Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Suddenly Bursting Into Song

Welcome one and all to the start of a new decade. Already the mutterings have begun: what are we to call the decade? The Tenties? The Twenty-Tens?

Either way, it is good to start the year the way one intends to continue – I have a couple of new ideas I may try out later in the month: but for now I’d like to return to one of my favourite recurring themes – the list of five things

As regular readers of my blog will be aware the Five Things blog is me choosing five related things that I like/don’t like, writing a few short paragraphs about each and then inviting a heated debate on the subject.

This time we’re going down that most unusual of roads: the musical.

Yes: crowds of people bursting into song about their woes or joys, all mysteriously already knowing the tune. Perhaps one of the most contrived methods of telling a story I think it fair to say that the modern musical can probably be split into three separate categories:

The Musical MusicalA story written to be told via the inclusion of new songs written for said story – the most traditional form of musical. This would include Gilbert & Sullivan, Rogers & Hammerstein, Lloyd-Webber & Rice and the rest of them

The Era Musical
Taking a particular era of music, usually pop-music, and telling the story of that era or a particular character in that era. Thus: Buddy, the musical

The Specific Band Musical
Taking songs that were never meant to tell a single story and using the songs of a specific act to tell a new story – This would include Mamma Mia (ABBA), We Will Rock You (Queen) and Our House (Madness)
However, I am discounting films that were made as vehicles for pop stars (such as the Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard films) unless they have been translated into stage plays (IE Jailhouse Rock and Summer Holiday)

#1 The Sound Of Music (category 1)
Dancing Nazis, singing Austrian Nuns, insufferably cute kids and Julie Andrews swirling around on a hillside like a deranged woman that you wouldn’t allow within fifty feet of an axe. The Sound Of Music runs for 12 days (or feels that way) and is a traditional staple of Christmas/Easter TV in the UK

Although it is impossible to dislike The Sound Of Music I have developed a special theory of musicals: which states that although we have all seen the film in it’s entirety no one, other than those who saw it on the stage or at the cinema, has done so in a single sitting. One year you might see the end, another you might see the beginning and in the intervening decades you will see all the bits inbetween, but the traditional way to watch The Sound Of Music is to wake up on Boxing Day, look at the TV Times and yell “Oh bugger, I’ve missed the start bit again!!”

The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show (category 1)
Two American apple-pie teenagers get wayleighed by an alien inventor looking for a short cut to getting a hot date. They encounter a weird party, transvestism and more B-movie clich├ęs than you can shake a Plan 9 From Outer Space at

Deeply daft and very, very strange indeed this is one that takes a couple of viewings to really get past the “what the hell is going on” factor and start enjoying it – but for anyone who has seen more than a few dodgy 1950’s Sci-fi movies you can’t help but enjoy – particularly for Tim Curry’s stand-out performance as Dr Frank N Furter

Return To The Forbidden Planet (category 2)
Based loosely on The Tempest and the 1950s movie Forbidden Planet this is a tale of young love, creatures from the Id and 1950’s rock and roll.

This one has a special part in my heart as I was, however briefly, Third Guitar From The Left in an amateur production – having the high responsibility of looking around startled and falling over occasionally. Nonetheless it was one of the most fun things I have ever done. You haven’t lived until you’ve leant vaguely sideways pretending to be on a banking ship to the tune of the Beach Boys “Wipeout”

Mamma Mia (category 3)
Young girl about to get married, wants to find out who her father is – her mother is also trapped in her past reliving her glory days

OK – so I’ve only seen the movie because I thought it would be a nice thing to do with Herself, but I can’t help but feel that there’s something fundamentally wrong about forcing songs to do things they were never intended to (these songs were never intended to tell a sole story).

If I had written “the book” I think I would have kept with the idea put forward in the (excellent) film Muriel’s Wedding – a young girl obsessed with ABBA

Grease (category 1)
For many years I insisted that the video for “summer loving” was as much of the film as I ever needed to see – infact more than I ever needed to see. However I was persuaded to watch it – and am still seeking the assistance of anyone who can turn back time and recapture those lost 2 hours of my life.

There is a (as yet unproven) genetic code in some types of women that when they hear “Dancing Queen” by ABBA makes them shriek and launch themselves at the dancefloor – and I can only assume that the same genetic imbalance is responsible for the completely unexplainable love for this film.
So lets dissect the plot for those of you who are in any shape mistaken in believing that it is a “feel good” or “uplifting” movie.

Nice girl Sandy meets a nice boy on holiday. When she moves to the city she finds that her “nice” boy is a bit of rough and that the other girls at school act and dress like prostitutes. In the end, just when he is on the verge of changing to be a better person for her she decides that the moral of the story is: if you want your man become a tart.

Best moment of the film is “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, but frankly Alison Moyet sings it far better than the version in the film.
Summer Holiday (see above, category 3a)

Cliff Richard, on a bus in Europe with Melvyn Hayes and Una Stubbs. What’s not to like?
If you spent the next twenty years of your life devouring the cheese section of your local store you still couldn’t find anything as cheesy, but there’s something so uniquely British and feel-goody that it’s practically anti-British to dislike it. Gains inclusion via a stage adaptation starring Darren Day

On a final note: if you have never seen the episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer "Once More With Feeling" you should watch it now before people realise!


The Bug said...

My husband can sing whole stretches of the Buffy musical. He, in fact, may have the whole thing memorized. It's one of our very favorite things EVER. I don't know why, but it floats our boat.

I love Tim Curry too - even in that awful Congo movie (he was in that, right?). More recently I've listened to him narrate a couple of Lemony Snicket audio books. Delicious.

Jessica Maybury said...

I also love the buffy musical. And Tim Curry. He should come over to Ireland instead of the IMF and save us all!!

Titus said...

Good Lord! There's a Buffy musical?
The traditionalist here, who has sat through The Sound Of Music (film) as often as it has been shown on television, and made my children do so too. I always cry, copiously.
Claim to fame #1: I saw Yul Brynner in The King and I at The London Palladium.
Claim to fame #2: I got Brian Blessed's autograph during the intermission (he stayed on stage) when I saw Cats (original cast). Didn't like the show much though.
Showboat. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Oaklahoma. An American In Paris. On The Town. I'm suddenly feeling very old...

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Bug - the one thing i don't like about "Once More With Feeling" is it's so tied up with the season plot - it would be better as a stand alone episode in some ways

Jessica - Tim Curry is great in Rocky Horror. PS - can you please tell me how/where to leave comments on your blog as i can't find it

Titus - an episode in series six where they are all magicked into singing about their troubles

Brian Blessed in Cats eh? Did he shout?

Worst musical of all though - Starlight Express

Argent said...

I was taken as a small child to see SoM. I am currently sitting opposite someone who went to one of the singalong screenings where everybody goes in costume.

I love the musical Bufy episode! I also love the Scrubs ep is season 6 or 7 where a woman has an aneurysm that makes her hear everyone as though they are singing - some excellent stuff there!

This King and I should have been on this list - I have watched it tons of times and just love the staging and costumes, as well as some classic songs.

Anonymous said...

Every year on 21st of March I sing loudly and tunelessly "If I ruled the world" (a la Harry Secombe) - it surprises (and often alarms my neighbours and passers by) and I often wish their reaction would be to join in with me rather than hurriedly avert their eyes and scuttle back indoors. Imagine if you will one short old lady with her chorus of neighbours, arms outstretched belting out "Every Day would be the first day of Spring" Lovely isn't it? So why do I hate musicals so much??

Lydia said...

Hah! What a great post!