We had our Broadway concert tonight, and it went really well: we flubbed one entrance during the West Side Story medley, and one of the choir members doing choreography to a few of the songs came in at the wrong time, but nothing major went wrong. I had a solo in Les Mis which I was really nervous about because while I sometimes sing in trios or other small groups, I don't do solos. Fortunately it went pretty well, but I enjoyed the rest of the program more once I didn't have the solo hanging over my head. There was a pretty full house, which was encouraging and will be good for the choir's finances, too. Win-win.
In other news, after brunch this morning I dropped by Value Village, store which sells used merchandise and perused the book and movie sections. I found a few films to purchase, as you can see in the photo on the left. Looking forward to watching them. I wasn't having much luck in the book aisles; I couldn't find ant books today that I particularly wanted to buy. But then I found a treasure...
This is Charlie, the Little Golden Book which was my absolute favourite as a child. The copy I grew up with was lost when my parents' basement flooded following Hurricane Juan and ever since then I've kept an eye out for another one. It's taken this long to find it. Huzzah!
I'm off to a brunch this morning, and our choir's concert of Broadway music is this evening. We had our dress rehearsal last night and it went pretty well, though there're a couple songs we're still experiencing a little trouble with. This probably has something to do with the fact that we missed three practices due to snow storms over the past couple of months. Oh well- we worked on the problems last night so will hope for the best. Whatever happens, it's going to be fun.
The show last night was really, really good. I went with two of my sisters, as I had given them- and myself- tickets for Christmas. The weather held off, mostly because it was too cold to snow. There's no parking at Neptune Theatre, so we had to park several streets away, and the walk up to the theatre was freezing. It was worth it, though. Songs Of The Silver Screen was a joyous romp through the years of movie music, starting in the 1930's and going right up to present day. Ms. Myatt sang most of the songs, although there was also a male quartet who sang a few, together or separately, or in duets with Myatt. She had a lovely voice, by the way. The instrumental ensemble was really talented as well, especially the pianist and trumpeter. The songs were interspersed with clips from movies and old news reels and with Ms. Myatt talking about the songs and their time period, relating interesting facts or why the song she was about to sing was important to her (she wrote the show). It was all very interesting, and alternately amusing and touchingly nostalgic as we traveled through the history of cinema and song. There was a great mix of songs- everything from Lullaby of Broadway to Purple Rain, from Cruella De Vil to Moon River. Right before the Intermission, Ms. Myatt did a medley of Bond themes which was really impressive as well. All in all, it was a wonderful evening of song and film, and really demonstrated how impossible it is to separate the two.
*** When I got home and checked Facebook, someone had shared this picture of downtown Halifax. It's pretty much right where we were scurrying along the streets last night, though it was too cold to stop and admire the view. It is a lovely one, though; this is looking up George Street to the Old Town Clock, with just a glimpse of the Citadel behind it.
I'm going to this show this evening. It should be a good time; I just hope the weather holds up- we had a big snow storm last night, and there's another one forecast for tomorrow. Hopefully it holds off at least until late tonight.
Choir started up again this week, and I was very interested to receive my music packet, because we had been told that our spring concert would be all Broadway music. Practice was last night, and the music was handed out at the start of the evening. It's an eclectic mix: there's a medley from Les Mis, a medley from Into The Woods (admittedly not my favourite musical), one from West Side Story, and one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music. In addition, we're doing "Seasons of Love" from Rent, and "Circle of Life" from The Lion King. A few more pieces will probably be added as we go along, but this is the majority of it, and it's is going to be a whole lot of fun.
Julie Andrews turned 81 on October 1st, and for movie night last night we watched The Sound Of Music. I can take or leave most Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, but I do love this one. This is partly nostalgia- I watched it on TV every New Years' Day when I was a kid, and played first clarinet in our school production of it back in the day. A lot of my love of the film though, is based on my enjoyment of Andrews' character. As Maria Julie carries the entire film, and she is more than up to the task. Her performance just sparkles as, with great energy and charm, she sings and dances her way through this gem of a film.
