I am going down the Disney Broadway rabbit hole today after seeing Newsies in the movie theater last night. It makes me wonder why we don’t record and show musicals in theaters more often like that. Not all of us can make it to NYC. Heck, not all of us live in a city where traveling productions even come. They do, sort of, come here but there is no good place for them to perform. My nearest places are Tampa, Orlando and Atlanta for national tours of Broadway shows. So, when they come to my local movie theater or are something I can rent on line, I just start spending money like it’s going out of style.
But, I digress. I started this post to share with you all THE song I think of when I think Disney and Broadway. I first saw Beauty and the Beast performed on stage in Toronto on a surprise trip that Mom and Dad ended up having to tell us about because my sister refused to get in the car until they told her where we going (which pretty much sums up my sister as a kid). I was already a musical theater nerd by this point but I remember, to this day, the closing song of the first act of that exact show. I can still watch this song performed in my mind. How the stage moved, how the Beast acted and that song. That song is what you call a showstopper. It’s the sort of song that when performed well brings you both to your feet and to tears. I think I sat stunned after the curtain closed on the Beast standing over the rose but my dad jumped to his feet to head to the lobby and bought the recording of the show on the spot. It’s that kind of song.
I have since been lucky enough to see this show performed live many times but I still remember this first time I heard this song the best. So, for your Friday enjoyment, I give you “If I Can’t Love Her.”
I grew up on a healthy dose of the classic live-action Disney films. I can quote The Apple Dumpling Gang verbatim and still prefer the original Escape to Witch Mountain than any remake they’ve done since. I was, however, not a big fan of the Love Bug movies – weird I know. I somehow missed The Happiest Millionaire until now. My sister should be pleased – she would have hated it. Me, on the other hand, I would have dug up the soundtrack and driven my parents crazy singing “Fortuosity” continuously while wishing I could have a pet alligator.
The Happiest Millionaire tells the story of the eccentric Biddle family, millionaires in 1916 Philadelphia. As the story opens, a new butler, John Lawless joins the family and Cordy, their teenaged daughter is having trouble growing up when her Father won’t let her. So, Cordy goes off to a girls’ school, falls in love with a car happy young man from New York and then chaos ensues as the wedding approaches when their two very different families clash.
The look of this film was so familiar – it’s a musical in the best of traditions. The sets look like a cross between My Fair Lady and Hello, Dolly! In fact, the opening number “Fortuosity” has a dance routine to it that was a cross between Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number and a little bit of “Elegance” from Hello, Dolly! The songs, written by the Sherman Brothers, are fun and engaging and I really enjoyed the casting. Fred MacMurray is perfect as the irate yet loveable Father, a much more huggable Rex Harrison-type. Lesley Ann Warren made her screen debut in this film; while I loved her as Cordy, I just kept seeing her as Miss Scarlett.
The length of the film was daunting; I was impressed by the attention spans of kids in the 60s. The film even includes an overture, intermission and entr’acte – its set-up was a lot like The Great Race which is also marathon length (but so worth it if only for the characters Jack Lemmon plays and an epic food fight). However, at no point does the film drag which, at almost 3 hours, is impressive. However, it’s worth the commitment. The last 30 minutes of the film are the best part, including a dancing sequence in a small, crowded bar, that as a choreographed scene, is extremely well done. I know I sound like a dance geek and a musical nerd, which I am, but I think anyone could enjoy this film. So don’t be intimidated with the length, make a batch of popcorn and resign yourself to humming “Fortuosity” for the next week.
Many years back, I remember my dad hollering from the family room. I was engrossed in some book or other but must have wanted a break because I wandered out. Dad looked up and said that Singin’ in the Rain was coming onto TCM in a moment and he’d thought I’d like it. I’d only been tapping for a year but I’d been in some form of dance since second grade and Dad often called me down when musicals were coming onto one of the movie channels. He thought Gene Kelly would impress me. Impress me might be a bit of an understatement. All these years later, Singin’ in the Rain remains one of my all-time favorite movies and I still marvel at the talented duo of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor every time I watch it on my beat up old DVD.
Sadly though, I’ve never watched many of Kelly’s other films. I blame An American in Paris. I watched it right after Singin’ and was primed to be in love with it but just didn’t like it as much. I didn’t like the lead actress and the ballet at the end seemed excessive and over long. True, there are many unnecessary dance sequences in Singin’ (a trait I realize Kelly musicals just seem to have) but they always held my attention. An American in Paris just kind of bored me.
Because of that, I never got around to Kelly’s other films really. At least ones he starred in. Hello, Dolly remains one of my favorite movies as well and his choreography is a major part of my love (Imagine my squeals the first time I saw the Wall-E trailer. They were fan-girlish). But his other major musicals? Never got around to them.
So a few weeks back, I was watching Singin’ for the first time in a long time and thought maybe it was time to try out a new Kelly picture. Anchors Aweigh is the other seminal one that came to mind so I added it to my Netflix list, moved it up towards the top and then promptly forgot about it. In the middle of a Doctor Who craze, Anchors Aweigh showed up in my mailbox. In mourning for one companion and not ready to start the next season to get used to a new one, I thought it might be a good time to finally sit down and watch.
In many ways, it’s not so different from Singin’ in the Rain. A man about town and his sidekick in Hollywood get tangled up with an aspiring actress and hi-jinks follow. Include several unnecessary dance sequences and a few more songs then really fit the plot and there you go. I enjoyed the film overall; the dancing was superb and the dance sequence with Jerry that is so famous did not disappoint (Seriously though, Disney made a miscalculation there – Mickey would have made a much better dance partner). I particularly found the use of children in the film to be fun and interesting. The dance scene with Kelly and the young girl in front of the Mexican restaurant was one of my favorite scenes of the whole film, perhaps one of my favorite Kelly dances ever. However, I found Frank Sinatra a lackluster partner for Kelly. I missed the comic character and superior dancing of Donald O’Connor who made a much better foil for Kelly. Sinatra seemed to just be there to look handsome and croon some love songs.
Also, I found Kathryn Grayson to be rather dull and couldn’t quite figure out why everyone loved her character so much. I like a more spunky heroine and she was just sort of pretty to look at with a great voice. But then again, that is really all the character called for so I guess I should blame the writers more than the actress. The film is entertaining but it wasn’t fun if that makes any sense. I never laughed with glee at any line or moment or felt a real connection with any of the characters.
So apparently Singin’ in the Rain will remain my favorite Kelly musical, and my favorite movie musical period. Nothing wrong with that at all.