Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Musicals

I went to see the film Les Miserables on Sunday For some reason I can't quite get to the bottom of, I've scorned the show in the past, on the basis of very little knowledge. I think I probably scorn most modern musicals (I use "modern" in a relative sense) whilst adoring the output of Rodgers and Hammerstein/Lerner and Loewe/Kander and Ebb. So - what do I scorn? Definitely the Andrew Lloyd Webber oeuvre. Oh - except for Jesus Christ Superstar which I saw on stage in the 70s at a very impressionable age, fresh from the convent. Dear heavens, my socks were quite knocked off. And I quite liked Evita. I saw that with David Essex as Che... Sorry, lost concentration there for a minute.


OK - I'm back. Did you see That'll Be The Day and Stardust? I suspect they were dreadful films and I would be appalled today at the sexism, for one thing, but the soundtracks - oh the soundtracks! I still have the double albums. Dear old Ronco...












Where was I? Oh yes, musicals. I'm still trying to pin down what makes a good one for me. Cracking songs, obviously (and this does not mean taking one tune and fiddling about with it for the rest of the show - you know who I'm talking to) but also a tightness about the structure, a progression in the songs, a sense of being in the hands of experts - one can rely on the next song being the right one for the job. And I like a crisp delineation between speaking and singing. I'm tremendously fond of Gilbert and Sullivan and always have been. As a child I used to go and see a local G&S society perform (and later joined them, but that's another story) and my memory of my experience goes something like:

blah blah blah SONG!!!! blah blah blah blah SONG!!!! blah blah blah SONG!!!! etc...

When I was older I appreciated the dialogue more, but as a child I just wanted those people on the stage to get on and SING!!!

And Les Mis? Well, it wasn't tight, there was no crisp dialogue/song delineation, I didn't feel entirely in the hands of experts and I'm not sure about the song progression, but by golly I enjoyed it! Tremendously stirring stuff. To the barricades, citizens!* 



*sorry about the clip, but all of the current film ones are very poor and this was the least unbearable.

Thanks for popping in - do visit the comments salon before you you leave. Do you like the tricolours? Knitting allowed - just ask Mme Desfarge if you get stuck.

PS I've realised that I've overlooked the masterly Stephen Sondheim, whom I would categorise as "modern" but certainly not scorn. Sigh.

18 comments:

  1. Phew... I'm glad SS made it in at the end there, or I would have had to send your whole paper back for a rethink!

    Otherwise, I'm almost fully in support of many of your meanderings (though I have a regrettable lacuna into which That'll be the Day and Stardust both fall), and I must add one ALW exception to your - absolutely correct, I adore the 70s filmed version - JCS one, and that's Cats.

    Lyricist, TSE - genius, original London version (seen onstage three times through my impressionable child/teen years) raw, exciting, dynamic and completely fresh in a way the later incarnations esp. US were really not - it became smug, self-satisfied, over-financed... Bustopher Jones to its earlier Macavity.

    (Astounding comparison available on youtube - there are only tiny, very poor clips of the original... the costumes and make-up are scrappy but the visceral excitement is palpable, the dancing is raw and vital, the tempi are almost 50% faster compared to the sludge of the US clips and the filmed versions.)

    And also, I think "sad" is one of my key elements - Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd any day over cheerier efforts. And by and large original stage versions over films (Guys and Dolls on film - sacrilege) though apart from S.T. in the above list (Tim Burton casting non-singers and cutting the chorus - more sacrilege) the films of those are clearly supreme!

    Sorry - holding forth, but it's a subject dear to my heart... I'll cede the floor (temporarily).
    Alison xx

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    1. Pray cease apologising for holding forth! It's what the salon is for and I love it. Crumbs - WSS a bit of an oversight as well, sorry Mr Bernstein *bows respectfully*. I know not Cats, apart from a few of the numbers, but you make your case well and I feel sure I would have loved the original show (er - I do know the poetry, I'd like to make plain. I'm not a complete Yahoo). YES to sad, or rather being put through the gamut-of-emotion mill and having to crawl out the other side, well wrung-out. One of the things I liked about Les Mis was the sheer breadth of Big Issues covered. I really must read the novel one day...Fiddler on The Roof I don't know in a similar way to Cats, plus I have an issue with Topol. Cracking tunes though. A rich vein. xx

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    2. I must admit to being slightly conflicted about Les Mis... On the one hand I hate all the endless "recitative" to no particular tune, meandering about all over the place (not that there's anything wrong in meandering per se, of course); on the other hand there are some cracking HUGE tunes which, quite apart from anything else, are a joy to sing! From what I've seen of trailers and such, it looks as though the film scores on many fronts - Russell Crowe being the one big singing let-down, and Anne Hathaway ludicrously overwrought as far as I can see from only clips!

      There's a fine line between emotional wringing and empty melodrama and Les Mis treads along it all the way... entirely dependent on the performances being full on and full of truth. When those songs are fully inhabited, I agree they're definitely stirring...
      Axx

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    3. Russell Crowe execrable (but then, as P kindly remarked, when isn't he?) Anne H gave it all she had, which was a little too much. Hugh J rather good, Eddie Redmayne very good, Amanda Seyfried sang beautifully and I liked the person who played Eponine a lot. Plus a good smattering of moody young men.

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  2. I may be one of the few people in the country who walked out of the stage production of Les Mis. All those dreadful rhyming couplets - like waiting for the other shoe to drop. And all not helped by having suffered through "Cosette" for A level French. Fortunately we were not subjected to more than a minute part of the whole oeuvre. Which is of course deeply sad. Which I don't do....