Ofcourse, the other role which Julie Andrews is famous for is that of Mary Poppins. I love this movie- every bit of it; I can't think of anything in it that I would change. And Julie is the perfect Mary Poppins, alternating between sternness and warmth, strict common sense and magical flights of fancy. The songs are great, and Andrews' performance of them is, as usual, amazing.
It's always been a bit of a sore spot with me that Julie Andrews didn'tget the starring role in the film version of My Fair Lady. Andrews played Eliza Doolittle in the original 1956 Broadway production, defining the role. When the 1964 film was being made, however, Audrey Hepburn was cast as Eliza because the makers decided to go with an actress who had more name recognition. Now, I have nothing against Hepburn although I've never really been a fan of her acting style (and I hate Breakfast At Tiffany's). The biggest problem I have with this casting is that, although she had a pretty voice, Audrey didn't have the pipes for the role and her voice was dubbed (by Marnie Nixon). I understand about using big-name actors to take advantage of their fame, but casting actors in major singing roles who can't sing seems counterproductive to say the least. Especially when you have a perfect Eliza Doolittle right there. I've seen clips of Julie Andrews' performance as Eliza, and to me her portrayal- music aside- is still superior to Audrey Hepburn's. She inhabited the character in a way Hepburn never did. Oh well, not being in My Fair Lady allowed Julie to be in Mary Poppins, for which she won an Academy Award. Here are a few of those clips of Julie Andrews as Eliza:
Marni Nixon died on July 24 at the age of 86. For those who don't recognize her name, she was a successful singer and actress, appearing in numerous operas and Broadway productions. She also appeared in a lot of movie musicals and, though you'd no doubt recognize her voice, it's unlikely that her face would be familiar. There's a reason for this: Marni Nixon was a ghost singer. Often in movie musicals, big-name movie stars would be cast in the main roles. The problem was, these stars frequently couldn't sing, or didn't have the range which these roles required. Enter the ghost singers- like Marni- to dub the songs.
Marni Nixon's film career began in 1948, in the movie Joan of Arc, for which she provided the singing angel voices heard by Ingrid Bergman's Joan. She dubbed Margaret O'Brien's songs in Big City that year, and then again in The Secret Garden in '49. Then, in 1953, she dubbed Marilyn Monroe's high notes in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1956's The King And I, Marni sang all of Deborah Kerr's songs, and again provided her singing voice in An Affair To Remember the following year. Sophia Loren's singing voice in 1957's Boy On A Dolphin? Also Marni. In West Side Story (1961), Marni sang all of Natalie Woods' (who was playing Maria) songs, and also sang Rita Moreno's (Anita) part in the song Tonight. Then, when Woods appeared in 1962's Gypsy, Marni dubbed her high notes. Perhaps most famously, Marni Nixon sang all of Audrey Hepburn's (Eliza Doolittle) songs in 1964's My Fair Lady. Most if not all of this voice work was uncredited, but because of it Time magazine called her "The Ghostess With The Mostest".
Marni finally got to actually appear on screen as well as sing in 1965, playing the role of Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music. In addition to live action musicals, she also did voice work on a number of animated features, such as Jack and the Beanstalk (1967), and in 1998's Mulan, she provided the singing voice of Grandmother Fa. This is a little more obscure- and less glamorous- but she also voiced all three of the geese in the song Jolly Holiday in 1964's Mary Poppins.
So while Marni Nixon's name and face may not be instantly recognizable, her voice and body of work certainly are. On stage and screen, she has left a legacy of musical excellence which, though she is no longer with us, will continue to move and entertain. Rest in peace, Ms. Nixon.
