How appropriate it was that this delightful original screen musical should be
released by MGM -- the ghosts of the Freed Unit must have smiled!
Broadway veteran Todd Graff wrote, produced and directed this
heartwarming look at life in a performing arts summer camp. The young
cast is extremely gifted, and a giddy performance of "It's Turkey
Lurkey Time" from Promises Promises is a surprise highlight.
edition includes a fun selection of deleted and extended scenes, as well
as a better than usual "making of" featurette. Very highly recommended!
Carol Channing & Pearl Bailey on Broadway (Image)
A 1969 TV special brought Broadway's most beloved Hello Dolly
stars together, with mixed results that most musical theatre buffs are going to
enjoy. Some of the material choices are a tad strange, but we get to see both
Channing and Bailey at their peak in select solos and skits --
Channing's Dietrich imitation remains a classic, as does her brilliant
"Cecilia Sisson" routine. No special features, but great sound and
The wonderful big screen version of this musical makes for
exceptional entertainment, and there have been various DVD editions. Be
sure to get one that includes the full length commentary by director Rob
Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon -- informative, and at times
surprising. Fans will delight in the cut number "Class," and
there is an enjoyable "making of" featurette.
A Christmas Carol (Hallmark)
Much as I loved Kelsey Grammer on Cheers and Frasier, I loathed his
self-indulgent performance here. Perhaps if the producer had been
someone other than his wife, somebody might have reigned the big boy in.
As it is, a very enjoyable stage musical becomes a tedious TV special. Broadway veterans.
Jane Krakowski and Jason Alexander do their damnedest, and the Lynn Ahrens-Alan Menken
score is top notch, and watchful viewers enjoy a rare chance to see Linzi Hateley
(Broadway's original Carrie) in a fine performance as Mrs. Cratchit.
I can't imagine too many people caring much about the director's commentary.
Nicely packaged, but in my opinion this weak production never needed
to be released at all.
Chu Chin Chow (VCI)
If you think lousy long-running British musicals are a recent
phenomenon, check out this extended yawn that held a West End stage for
more than two thousand performances during World War I. The plot is a
reworking of the Ali Baba legend, with the famous "open sesame" cave
and a climactic scene where thieves hidden in jars are killed by means
of boiling oil. The forgettable songs give no clue as to why this thing was a
phenomenon. The ambitious two disc DVD edition gives a slew of
extras, including a commentary track, galleries and bonus music tracks.
Filmed in 1934, the sound and picture have been decently restored, but I fear it is
far more than this tedious film deserves. Tireless
students of the British musical and dedicated Anna May Wong fans may be fascinated,
but most everyone else can miss this one without regret.
Cinderella (TV 1957 - Image)
The 1957 broadcast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella was
long considered lost, but a full kinescope copy eventually turned up.
Now recovered and lovingly restored, it provides a magical
window into the golden age of musical theatre at its zenith. Julie
Andrews was in the midst of her run in My Fair Lady, and her
youthful glow animates every scene she is in. The R&H score is
packed with great songs, and the all-star cast of Broadway veterans
gives their all. A charming documentary has interviews with
surviving cast members, and we also get an interesting appearance by the
songwriters on the Ed Sullivan Show. A magical taste of a lost era.
Cinderella (TV 1964 - Columbia/Goldwyn)
The 1964 remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella is another
delight. The libretto is more traditional take on the classic story and
although, the full color production sometimes borders on the garish, the
performances are uniformly excellent. Leslie Ann Warren is a winning
Cinderella, handsome baritone Stuart Damon is perfect as Prince Charming,
and Celeste Holm is a wonderful Fairy Godmother. It is easy to see why this version became an annual
staple on network television for more than a decade. The leads share
memories of the production in a brief featurette. Great for kids or
Cinderella (TV 1997 - Disney)
High ratings and frequent rebroadcasts cannot make a silk purse out of this
garish production, which amounted to a desecration of Rodgers & Hammerstein's
only original TV musical. Stick to the earlier versions.
