Thursday, February 25, 2016
ROADSHOW: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s
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! ****.