Saturday night I got together with my parents and a couple sisters for a movie night. My father wanted to watch Going My Way, the 1944 movie starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. It'd been a few years since I'd seen it, though I did write about it last year on St. Patrick's Day. That post, however, was mostly about Barry Fitzgerald and the plot of the movie itself. I didn't actually say too much about Bing, but he's definitely worth mentioning. It's hard to overstate just how big Crosby was back in the day... he dominated records, radio, and movies from the 1930's to the 1950's. The man has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His smooth, warm baritone voice wraps around listeners like a warm sweater; his distinctive singing style became known as "crooning" and influenced a whole generation of singers- for example, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and some guy named Frank Sinatra. Bing was also a success in the movies. Besides Going My Way, for which he won an Academy Award, and its sequel, The Bells of St. Mary's, Crosby also starred in a slew of "Road" movies with Bob Hope, Holiday Inn with Fred Astaire, and High Society, with Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few. And then there was that modest little success called White Christmas.
Crosby's list of best-selling songs is a lengthy one... he would have more hits in one movie than a lot of singers have in a lifetime. Just take Going My Way, for example: it contains versions of "Silent Night", "Ave Maria", and "Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral" which became hugely popular. It also introduced a few other songs written for the film: "Going My Way", "The Day After Forever", and "Swinging On A Star". Amazing.
Going My Way is, in my opinion, Bing Crosby's best film. It's smart, heartwarming, and extremely funny. Crosby and Fitzgerald are a great combination, and as well as he and Hope, Astaire, and Kaye played off of each other in other films, I think Bing did his best work opposite of Barry. It really is too bad that they didn't team up again in the sequel. Oh well- we must be grateful for what we do have: an incredibly good movie which stands up to repeat viewings... no matter how often you see it, the humour and warmth never get old. It's a funny thing: I watch present day movies- and even enjoy some of them- but there aren't many that I want to view more than once, and even fewer that I'm willing to spend money on, buying them. I watch modern films, but more often than not, it's the old ones that I purchase and return to again and again. I find them satisfying in a way which, for me anyway, most new movies aren't, despite their technical brilliance. So, if you've only ever seen Bing Crosby in White Christmas, I recommend giving Going My Way a watch... it truly contains some of his best work. And Barry Fitzgerald is, of course, simply incredible.
Last week my family made it's annual pilgrimage to the Tattoo. It was even more enjoyable than usual because we took some of the young nephews and nieces who had never been to it before. What fun to see it again for the first time through their eyes! They were entranced with the entire show- the pipe and drum bands, the soldiers, the gymnasts, the choir and soloists, the motorcycle and bicycle acts... everything. And they stayed wide awake and enthused through the whole show, even though it started at 7:30 pm and didn't get over 'til going for 11:00. Of course, the candy they loaded up with during the intermission might have had something to do with that. One of my sisters, who recently acquired a boyfriend, brought him and his sister along. To our surprise, though living in the city, they had never attended before. I think it's safe to say that it won't be their last time: once you've seen it, you just naturally want to see it again.
There were some returning acts- such as the Paris Police Gymnastics and Motorcycle teams, and also some new ones, such as a marching band and drill team from Norway. There was also quite an enjoyable fife and drum band from the States. Of course, being a tattoo, there is always an emphasis on honouring our soldiers and the sacrifices they've made. This year, W.W. II was the focus, with the choir and soloists performing hits from the Blitz, as black & white war footage was shown on the big screen.
It wasfun- and heart warming- to sing along with songs like "Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Good-Bye" and "There'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover", and clap along to "In the Mood" and other Big Band numbers. One part that really hit me square in the feelings was during film footage of one of our Canadian military pipe bands marching at the head of their regiment in W.W.II. As this was projected, the same pipe and drum corps from present day, clad in the same tartan, marched out into the arena from under where the screen was, making it almost appear as though they were walking out of the midst of their past counterparts.
