Musicals on DVD 5

Reviews by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2007)

Into the Woods (Image)

No special features on the DVD release, but none are needed. Stephen Sondheim's Broadway hit was taped live in performance by the amazing original cast, headed by Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason. Sumptuous production values, great picture & sound -- this DVD is a must-have for all serious musical theatre lovers.

Jesus Christ Superstar (Various)

This musical gave the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice their first taste of international success. Unfortunately, all film and video versions have been crippled by directors imposing their "vision" on material that just wants to tell a straightforward story. The normally reliable Norman Jewison let far too many ideas get in the way of his 1973 big screen version starring Ted Neeley, which at least has Yvonne Elliman recreating her famed rendition of "I Don't Know How to Love Him." The DVD includes a commentary track by Jewison and Neeley, and an interview with Rice.

While the film leaves a lot to be desired, it is no worse than the moronic, udated British video version released in 2001 starring no one of particular note.

Either way, you get NO clue as to what made this rock opera a landmark hit. Pity.

Judy Garland: The Concert Years (Kultur)

An exciting collection of Garland performing before live audiences, preserving some of the most vibrant footage of her in existence. Seeing her wow a studio audience with powerhouse renditions of "Swanee" and "San Francisco," you can see what made her one of the greats. The only bonus feature is newsreel coverage of A Star is Born's Hollywood premiere. But the very existence of this DVD is a bonus. It is essential viewing for Garland fans, and a rare pleasure for anyone who loves the great American songbook.

The Jungle Book (Disney)

The original DVD release had no noteworthy special features, but the 2007 two disc deluxe edition has extras galore. A huge hit in 1968, this film is still sensational fun. Along with a great score by the Sherman Brothers, there are stellar vocals by Phil Harris, Louis Prima and George Saunders. The last animated film created under Walt Disney's personal supervision, it is a fitting finale to his rich screen legacy.

Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer (WB/Turner)

Originally aired as part of the PBS American Masters series, this 85 minute documentary gives a frank and wonderfully entertaining look at filmmaker Gene Kelly's life and career with clips from many of his memorable dance routines. The DVD edition has no noteworthy special features.

The King and I (20th Century Fox)

The original DVD release had no frills, but the two disc 2006 edition more than made up for that . For starters, the movie was given an eye-popping restoration, as well as a very informative commentary track by film historians Richard Barrios and Michael Portantiere. The second disc includes the pilot for the short-lived TV series Anna and the King, some vintage footage of the original Broadway production, and a stills recreation of the cut number "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You." Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr  are perfection in the leads, Marni Nixon dubs Kerr's singing with extraordinary grace, and the physical production is breathtaking, so it is easy to see why this film is such a beloved classic. The special edition is a must-have for serious collectors.

Kiss Me Kate - Stage (Image)

Taped live in London, this production uses the same staging that delighted New York in 1999. Broadway veterans Brent Barrett and Rachel York dazzle as the once-married stars battling their way through a musical version of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Michael Berrese and Nancy Anderson are both sexy and sensational as the secondary leads. I found this staging a bit hyper-kinetic, and the libretto did not need the sometimes heavy-handed revisions, but there is plenty here to enjoy. The DVD edition has no special features other than one of the best scores of Broadway's golden age.

Lady and the Tramp (Disney)

What a wonderful film! The original DVD release was minimalistic -- the later special edition added a second disc of special features. (Amazing how those greedy Disney execs keep bleeding fans over and over again, isn't it?) This film broke records for home video sales, so the word is obviously out.

The Little Mermaid (Disney)

Here is another case where the pure greed of corporate executives floors me. The Little Mermaid was first released in a plain DVD edition with no special features. Then in 2006, a special two disc re-release not only piled on questionable added features, but had the nerve to boast of a "restored" picture. What nonsense! Since the movie was made in 1989, there is really no discernable difference between the look and sound of the film on the two editions -- why does Disney find it necessary to lie in order to sell a product? A brilliant film, but the DVD special edition is a symptom of greed gone wild.

The Little Mermaid II (Disney)

An inferior sequel to a screen classic that Disney released direct to DVD -- rarely a good sign. The animation and the score are no match for the big screen original, and the story (Ariel's human daughter yearns to become a mermaid) is predictable from start to finish. A few minor DVD extras include a "storybook" narrated by Jodi Benson. Strictly for very young viewers whose parents don't care how stupid their kid's entertainment is.