Damn Yankees (WB/Turner)
A decent remastering with no special features to speak of -- a
commentary track would have made sense here -- but we do get to see
members of the legendary original Broadway cast strut their marvelous stuff, with choreographer
Bob Fosse himself joining Gwen Verdon for the delightful mambo "Who's Got the
Pain." And it is devilish good fun to see Ray Walston gleefully
recreate his greatest stage role. However, the DVD edition offers nothing you wouldn't get by
catching a rerun on TV.
Although this bio pic tries to be more frank about Cole Porter's private life
than the earlier effort Night and Day, the results are
unsatisfying as either history or entertainment. It is no surprise that Kevin Kline is great in the
lead, but most of the musical numbers are badly handled. Putting
these songs in the mouths of clueless contemporary pop singers was a
painfully stupid idea. Two commentary tracks, deleted scenes and a "making
of" featurette are not enough to make this embarrassment
Easter Parade (WB/Turner)
It took a long time for this MGM classic to get to DVD, but it was worth the
wait. Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, a score by Irving Berlin -- pure
musical comedy heaven! Along with the handsomely restored film, we get
excellent commentary by Astaire's daughter Ava and intrepid Garland biographer
John Fricke, a "making of" featurette, and the sensational PBS
American Masters profile of Judy Garland. There is also an audio of a
radio version with the original stars, and Garland's outtake of
Berlin's "Mr. Monotony." A super film and a super package --
very highly recommended.
Evita (Hollywood Pictures)
A handsome and entertaining adaptation of the
long-running stage hit. Madonna has limitations as an actress, but this
production plays to her strong points, keeping her eye-poppingly
costumed and moving at top speed. The real surprise is Antonio Banderas,
who proved to be that big screen rarity, a sex symbol who can actually
sing. The score is reasonably served; as a fan of the stage version, I
was not disappointed. The DVD has no added features, so you may as well catch this on a TV
Fiddler On the Roof (MGM)
Aside from being a tad too long, this is a fine adaptation of a
great Broadway musical. The cast is uniformly strong, with Yiddish
theatre legend Molly Picon unforgettable as Yenta the matchmaker. The DVD includes
some nifty extras, including a very informative commentary by director
Norman Jewison and star Chaim Topol, a deleted number ("Any Day
Now"), as well as a featurette on the director and a fascinating look at
how scenes in the film moved from storyboard to final product. Well
worth the reasonable sticker price, and a great way to revisit Anatevka.
Follies in Concert (Image)
A memorable behind the scenes look at the acclaimed all-star 1985 concert
staging of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, with a generous selection of
performance clips. Highlights include Elaine Stritch's "Broadway
Baby, Met diva Licia Albanese singing "One More Kiss," and
several ravishing numbers by Barbara Cook -- every bit of this is
essential viewing. No
special features, but worth owning, if only so one does not have to fast
forward through the deadly fundraising breaks that plagued every PBS
telecast of this classic.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (MGM)
There are no special features (sorry, but calling one folded page a
"collectible booklet" is just plain silly), so you'll do just
as well seeing this one on TV. It is the only time Zero Mostel got to
recreate one of his musical stage roles on film, and for that alone it
is well worth watching -- but we also get Jack Gilford and Phil Silvers
showing what great mid-20th Century comedy was all about. Highlights
include the bawdy glee of "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" and
the hilarious Mostel-Gilford duet "Lovely." Michael
Crawford plays one of the dippy ingénue roles that he specialized in
before he donned the Phantom's mask, and director Richard Lester keeps
the comic action flowing.
Funny Face (Paramount)
Great Gershwin songs, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn at their best, a knockout
performance by behind-the-scenes legend Kay Thompson, direction by
Stanley Donen, all set on location in Paris -- it doesn't get better
than this. Unfortunately, none of the DVD releases has offered any
worthwhile special features (A "Paramount in the 1950s"
featurette? Oh, please.) So you can save your money and catch this delicious
film on a TV rerun.
Funny Girl (Columbia)
One of the best big screen adaptations of a Broadway musical, this film
marked Barbra Streisand's ascent to mega-stardom. As entertainment, it
cannot be beat. The DVD restoration looks and sounds
"gorgeous," but aside from
two period featurettes about Streisand, the special features are nothing
to talk about. I have just as much fun seeing this one on TCM.
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