Musicals Essay, Research Paper

As soon as movies learned to talk, they began to sing. In 1926, Warner Brothers released the short film April Showers, with Al Jolson singing a trio of songs. Jolson then starred in two silent features that included sound sequences in which he sang and spoke: The Jazz Singer (1927) and The Singing Fool (1928). By 1929, the first "all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing" musical was released: Broadway Melody, with a score by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. Produced by MGM, the studio that would dominate the genre, this backstage musical set a pattern by introducing the formula of an understudy becoming a star when she replaces the ailing lead. Several directors of early musicals were remarkably inventive at integrating sound and music into their narratives: King Vidor in his look at black life in the South, Hallelujah (1929); Ernst Lubitsch and his sophisticated comic musicals, The Love Parade (1929) and Monte Carlo (1930), both starring Jeanette MacDonald; France's Ren? Clair, with his delightful satires of contemporary life Sous Les Toits De Paris (1930), Le Million (1931), and ? Nous La Libert? (1931); and Rouben Mamoulian and his Lubitsch-inspired Love Me Tonight (1932), also starring Jeanette MacDonald. Other musicals of the period were more theatrical in nature, from outright revues (MGM's Hollywood Revue of 1929, 1929; Universal's King Of Jazz, 1930; Paramount On Parade, 1930) to star vehicles such as Al Jolson in Say It With Songs (1929) and Mammy (1930) and Eddie Cantor in Whoopee! (1930) and Palmy Days (1931). Those Cantor films introduced choreographer Busby Berkeley. In the early '30s, with the mighty technical resources of Warner Brothers at his disposal, he staged extravagant, purely cinematic production numbers with hordes of precision dancers, often filmed from unusual angles for breathtaking kaleidoscopic effects. As comfortable with elaborate long takes as he was with rapid editing, always ready to introduce strains of humor or sexual innuendo, Berkeley permanently transformed the notion of what a musical could be. The Depression-era audiences delighted in his work — and in the singing and dancing of stars Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler — in the classic musicals 42nd Street (1933), Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933), Footlight Parade (1933), and Dames (1934). The year 1933 also saw the first teaming of two dancers who made an indelible impact on the musical: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Supporting players in the RKO release Flying Down To Rio, they attracted enough attention to get their own starring vehicle, The Gay Divorcee (1934), directed by Mark Sandrich. A series of beloved RKO films followed: Roberta (1935), scored by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbac; Top Hat (1935) and Follow The Fleet (1936), both scored by Irving Berlin and directed by Sandrich; Swing Time (1936), scored by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields and directed by George Stevens; and the Sandrich films Shall We Dance (1937), scored by George Gershwin, and Carefree (1938), scored by Irving Berlin. Working with choreographer Hermes Pan, Astaire and Rogers performed amazingly virtuoso routines with seeming effortlessness. Both were also fine singers and skilled actors and could project elegant sophistication as persuasively as they could an endearing realness and warmth. In Big Broadcast (1932), singer Bing Crosby had his first starring role in a feature film, and his natural, laid-back style helped change the face of American popular music. Crosby crooned in numerous '30s musicals, most notably Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Mississippi (1935), with W.C. Fields; Cole Porter's Anything Goes (1936), directed by Lewis Milestone; and Double Or Nothing (1937). A duo of singers who also captured the public imagination, despite being polar opposites to Crosby's style, were Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The pair enjoyed great success with heavily revised adaptations of operettas such as Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta (1935), Rudolf Friml's Rose Marie (1936), and Sigmund Romberg's Maytime (1937). The mid '30s also saw the introduction of Judy Garland, perhaps the finest singer and actress ever to appear in American musicals. Premiering at age 13 in the MGM short Every Sunday (1935), she went on to perform in numerous successful musicals for the studio, including Broadway Melody Of 1938 (1937) and Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937, the first of her nine appearances with Mickey Rooney). By the end of the decade, she secured stardom playing Dorothy Gale, the girl transported from Kansas to the magical Oz, in the classic fantasy The Wizard Of Oz (1939), scored by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Other important musicals of the 1930s include One Hour With You (1932) and Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow (1934), both directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald; Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper (1931, aka The Threepenny Opera), directed by G.W. Pabst; Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat (1936), directed by James Whale; and Fred Astaire in A Damsel In Distress (1937), scored by George Gershwin and directed by George Stevens. Busby Berkeley branched out into directing, most notably with Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935), starring Dick Powell and Babes In Arms (1939), with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Walt Disney's first animated feature, Snow White And The Seven Dwarves (1938), combined humor, pathos, thrills, and songs in a formula that the Disney studios would continue to mine for over 60 years. Musical stars worked constantly in the years of World War II. Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy made their final appearances together in Noel Coward's Bitter Sweet (1940) and Rodgers and Hart's I Married An Angel (1942). Disney's song-filled animation produced major hits with Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). Bing Crosby teamed with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour for the first entries in their tuneful series of Road comedies, Road To Singapore (1940), Road To Zanzibar (1941), and Road To Morocco (1942); Crosby also won an Academy Award as "Best Actor" for his role as a singing priest in Leo McCarey's touching Going My Way (1944). Fred Astaire continued to do first-rate work: Cole Porter's Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940); Porter's You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and Jerome Kern and Johhny Mercer's You Were Never Lovelier (1942), both co-starring Rita Hayworth (a superb dancer but a non-singer whose songs were always dubbed); and Holiday Inn (1942) and Blue Skies (1946), both scored by Irving Berlin and co-starring Bing Crosby. Busby Berkeley directed Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in Strike Up The Band (1940) and Babes On Broadway (1942). Both films featured dances staged by Broadway director Vincente Minnelli, who quickly graduated to directing at MGM with Cabin In The Sky (1943), an all-black musical featuring Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. Minnelli's genius for the musical was revealed with one of the genre's classics: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), a nostalgic piece of Americana scored by Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin and starring Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien. The early '40s also launched the careers of some of the most beloved performers ever to appear in musicals. The delightful Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda, who made her American film premiere in Down Argentine Way (1940), enlivened numerous '40s musicals with her bouncy, rhythmic songs and colorful, fruit-laden costumes, most notably in Springtime In The Rockies (1942) and director Busby Berkeley's The Gang's All Here (1943). Big-band singer Frank Sinatra began starring in musicals with Higher And Higher (1943) and Step Lively (1944). Broadway's Gene Kelly made his film debut in For Me And My Gal (1942), directed by Berkeley and co-starring Judy Garland. A charismatic actor and singer and a brilliant dancer, Kelly went to on to star in Cole Porter's Du Barry Was A Lady (1943); Thousands Cheer (1943), with Judy Garland, and Cover Girl (1944), with Rita Hayworth. Many tuneful biopics were also made in the 1940s, most notably Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), directed by Michael Curtiz, with James Cagney as composer/performer George M. Cohan, and The Jolson Story (1946) and its sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949), both with Larry Parks as Al Jolson (and Jolson himself dubbing in the vocals). Less impressive were the flurry of whitewash biographies of songwriters: Rhapsody In Blue (1946), with Robert Alda as George Gershwin; Night And Day (1946), with Cary Grant as Cole Porter; Till The Cluds Roll By (1946), with Robert Walker as Jerome Kern; Words And Music (1948) with Gene Kelly and Mickey Rooney as Rodgers and Hart; and Three Little Words (1950), with Fred Astaire and Red Skelton as Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. The most striking musicals of the late 1940s were Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer (1946), directed by Otto Preminger; Billy Wilder's The Emperor Waltz (1948), starring Bing Crosby; Summer Holiday (1948), directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Mickey Rooney; Cole Porter's The Pirate (1948), directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland; Yolanda And The Thief (1945), starring Fred Astaire, and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), with Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland, both directed by Minnelli; and Busby Berkeley's final effort as a director, Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949), starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. That film was choreographed by Stanley Donen, who had worked often with Kelly in theater and films. The two began directing and choreographing films as a team, starting with Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein's On The Town (1949). Their next collaboration was the classic Singin' In The Rain (1952), a satire of Hollywood in the early days of sound, in which Kelly co-starred with Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. Several handsome adaptations of successful Broadway musicals were made in the 