    Having said that, I have heard that the film is worth seeing in a way that the stage show wasn't, and yes, I take the point about the stirring songs. Though sadly your link above takes me back to Mr Essex - so good we get him twice ;-)

    I have an abiding memory of Cats - not just seeing it three times with the children but of lying next to a teenage butterfly in a ferry cabin with tumultuous seas outside and her singing it from start to finish to keep our minds off the looming unpleasantness that was threatening. It worked, too.....

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    1. Gosh, I WAS distracted by the boy David, wasn't I? Have corrected links - sorry. Now here's a thing - I sat through the entire film without noticing the rhyming couplets - interesting...
      What a lovely memory of Cats - and how useful to have in-cabin entertainment in times of need! x

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  3. Yes, well, you see - I think the annoying thing about the recit. is that it DOESN'T rhyme... it doesn't have rhythm or purpose or grace or poise it just clunks and clunks and clunks along until it's time for another song...
    Have checked and Cestina definitely thinks it's the recit. that rhymes all the way through - I don't agree... It's the songs where the doggerel of the rhyme more often kills me (don't get me started on Master of the House).
    xx

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    1. Well if it doesn't then it's an abiding false memory. I just know that I hated the whole thing and slunk out at half-time to go and sit in the cinema next door (stunning seats, quarter of the price) to wait for the start of Kenneth Branagh's Henry Fifth. Butterfly stuck it out to the bitter end.

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  4. Clearly one of us is going to have to see the film/show (again) to check. I must say I experienced it as rambling and uncontained. Master of the House a definite false note, somewhat ameliorated by Baron-Cohen and Bonham-Carter hamming it up like troupers (troopers?) but mostly like being catapulted into a Benny Hill programme.

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  5. Fairly keen to see it... and if I'm going to, then I suspect it's worth seeing on the big screen. Question is whether it can be fitted in before departure...
    x

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    1. Are you crazee????? There is no time for a normal length film let alone Les Mis Interminables.....

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    2. Yes, definitely A Big Screen experience

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  6. Wow! All this has been going on and I've only just tuned in, what with cupboards to be re-affixed to walls (not by me personally I hasten to add...but I did find myself in an interesting discussion about the physics of wall cupboards and their openings and closings at 8.15 this morning. Life, full - gloriously - of these little moments...one could almost write a musical about it...

    So, musicals, eh? Dithering all over the place about whether to go and see Les Misérables...and I have to say you haven't helped a jot by so thoroughly rehearsing les pours et les contres...but, I did re-watch Cabaret the other week and WHAT a magnificent film it is...all-round. Script, song, Liza, Michael!! I'd forgotten how utterly beautiful he looks in that film...West Side Story is my other best-beloved. Loved the songs from JC Superstar but have never actually seen it. Petula Clark's version of I Don't Know How To Love Him started that particular ball rolling...and a big Yes to That'll Be The Day & Stardust. Saw both films and we had the "novelisations" when we were in fifth or sixth form (obviously not as a set text) because they had a lot of sex in them. Adored Carmen Jones, although it's an opera really...

    Tricoteuse (by the by, since Madame Defarge stuck her needles in earlier) is one of my favourite French words...it's wonderfully onomatopoeic and lovely to say...my other favourites are myosotis (not a French word in origin but pronounced beautifully en français) insouciant and remplir. I tried to put them into a poem once, about speaking French, but it never quite worked...and lo! in an entirely salon-esque way, I was suddenly caused to wonder about French musicals...here is an interesting link (you probably have to copy and paste don't you with these kind of links...)http://www.francetoday.com/articles/2008/05/01/film-picks-top-5-french-musicals.html.

    Okay, off for a final post-cupboard sweeping-up (which will surely provoke a song)and then lunch.

    A bientôt mes chères chanteuses

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    1. Oh I DO hope you Whistled While You Worked...Cabaret a big love of mine, as you say in every way. MY is luminously beautiful in it, isn't he? How very advanced of the nuns to permit such material at your school!
      I have perused the top 5 French musicals and want to watch them all straight away. I am v ignorant and had heard of (but not seen) Les Parapluies de Cherbourg seulement.
      I do hope your cupboard will be more permanent this time. Is your kitchen now a hard hat area?

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    2. And it contains the most earth-shattering song - Cabaret I mean, not Nell's kitchen cupboard. Though who knows what may be in kitchen cupboards, especially mine.

      This one - from innocence to destruction and depravity in one song. Utterly terrifying.

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    3. Yes! - I still remember my utter shock when the camera panned down to the swastika...and I still shiver when the people start joining in

      I rather like the idea that it was an earth-shattering song that pitched Nell's cupboard off the wall. Which song would it have been, I wonder?

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    4. Me too... all five!! Now!!
      xx

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  7. Having just listened again to Tomorrow Belongs, I'm thinking Cabaret probably gets top top spot for me - completely agree with all above analyses - plus Liza's eyes on a big screen defy belief!

    On the JCS front, I diverge from Nell - find I don't know how to love him to be one of two definite weak spots (Always Hoped That I'd Be An Apostle screaming in from the left to fill the other) - Carl Anderson doing Heaven on their Minds, and Ted Neeley's Gethsemane rock, and I mean ROCK!

    Off to check out the French musicals - always meant to watch Parapluies when it came up at the NFT (regularly) and sadly never did...
    Alison x

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