The massed bands and choir are always amazing, and always provide at least one musical selection that makes me tear up from the sheer beauty of the music. Last year, it was "I Vow To Thee, My Country". This year, in keeping with the theme, they started by showing footage of many of the bombed-out cities of Britain and Europe- London, Manchester, Dresden, etc.- during the War, the scale of devastation staggering. Then, as the screen started to show those cities today, rebuilt and renewed, the choir and bands broke into "Ode to Joy" which, combined with the pictures, was truly moving. Also, at the start of the finale, they sang- and played- "We Gather Together To Ask the Lord's Blessing". As they began the third, triumphant verse, I felt myself tearing up again... it's strange, but I cry a lot easier over music than I ever do over movies. And when I do cry during movies, I have a suspicion that it's frequently because the music is manipulating me into doing so. Of course, there was also a lot of just plain fun music... as always, they had some selections from a Broadway musical. This year it was the Music Man, so we got to sing along to a rousing version of "Seventy Six Trombones" featuring the British Brass- who were absolutely amazing- and a couple soloists, as well as the choir.
As usual, it was a wonderful show, made all the more special by the nephews and nieces loving it so much that they couldn't stop talking about it afterwards. They especially loved being able to go down to the floor after the show and talk to the Mounties, the soldiers, and other cast members. I think the Tattoo is a great event to take kids to, and not just because it's a fun time to share with them. It's also a way to instill pride in their country, and give them a sense of history- all too often overlooked in school- and a connection to past generations. And the tributes to our veterans and songs and images of past wars is a reminder to them that the freedom we now enjoy was not without great cost, as the presence of our contemporary soldiers reminds us that it cannot be maintained without great sacrifice from our Forces today. Oh- and this year, I came in on time on the "Hoy!'s in "Black Bear". I'm going to post a little footage (not mine) from last years' Tattoo, of the very end where the bagpipes have piped out the rest of the cast, and are ending the evening in the traditional way, with "Scotland the Brave" and "Black Bear".
Just a qualifier: I haven't seen a stage production of "Into the Woods". I've never been able to summon up much interest in the works of Stephen Sondheim... I think I've just heard the ubiquitous "Send In The Clowns" one too many times. Sitting down to watch the movie, I was aware that it involved fairy tales, but had no knowledge of the actual plot. So the thoughts and opinions which I express are based solely on my impressions of the movie, without reference to the Broadway play. Now, I like musicals. I've seen quite a few live productions, any number of movie musicals, own numerous soundtracks, and even played first clarinet in my high school's production of "The Sound of Music". I feel justified in calling myself a fan. So, as a fan of musicals, my impression of the "Into the Woods" film was... meh.
This is not to say that there was nothing about it that I liked. To start with, I'm fine with fairy tales being revisited and reinterpreted in clever and interesting ways. And I'm on board with giving them a darker- Grimmer, if you will- tone. Grimm's Fairy Tales certainly weren't all sweetness and light, and I devoured them as a child... my parents obviously weren't worried that they would scar my psyche, or whatever. I do think it's a mistake to isolate children from all knowledge of darkness and death. I know people so adverse to allowing their kids to experience it that they've lied to them about their cat getting hit by a car- instead going with the hackneyed "gone to a farm" story. And I recently sat through a children's performance of "I Know An Old Lady" (not exactly four star entertainment to begin with) where, during the final verse in which the Old Lady in question swallows a horse, the wording was changed from "she's dead, of course" to "she's full, of course". This presumably was because the Old Lady dying was considered too much for the children to handle. This is silly-anyone who knows kids knows that they're fascinated by death. Besides, it completely ruined the payoff of the song... after ending every other verse with, "perhaps she'll die", she's supposed to actually die at the end. Um. I've gotten a little off topic. To sum up: bring on the unabridged fairy tales- kids can handle them.
The first part of the film moves along briskly, if not brilliantly, and contains what I consider the best scene: the duet "Agony" by the two princes at the waterfall. It is silly fun- something which is sorely needed in this musical. The acting is, for the most part, serviceable if not outstanding. There aren't any really bad performances and James Cordon as the Baker is a sympathetic- if unfortunately, occasionally pathetic- protagonist. Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her role as the Witch. She was fine, but I'm not sure that her character was award-worthy. It seems to me that any number of actresses could have donned the Witch outfit and given the required over-the-top performance. In any case, the acting and singing were fine, with the possible exception of Red Riding Hood's. Her character annoyed me on pretty much every level... she is bratty and abrasive, and her voice is grating. I don't like to blame the actress for this out of hand- having not seen the musical, this may be the way her character is supposed to be played. If so, it seems an odd choice.
