Musicals on DVD 3

Reviews by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2007)

Camp (MGM)

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. The DVD 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 picture quality.

Chicago (Miramax)

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 on DVD 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 adults.

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.

De-Lovely (MGM)

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 cinematic embarrassment worth owning.

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 rerun.

Fiddler On the Roof (MGM)

Aside from being a tad too long, this is a fine screen 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 have 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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