Jan 072013

There is nothing on which I hold any moral authority, nothing.

Though I do fight my battles on a few issues.  I  have fighting words on a few things and am not shy about expressing an opinion when it comes to:

  •      early intervention for children on the autism spectrum
  •     or support for caregivers of people with dementia.

And I have my political opinions — I generally only verbally joust with those on my own team. To do otherwise is just a losing battle, one in which I’m usually the one who gets cut in half.  For no good reason.

But there is one subject on which I’ll fight to the grave.

Musicals for stage and the movies.

Yeah, you read it right.  This Judy Garland-lovin’, “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” singin’, imitator of Fred and Ginger dancin’ Hoosier loves her  musicals.  Damn right.

My father was a high school teacher who took seniors to New York every year. In the big city he saw wonderful things, like men in suits, white shirts, and black ties watching the Yankees play in Yankee stadium.  And I mean the real Yankees in a real Yankee stadium.

You remember?  Roger Maris?  Mickey Mantle?

At night he went to see musicals and bought cast albums, which he played for us at home and we learned every song.

Technicolor on screen and magic on stage

The late fifties and early sixties were a glorious time in musical-dom, all Rodgers and Hammerstein and the glorious quartet of Bernstein, Laurents, Sondheim and Robbins, oh, my.

I am just wrapping myself up in musical memories and not getting to the point.

Here’s the point.  After years of everyone I know telling me that “Les Miserables” was the finest, most epic musical of all time, I finally saw it on Christmas day.

First, I really wanted to like it.  (Like I skipped the last trolley to the St. Louis Exposition of 1903 and missed the whole party.  Clang, clang, clang.)  I didn’t see the musical on Broadway or Chicago or even the traveling, second fiddle stage show that came through town.

What was I missing? Didn’t read the book.

How many of you have read Victor Hugo’s masterpiece?  C’mon.  Give.  Anybody, anybody?

Go to any literary history site and you will find words similar to this.

Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”  is considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century.

Wow.  I want to hear from anyone who has read it.  It’s 1488 pages and comes in five volumes.  (I’ll be reading it directly after I finish “War and Peace,” great intellect that I am. Stick a pin in me, cuz I’m done.)  I’m venturing to say that most people who claim to have read it, didn’t read it.  (I’m married to the Most Well-Read Man in the Universe and he didn’t read it.  And he read “Beowulf” in the olde English.)

Okay. I digress.  I wanted to like “Les Miserables” but the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t.

How can you have a full-on ballet in the middle of a cornfield?

It’s a great story. Some times musicals come from great stories, and sometimes they don’t.  The story alone doesn’t make a great musical — its the interplay between the music and the story.

The music cannot intrude on the story, not can the story stifle the music.  And the camera needs to be unobtrusive, so we believe that of course a scarecrow can sing or that chimney sweeps always dance on the rooftops. And whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

In “Les Miserables” the camera seems to zip from the Google earth view to the HD view in about two point one seconds, like the ramp-up time on a new sports car.

I really didn’t want to see Anne Hathaway that up close and personal.  High def is okay for the local weather girl who was a Chi Omega at State U.  last month and has access to all the high-end skin products from Bloomie’s.

But Fontine.  Well, no.

(And besides, in the novel, it is her front teeth that are yanked out…if you are going to make it graphic, why not pull Fontine’s front teeth?)

Russell Crowe can’t sing, and he seemed to be walking like a man on the plank most of the time. But this was no “Pirates of Penzance.”

I cannot find anything bad to say about Hugh Jackman who did earn some chops on the Broadway stage (“The Boy from Oz” —2004).

And frankly, it wasn’t that “Les Miserable” was so bad.  I guess what I object to is the hype that accompanies every advertisement.  “The greatest musical of all time.”

Is that Broadway box office talk?  Why is it the greatest musical of all time?  I don’t get that.

Don’t Waste My Time: Show Me!

I just think there were better, and most of the critics agree with me, probably except for those who have financially benefitted from the billion-dollar machine that is Les Mis.

If I’m riding this High Horse into town, let me pronounce greatest musical of all time?  I’ll give that same honor to movie and Broadway show.

westsidestorybway1357524578West. Side. Story.
Original Broadway cast.
Movie Musical.

Can you imagine opening night for “West Side Story?”  You are in the 11th row, center aisle, and you see Leonard Bernstein’s back in the orchestra pit. The striking familiar notes of the overture break out and you see Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence, and Chita Rivera give life to Tony, Maria, and Anita for the first time.

As Professor Harold Hill would say, “You’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed when Gilmore, Liberatti, Pat Conway, The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy and John Philip Sousa all came to town on the very same historic day.”

I’ve been to 14 county fairs and been blessed to see musicals on the Broadway and West End stage, and also high-end productions in Toronto, Chicago, and Stratford, Ontario , and I keep coming back to the Romeo and Juliet story in a New York barrio.

One of my “bucket list” items is to see as many classic musicals on the Broadway stage as I can, so I’ve been working away at this for many years.  I was fortunate to see the 2009 revival of “West Side Story,” Arthur Laurents’ last production on the New York stage.  Karen Olivo won the Tony for her sexy, sassy Anita. This revival had a new — and needed twist — as much of the production was in Spanish. This added an entirely new level of pathos to the old story whose themes cross generations of star-crossed lovers.

Not a happy story, West Side Story tackles race, class struggle and religion in a story with superlative music and dancing.

Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair

My Well Read Metrosexual husband and I discussed this after seeing Les Mis.  I stand my ground with “West Side Story.”

What is the best music?  He said “The Sound of Music.”  I think it is wonderful, but not the best; the Broadway version didn’t have quite the guts of “West Side Story.”

I never owned the cast album from the movie, which I religiously (sorry for the bad pun) watch whenever the TV Gods offer it up. My parents had the Broadway album which has some songs not in the movie version, including the delicious “How Can Love Survive?” which I have always loved.  Mary Martin made a wonderful, albeit slightly older, Maria.

And the movie.  Who can forget the slightly evil Eleanor Parker saying to the sexy Christopher Plummer (oh, how I love a man in uniform) “Out there, darling, is a young girl who I believe will never be (dramatic pause) a nun.”

(Okay so I was eight when I saw this the first time. Jefferson Theatre, Fort Wayne,  Indiana. $4 a ticket.)  It stuck with me.

And the gazebo scene.

“Can this be happening?” says the breathless Maria, caught up in the spell of the Captain.

Oh, my, as George Takei would say. (Chances are, he too loves Christopher Plummer.)

Hate me if you must. “West Side Story” wins in a match to the death with “Les Miserables.”

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