I think part of the problem- for me, anyway- is the songs. They are well sung, and are no doubt technically brilliant, but they aren't... memorable. There aren't any that you would walk out of the theater- or in my case, living room- humming. Perhaps on repeated listening the songs would stick in the memory, but how many people are going to bother if they didn't love them the first time around? And there aren't any that really move you, or cause you to catch your breath at their beauty, or are even just really catchy. It's a strange thing.
As I mentioned above, the first part of the movie moves along at a brisk pace, though I must say that having Cinderella run away from the festival three nights in a row, whingeing on about the same insecurities each time, was getting annoyingly repetitive. But, apart from one scene which I'll talk about in a minute, the story progresses well enough, right up until its false ending. At this point, almost all of the story lines have been tied up- and the one glaring one which isn't never is resolved. I assumed it was the actual ending and thought, "Well, that wasn't so bad... a bit short, though. They should have developed the characters more, and tied up that loose end." But this was just the mid-point, and frankly, they should have quit while they were ahead. I went from thinking the film was a little too short to checking my watch every ten minutes, wondering when it was going to be over. It should have finished at the false ending, not because I necessarily need to have a happy ending, but because it actually was an ending. The second part of the movie just sort of peters out and dies. There is no sense of satisfaction or completion. Also, there is such an abrupt shift in tone that you don't have time to adjust, and from there on in, it's just... joyless. The second half of the movie just sucks all the life out of it.
It's my understanding that the musical is a lot more... adult, shall we say, in tone and dialogue. This being a Disney movie, they've tried to clean it up somewhat but it's poorly done. Essentially, the movie tries to have it both ways, and ends up being neither fish nor fowl; tonally, it is all over the map. Nowhere is this more evident than in the scenes with Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Again, I understand that on stage, Red Riding Hood is generally played by a girl in her late teens. But this Red Riding Hood is twelve or thirteen at the most, while the Wolf, played by Johnny Depp, is fifty. It is beyond creepy to have the two characters singing sexual innuendos at each other, the Wolf leering and referring to Red Riding Hood's "...flesh, pink and plump," and "scrumptious carnality." The Wolf comes off as a child molester, and an underage Red Riding Hood is portrayed as being scared but intrigued by his lasciviousness. The scene is frankly just distasteful and uncomfortable.
On the other hand, Disney toned down the racy stuff in the second half, by suggesting that the Prince and the Baker's Wife merely exchange some kisses, where in the actual musical, they apparently sleep together. Now, I'm not condoning adultery in any way, but what the heck? Who, while putting together the screenplay said, "Right- the adulterer's out, but leave in the pedophile." It begs the question of just who they were trying to market this film to. .. dark is one thing, but pervy is something else entirely.
Speaking of dark, the movie is- physically as well as tonally. Yes, I know that most of the film takes place at night in the woods, but after a while the darkness is just depressing and oppressive. It also has the curious effect of making the woods seem closed in and cramped, an impression furthered by the way characters keep bumping into each other in there. This makes the Baker's Wife's behaviour seem even more reprehensible than it already is... when they separate to search for Jack, she not only cheats on her husband, but she does so in what seems like close proximity to him and their child.
The plot also has a serious problem, in that it sets up a story line, spends time developing it, and then drops it without resolution or even comment. This is the Rapunzel plot line: the Baker is informed that she is his sister, taken away by the Witch as a baby. And then this is just left hanging- as is Rapunzel's whole story arc. That was the first thing I said when the movie ended, "What happened to Rapunzel?" I later looked it up, and it turns out that in the musical, Rapunzel's Prince also cheats on her, and then she's killed by the Giantess. Um, O.K.
