Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

ROADSHOW: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s

ROADSHOW: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s. Matthew Kennedy. Oxford University Press; 2014.

If you've reached a certain age you may remember going with your parents to see big, splashy, over-produced versions of Broadway musicals such as The Sound of Music, which I saw at the Rivoli in New York when I was a kid. You may not remember that many of these films were released as "roadshows" -- you got tickets and reserved seats in advance -- and while most of these roadshows were musicals, a few were not. They were long, often had intermissions, and, of course, higher ticket prices. [The last roadshow I remember seeing was, of all things, Last Tango in Paris.] In any case, with wit, solid research, and large doses of amiability, Matthew Kennedy traces the birth and death of the roadshow musical in this marvelously entertaining and very well-written volume. Once upon a time Julie Andrews [Darling Lili] was seen as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but that was before she appeared in Star! and others and soon her "mega-star" days were over. Then we have all the musical adaptations -- Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, Goodbye Mr. Chips -- in which most of the lead performers could not sing.  When producers ran out of Broadway shows to adapt (Funny Girl, Hello Dolly) they made musicals out of films that originally had no music in them  (the aforementioned Mr. Chips) or adapted films, such as Dr. Dolittle and The Happiest Millionaire, from other medium. And we mustn't forget the hilarious "feud" between Barbra Streisand [A Star is Born] and Carol Channing [The First Traveling Saleslady] when the former got the coveted part in Hello Dolly which Channing felt should have been hers. Roadshow dissects what went wrong with most of these over-bloated pictures, whose musical values were often lost behind inappropriate actors and overblown budgets, as well as producers and directors who often had no idea what they were doing, such as Joshua Logan of Paint Your Wagon. Broadway adaptations of the previous decade may have been more effective (Carousel, The King and I etc.), but  in the sixties for every Sound of Music there were half a dozen or more critical and financial mega-turkeys.

Verdict: Compulsorily readable! ****.


angelman66 said...

Now this is a must-read, right up my alley, Bill. Musicals really did change, taking a turn for the worse in the late 60s, while on Broadway the stage musical was in its 2nd renaissance with cool and innovative shows like Hair and Company and Pippin...

So true that so many of these stars could not sing. Natalie Wood, when allowed to do her own singing, was like chalk on a blackboard as Gypsy!! And Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon...I just saw him in Gran Torino from a couple years back, and at the end he performed a song over the closing credits, so I guess he really enjoyed singing.

Looking forward to this one, Bill, thanks for your always-astute recommendations!

William said...

Thanks, Chris. Yes, I would pounce on this one. It's so entertaining and readable and amusing that I practically read it in one sitting, ignoring everything else I was supposed to do that night.

Unfortunately certain actors with massive egos think they can do anything, including singing, which is, sadly, not the case.