It all began in about 2005, when the Daily Star came with a free CD containing classic songs from musicals. On it I first heard the following-
One night in Bangkok, from Chess
The Phantom of the Opera, From the show of the same name
All I ask of you from Phantom
One day More from Les Mis
All that Jazz, from Chicago
I think there was a song from Cabaret…
And many other hits that I don’t remember. Above however are the songs that just wowed me. Even on a crappy little pair of headphones holding my discman on my tummy, I knew I had discovered a new obsession. The only problem with being a musical nerd when you’re 13, live in Dublin in 2005 and are on the poor end of middle class means you never do get to actually… *see* the shows that these songs are from. So that’s why, unlike many musical purists I still get pretty excited when Hollywood announces they’ll be adapting some musical onto he big screen. Before the Grand Canal Theatre opened about 2 years ago there was pretty much nowhere to see west end quality productions in Ireland- There used to visit the old Point Depot with some fequency but arena style venues never suited musicals so well, and the Grand Canal is that perfect size.
Bigger than the cramped Gaiety meaning ticket prices can be kept reasonable and large enough to accommodate the big shows like Phantom and (SOMEDAY SOON I HOPE) Wicked. But still, I have a fondness for Musical movies. They were my first experience of these stories- Even less favoured ones like the much reviled Phantom of the Opera movie I still forgive and defend- The woeful cast does break it fundamentally BUT STILL the film has some beautiful costumes, amazing visual direction and amazing orchestration. Of all the Musicals adapted to not use a cast of professional singers it suffers the most. There’s a reason you’re not likely to see Andrew Lloyd Webber running a show on ITV looking for a new Phantom or Christine and that’s because of all his music, Phantom has the most complex score and it’s damn difficult to get right- I don’t even think Sarah Brightman who he wrote the thing for hits all the right bases as Christine. But casting non-singer Gerad Butler in one of the most challenging roles in music was a bad move (And Hugh Jackman was like RIGHT THERE. MADNESS)
So Phantom as a film got everything except the most vital parts right; even the new production of it I saw last week took A LOT of cues from the film on aesthetic grounds- even the more understated costumes are similar. Another film that saw mixed reaction that I loved was Chicago. It was a great musical film, taking the source show and really putting the new medium to use- the elaborate musical set pieces are now fantasies in Roxie’s head which I always thought was a neat idea. I even doff my hat to the decent but fan hated film of Rent. I’ve always had mixed feelings about rent because while the Music is heart breakingly good there’s no denying the show is about proto hipster arseholes. Chicago is about awful people too but at least that show had the decency to make it very clear they’re supposed to be so.
I don’t think Moulin Rouge aged particularly well- the other two films in the semi-connected ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’ of Baz Lurhman movies fared much better. Strictly ballroom is campy, at times nightmarish and sweetly romantic without being saccarhine and really holds up despite an obviously stretched to it’s limits budget and Romeo + Juliet remains a masterpiece. Compared to these two Moulin Rouge now feels… flat, and processed. You’re very aware while watching that it’s all sound staged and hollow EXCEPT FOR THE TANGO ROXANNE which I think is one of the best movie sequences ever in a musical and indeed, one of the best of the noughties. In fact, expect a full blog on the red curtain movies soon.
The film of hairspray is campy and fun, even if John Travolta in drag is… strange in hindsight (while you’re watching it’s a scream) and the same goes for Mamma Mia- Both are just great winter afternoon pick me ups, and all the non- singers in the cast are pleasantly nudged into competence with a dash of auto tune and that’s fine. Light entertainment, cheap and available on DVD. It’s not the same as seeing it on stage but at least gives some of the experience. It sort of lets you put your foot in the door before the big honking new theatre gets built. Films of stage musicals, good or bad, I still consider them to be a boon to fans like my fat 13 year old self- You don’t have to pay hundreds to fly to London and see them- they can sit on your shelf. I think most I’ve seen have been mediocre at worst and campy fun at their best.
Niamh ‘One night in Bangkok and the worlds your oyster’ Keoghan