Which brings me to another problem I had with the plot. Normally, as a movie/ book/ show progresses, we see character development taking place. Not in "Into the Woods" though. If anything, the characters devolve as the movie goes on- or rather, show some development, and then become worse than they started out. This might be an acceptable character arc for one of the principals, but each of the main character has exactly the same arc. Think about it: the Baker starts out as rather a sad sack, but forced into using his ingenuity to accomplish the tasks the Witch sets for him, becomes more confident and assured. But then, in the second part of the film, he's abruptly an insecure beta male again, doubting himself and his abilities. The Baker's Wife, sad and desperately wanting a child, becomes closer to her husband by helping him, and attains what she's always wanted. But then she's suddenly dissatisfied with this and risks losing it all for a fling with the prince. Jack and his mother are impoverished, but then attain a fortune, only to have their lives ruined by it. Cinderella lives in misery, but escapes to live a life as a princess, only to find it unsatisfying and wanting to escape it... need I go on? All of their stories, while not identical in detail, are exactly the same in progression and outcome.
On the same note, all of the marriages in "Into the Woods" end in infidelity and/ or death. Every single one. Did no one think that perhaps even one should survive intact, if only for a change of pace? But no- The Baker's Wife cheats on her husband, and then falls over a cliff. Apparently- had the movie bothered to update us- Rapunzel's Prince cheated on her, and then she got killed by the Giantess. Cinderella's Prince cheated on her, and they agree to part amicably. Just a side note on that- really? That's all it takes to dissolve a royal marriage? And they all just walk away, no hard feelings? Really? "Happily ever after" may be a fantasy, but no more so than this stuff. Not only that, but all the other families end up destroyed too- Red Riding Hood's mother is killed by the Giantess, and Jack's mother also dies. Honestly, it's enough to make you think that Stephen Sondheim had issues about families. Hmm. I just looked up Sondheim... his father left his mother for another woman, and his mother took her anger out on Stephen, causing him to hate her. Issues, indeed... and I notice that almost every woman ends up dead by the end of the movie, all in horrible ways. Again, hmm.
Another weird character twist is the one Red Riding Hood experiences late in the film. Now, up to this point, I'd pretty much decided that she was a budding sociopath. She steals from the Baker and his Wife blithely and unrepentantly, even though they have been nothing but kind to her. She shows no remorse for having led the Wolf to her grandmother's door. She certainly shows no sympathy for the Wolf when the Baker kills him- not that I blame her for that- and gleefully flaunts the cloak that her grandmother makes for her out of the Wolf's pelt. We also never see her shed a tear or express any grief at all over the death of her mother. So it comes as rather a shock when, as they prepare to trap the Giantess, out of the blue she becomes a peacenik, declaring that she doesn't know if it's right to kill the Giantess... after all, she's a person, too. Uh, yes she is- one who's running about murdering everybody in sight, including Red Riding Hood's own family. But does Cinderella- who R.R.H. confides her doubts to- use this logic to reason with her? Of course not. Instead, she tells the girl that, "You decide what's right, you decide what's good." What the dickens kind of advice is this? Red Riding Hood has already shown herself on numerous occasions to be incapable of acting wisely or unselfishly. She needs moral guidance, not hippy-dippy platitudes. Aside from any question of morality, it seems to me that all of the trouble in this tale came about by the characters deciding what was "good" for them and acting accordingly, with no regard or concern for the trouble and pain their actions would cause to others. How about encouraging her to act with honour and integrity instead?
In the end, I'm not sure what Disney was aiming for with this movie. They toned it down to make it more family-friendly, but left in a scene that deliberately evokes pedophilia. They released it at Christmastime, but it's not a heartwarming or feel-good film. It's message seems to be that "happy ever after" is an illusion, love is conditional, and marriage doesn't last. Ho, Ho, Ho... Merry Christmas. Also, if the intent was to spoof fairy tales, other movies (like Shrek) have done it better. Even other Disney films such as "Enchanted", "Tangled", and "Frozen" have done a better job of turning fairy tale tropes on their heads. And they've done it wittily and without the worldly cynicism. By comparison, "Into the Woods" seems soulless and sour.