1950s. George Sidney directed Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat (1951), and Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate (1953). Ethel Merman starred in two Irving Berlin hits, Call Me Madam (1953) and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). Vincente Minnelli directed Gene Kelly in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Brigadoon (1954), and Howard Keel in Kismet (1955). Rodgers and Hammerstein came to the screen with Oklahoma! (1955), directed by Fred Zinnemann; The King And I (1956); and South Pacific (1958), directed by Joshua Logan. Frank Sinatra starred in Frank Loesser's Guys And Dolls (1955), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey (1957), with Rita Hayworth. Directors George Abbott and Stanley Donen teamed up for The Pajama Game (1957), starring Doris Day, and Damn Yankees (1958), both choreographed by Bob Fosse. Most fondly remembered from this period, however, are the original film musicals. Despite studio interference, director George Cukor and writer Moss Hart made one of the genre's classics with A Star Is Born (1954), giving Judy Garland the role of her career as a singer who becomes a star, while her husband, an alcoholic actor (movingly played by James Mason), descends into failure. Stanley Donen directed two memorable films, the exhilarating Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) and the Gershwin-scored Funny Face (1957), starring Fred Astaire. Donen also had his final collaboration with Gene Kelly in It's Always Fair Weather (1955); Kelly went on to direct the ambitious Invitation To The Dance (1956). Doris Day gave outstanding performances in Calamity Jane (1953) and Love Me Or Leave Me (1955), with James Cagney. Cole Porter turned two popular films into musicals: High Society (1956), based on The Philadelphia Story, starring Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, and Silk Stockings (1957), based on Ninotchka, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Producer Stanley Kramer teamed up with children's author Dr. Seuss for the delightful fantasy The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T. (1953). Disney released the hit animated musicals Cinderella (1950), Peter Pan (1953), and Lady And The Tramp (1955). Vincente Minnelli continued to direct landmark musicals: the Gershwin-scored An American In Paris (1951), starring Gene Kelly; The Band Wagon (1953), with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse; and Lerner and Loewe's Gigi (1958), with Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier. The '50s also saw several tuneful biopics of big-band artists: The Glenn Miller Story (1954), The Benny Goodman Story (1954), The Gene Krupa Story (1959). But swing music was on the way out, being supplanted by a new popular music of increasing importance to young people: rock and roll. In 1956, two low-budget films ushered in the rock musical: Rock Around The Clock, with Bill Haley and the Comets, and the band-laden Rock, Rock, Rock!. That same year, Elvis Presley appeared in Love Me Tender, and the 21-year-old singer became the sub-genre's reigning box-office star. He went on to star in his best work, Loving You (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and King Creole (1958). After a brief stint in the Army, he returned to movies, starring in 27 films over the '60s, most notably It Happened At The World's Fair (1963) and Viva Las Vegas (1964). Other rock musicals of the 1960s include the Dave Clark Five in Catch Us If You Can (1965, aka Having A Wild Weekend), directed by John Boorman; Sonny and Cher in Good Times (1967), directed by William Friedkin; Roy Orbison in The Fastest Guitar Alive (1968); and Bob Rafelson's Head (1968), starring The Monkees. The rock-concert documentary produced such major works as Monterey Pop (1969), with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back (1967), with Bob Dylan. The landmark rock musicals of the decade were two hit films directed by Richard Lester and starring The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965) combined humor, speed, and outstanding songs in a blend that remains irresistible to this day. As the rock musical gathered steam in the '60s, the most illustrious artists of the show musical ended their careers. Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby had their last singing roles in Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen's Robin And The Seven Hoods (1964). Busby Berkeley choreographed his final film with Rodgers and Hart's Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962). Judy Garland made her farewell appearance in I Could Go On Singing (1963). Fred Astaire hung up his dancing shoes after making Finian's Rainbow (1968) for director Francis Coppola. The torch passed to capable but fewer hands. Barbra Streisand debuted in director William Wyler's adaptation of her stage triumph, Funny Girl (1968). Julie Andrews was introduced with two major hits: Walt Disney's Mary Poppins (1964) and Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound Of Music (1965), directed by Robert Wise Choreographer Bob Fosse began directing with the inauspicious Sweet Charity (1969), starring Shirley MacLaine. The 1960s marked the last decade of successful adaptations of Broadway musicals, with such memorable films as Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady (1964), directed by George Cukor; Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheims West Side Story (1961), directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins; Bye Bye Birdie (1963), starring Ann-Margret; Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966), directed by Richard Lester; Frank Loesser's How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967), choreographed by Bob Fosse; and Lionel Bart's Oliver! (1968), directed by Carol Reed. By the end of the decade, this trend was faltering, thanks to expensive flops such as Hello Dolly! (1969), directed by Gene Kelly and starring Barbra Streisand, and Lerner and Loewe's Paint Your Wagon (1969), directed by Joshua Logan. Virtually all the subsequent show-musical adaptations failed to impress, artistically or financially. The debacles include Vincente Minnelli's last musical, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), starring Barbra Streisand; producer/director Norman Jewison's Fiddler On The Roof (1971) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973); Man Of La Mancha (1972), directed by Arthur Hiller; Mame (1974), starring Lucile Ball; The Wiz (1978), directed by Sidney Lumet; Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music (1978), directed by Harold Prince; Hair (1979), directed by Milos Forman; Annie (1982), directed by John Huston; and A Chorus Line (1985), directed by Richard Attenborough. The only unqualified success was John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret (1972), directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse; this stylish, moving film made a star of Liza Minnelli, the daughter of Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland. Original show musicals also fared badly in the '70s. Notorious flops include Blake Edwards' Darling Lili (1970); Lost Horizon (1973), with a score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Lerner and Loewe's The Little Prince (1974), directed by Stanley Donen; and Peter Bogdanovich's Cole Porter pastiche At Long Last Love (1975). Once again, Bob Fosse scored a lone triumph with his autobiographical All That Jazz(1979). Two stylish and ambitious musicals ran afoul of studio editing: Ken Russell's Busby Berkeley-inspired version of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend (1971), and Martin Scorsese's New York, New York (1977), with a Kander and Ebb score and stars Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro. Rock musicals in the 1970s showed more vigor and originality, most notably Ken Russell's striking adaptation of The Who's rock opera Tommy (1975), starring Ann-Margret. Other memorable films include Brian De Palma's horror comedy Phantom Of The Paradise (1974), scored by Paul Williams; the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975); Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in Frank Pierson's version of A Star Is Born (1976); Bob Dylan's Renaldo And Clara (1978); Grease (1978), starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John; and Rock 'N' Roll High School (1979), with The Ramones. Rock-concert films include Gimme Shelter (1970), with The Rolling Stones; The Kids Are Alright (1979), with The Who; and Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps (1979). The landmark documentaries, however, were Woodstock (1970), highlighting the epochal three-day rock festival of 1969, and The Last Waltz (1978), director Martin Scorsese's account of The Band's star-studded farewell concert. Popular '80s musicals include Fame (1980), directed by Alan Parker; Footloose (1982), directed by Herbert Ross; Flashdance (1983), directed by Adrian Lyne; and Purple Rain (1984), starring Prince. Most other genre efforts failed to attract audiences. Francis Coppola showed tremendous flair for the genre with two stylish musicals that were box-office flops: One From The Heart (1982), with songs by Tom Waits, and The Cotton Club (1984). Other original '80s musicals that sank without a trace include Xanadu (1980), starring Gene Kelly; Paul McCartney's Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984); Carl Reiner's Bert Rigby, You're A Fool (1989), starring Robert Lindsay; and director Robert Wise's Rooftops (1989). More successful were two musicals in which women impersonated men: Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria (1982), starring Julie Andrews, and Barbra Streisand's Yentl (1983), scored by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand. The 1990s saw little life in the musical, especially after costly fiascoes such as For The Boys (1991), starring Bette Midler, and Newsies (1992), with Ann-Margret. Biographies of rock stars Jim Morrison (Oliver Stone's The Doors, 1991) and Tina Turner (What's Love Got To Do With It, 1993) fared better, as did director Alan Parker's look at an Irish band specializing in '60s soul music, The Commitments (1991). But the contemporary musical's only real success story has been the Disney studios' animated features The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty And The Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). Perhaps their success will provide the incentive for human beings to appear onscreen and once again sing and dance their way into America's heart.


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