Little Shop of Horrors (WB/Turner)

One of the all-time best screen adaptations of a stage musical, this film is a total treat. Although I suppose the site of a mammoth plant gobbling up human beings might be a bit much for some younger viewers, its all rather harmless compared to the violence common in mainstream films today. Director Frank Oz provides a frequently fascinating commentary track, and there is a selection of outtakes. We even get information on an alternate ending that had (as in the stage version) the man-eating plants taking over the world. For once, a screen version is as good as, and in some ways better than, a stage original. Highly recommended!

Love Me Tonight (Kino Video)

Not a hit in its initial 1933 release, this film has become the darling of scholars and film buffs thanks to its use of musical dialogue and innovative cinematic techniques. The DVD release has an outstanding commentary track by historian and raconteur Miles Kreuger, screenplay excepts of deleted scenes, a rare glimpse of production documents and an additional clip of Maurice Chevalier singing his trademark hit "Louise." The film is decently restored, and Chevalier shines as a tailor romancing wealthy but frustrated noblewoman Jeanette MacDonald. The Rodgers & Hart score includes "Lover" and "Mimi," and innovative director Rouben Mamoulian would later re-team with Rodgers for the stage hits Oklahoma and Carousel. Myrna Loy makes a splash here as an upper class slut, just a few years before her star ascended to the S. Well worth seeing and owning.


You've probably heard horrible things about this film. Well, as one of its few fans, I urge you to judge it for yourself. A long overdue DVD remastering makes this film look far better than it has on either VHS or cable reruns. Sure, Lucille Ball was no singer, but she brings great comic warmth to the role of Mame Dennis, and she is surrounded by a sensational supporting cast. Bea Arthur sizzles as Vera, Jane Connell is a riot as Gooch, and Robert Preston is arguably the most loveable Beauregard of all time. Onna White adapted her wonderful stage choreography, and most of Jerry Herman's magnificent score is intact. While Mame is not the film it might have been, it still offers lots of great entertainment, and the final montage packs a sentimental punch. The DVD includes a featurette released when the film was made -- and shows you how grainy the film has usually looked until now.

March of the Wooden Soldiers (Good Times)

This holiday favorite has been colorized, making it look a bit better than it did on old TV reruns. This DVD (there have been other inferior releases) includes an interview with Oliver Hardy and a home movie by Stan Laurel -- both are pleasant but non-essential. The songs all come from Victor Herbert's score for the 1903 stage hit Babes in Toyland, making this the closest that hit stage musical ever came to getting a decent film version.

Mary Martin & Ethel Merman (VAI)

In 1953, the Ford 50th Anniversary Show was telecast simultaneously on two networks and seen by almost every American with a television. Here is a kinescope of the material Merman and Martin performed, including skits, medleys, and their extended duet sequence. Altogether, its is less than 30 minutes of material, but it is a joy to behold. Martin's "Fashion Show" routine is hilarious, and the final duet medley is stupendous -- two legends knocking out more than 30 songs, including several of their most famous showstoppers. Directed with exemplary simplicity by Jerome Robbins, it set a standard that would echo through television performances for years to come. Dedicated musical theatre fans will definitely want this one on their shelves.

Mary Poppins (Disney)

As always, Disney released a simple DVD version first, then in 2004 picked the public's pockets all over again with a two disc "40th Anniversary Edition." The latter includes a delightful new animated short narrated by Julie Andrews, a deleted song, a "making of" featurette, a reunion of Andrews and co-star Dick Van Dyke, and a commentary track featuring the recollections of several cast and crew members. Since the picture and sound have both been noticeably enhanced, the two disc edition is well worth owning. If only Disney had the decency to do it this well the first time around!

Meet Me in St. Louis (WB/Turner)

This is long delayed but first-class DVD release offers a much loved MGM classic sumptuously restored in all its Technicolor glory. Along with an enjoyable and extremely informative commentary by Garland scholar John Fricke and actress Margaret O'Brien, there are several documentaries, assorted musical shorts, and a photo recreation of what the deleted song "Boys and Girls Like You An Me" might have looked like. There is also a pilot episode for a Meet Me in St. Louis TV sitcom version starring Celeste Holm as the mother. A must-have for Garland fans, movie buffs, and anyone with a soul.

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