer to songs that can't hummed. I'm thinking specifically of "Dreamgirls" and "Les Misérables," shows that decidedly do not invite toe-tapping.

With a cast headed by Tony Danza (in the James Caan role) and terrific newcomers Rob McClure and Brynn O’Malley (standing in for Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker), "Honeymoon in Vegas" was a throwback to joys of "Bye Bye Birdie" (the stage production, not the infantilized 1963 film) and "Bells Are Ringing" (both the play and film), musicals that made you feel good.  We've had only two film musicals of that sort in recent years - Adam Shankman's "Hairspray" and Phyllida Lloyd's "Mamma Mia!"

Typically, the critics complained.  The miserables, indeed.

Note in Passing:  There's been no word about the retro "Honeymoon in Vegas" opening on Broadway so far, but with Ben Brantley behind it, I'd say that it's future is fairly certain.  I can't wait to see it again.


Alex said...

I absolutely detested the film of "Dreamgirls." Extremely unpleasant. Which seems to be the antithesis of what a musical is all about. So we're on the same page on this topic.

joe baltake said...

I had a friend who did PR for the film when it opened and who complained to me, "I don't like having mediocre songs shouted at me for two hours." He nailed it.

Carol said...

I'm afraid that most people, particularly those who don't like musicals, think musicals have to be serious, and have a message, to be of any worth, worthy of their time. They clearly don't understand musicals when they complain about characters being so happy (or sad) that they just burst into song. I find it rather liberating.

joe baltake said...

What's odd, Carol, is that these people who like only serious film musicals ("West Side Story," "Cabaret," "Les Miz") are the first to name the frivolous "Singin' in the Rain" as the best movie musical ever and carp about Hollywood not being able to reproduce it. Rather contradictory. You're right - they clearly don't understand/appreciate the genre.

wwolfe said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that the two recent examples of movies that were musical comedies, "Mama Mia" and "Hairspray," were both hits. A large segment of the public enjoys this genre, even if the studio executives don't understand that's true.

joe baltake said...

Bill: Amen. You said it all. Yes, the public gets fun musicals in a way that studio people don't. The fact is, the studios make the kind of movies that interest the higher-ups there and then they use "audience research" to validate their decision to make yet another redundant superhero movie. At this point, they've trained the public to attend - at least for the first week. But these movies always fall off drastically after the first week.