Musicals on DVD 6

Reviews by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2007)

The Music Man (WB/Turner)

A brief introduction by Shirley Jones (standing beside one of the band uniforms?) is fun to have, but frankly, a good commentary track would have been more valuable. There are also trailers and a decent "making of" documentary, so at least this is a step above watching a TV rerun. The film captures Robert Preston in all his glory as a flim-flam artist selling the idea of a boys band (including instruments & uniforms) to a small Iowa town in 1912. Jones gives the best musical performance of her screen career -- no mean compliment! True, the film is tad long, but wonderful performances and a great score make this a pleasure to watch. Younger film buffs will get a kick out of seeing future director Ron Howard in his musical debut as the lisping Winthrop. Great entertainment!

There is also an appalling Disney TV version, with Matthew Broderick wooden as Harold Hill, and the divine Kristin Chenoweth saddled with needless, ugly key changes as Marian. A swindle by any standard, this rancid accident should only be shown to convicted terrorists as a form of torture.

My Fair Lady (WB/Turner)

For many years, this gorgeous film was televised in substandard prints like the one seen in early VHS editions. For the 1994 home video release, the entire film got a frame by frame digital overhaul, with dazzling results. You can make out long lost details in every scene, right down to the patterns in the Higgins wallpaper. 2004 brought a "Special Edition" DVD that adds a commentary track and second disc of features -- documentaries, Audrey Hepburn's alternate vocal tracks for two songs, star interviews, and the usual assortment of galleries and trailers. Seeing this film was a key moment in my lifelong love affair with musicals, so I was particularly delighted with this high quality release. A greater musical simply does not exist, and although the film could have benefited from a bit of pruning, it is still magnificent. Very highly recommended!

My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs (Image/Hybrid)

Julie Andrews hosted this all-star PBS gala at New York's City Center in 2000. Some of the songs are classics revisited by their original interpreters, such as Robert Goulet singing "If Ever I Would Leave You" and Michael Crawford's "Music of the Night." We also get Marin Mazzie, Nathan Lane, Linda Eder, Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera and a host of others doing less expected things, and the place goes understandably wild when Andrews makes her first public attempt at singing after the throat surgery that ended her musical career. Serious fans will enjoy wallowing in this showtune-fest.

Naughty Marietta (VAI)

Broadway's Alfred Drake and Met diva Patrice Munsel teamed up for this 1955 TV production that made some changes to the original libretto but left much of the Victor Herbert score intact. There is sensational singing, and both the sound and picture quality are surprisingly good, with the exception of one missing bit of footage in the "Neapolitan Street Song" that is covered with a slightly confusing visual edit. John Conti is an attractive bad guy, and Broadway favorite Bambi Lynn is in the needlessly added dance ensemble. Most operetta fans will be happy with this production. Not perfection, but far closer to the original material than the MGM screen version.

New Faces (Critic's Choice)

Leonard Sillman's hit 1955 Broadway revue is filmed pretty much as it was seen on stage. The quality of the color print is uneven, and damned near nothing has been done to restore the sound or picture. However, this is a rare chance to see Alice Ghostley, Paul Lynde, Carol Lawrence and Eartha Kitt at the start of their careers. An episode of the Dorsey Brothers 1955 TV series starring Sarah Vaughan and Morey Amsterdam is thrown in -- a fun idea that has no real relation to the main attraction. Those who share my passion for entertainment from this period will find this release enjoyable, but one can't help wishing better restoration technology had been applied.

Night and Day (WB/Turner)

Hollywood's screen musical bios are all about rewriting history, and this one is no exception. Cary Grant played Cole Porter as the tall, handsome heterosexual that Porter always wished he could have been. The results have little to do with reality but are often entertaining. The highlight is seeing Mary Martin recreate her career-making rendition of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." The DVD release includes a Desi Arnaz musical short and a Bugs Bunny Cartoon, so you can make this into your own private "Matinee at the Bijou." Otherwise, you won't do much worse catching this film during a TV rerun.

A Night at the Opera (WB/Turner)

One of the best Marx Brothers movies unleashes the madcap quartet in the stuffy world of grand opera. Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle handle the singing, and the always grand Margaret Dumont is on hand to put up with the usual nonsense from Groucho and company. Not to be missed: the famous "Stateroom" routine, which sees a small ship's cabin stuffed with people, food, etc. The DVD includes an excellent commentary by Leonard Maltin, a new documentary, a 1961 interview with Groucho, and some enjoyable vintage short subjects. A first-class DVD release that is well worth owning. For those who think they do not like the Marx Brothers, this film might change your mind.

Oklahoma - Stage (Image)

A young and unknown Australian actor put himself on the map in the 1999 London revival of Oklahoma, and Hugh Jackman's subsequent rise to superstardom has made this DVD all the more popular. A "making of" documentary is thrown in, but the show is the reason to buy this one. Jackman is musical and dramatic perfection as Curly, the cowboy who loves a hard to get farm girl in the Oklahoma territory. Susan Stroman's choreography is no match for DeMille's original dances, but it serves well enough, and the entire cast is energetic and heartfelt. One big exception -- dancer Josefina Gabrielle is not always up to the musical demands of playing Laurey. But this is still a must have for serious fans, a great way to relish an American classic. Presented in widescreen, with excellent picture and sound quality.

Oklahoma - Film version (20th Century Fox)

Rodgers & Hammerstein supervised this handsome big screen version of their landmark stage hit, and if some of the original excitement is missing, there is still plenty to enjoy. Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones make an unusually attractive pair as lovers who refuse to admit their love, and Agnes DeMille adapted her groundbreaking choreography for the screen. There have been various home video editions over the years, but the latest 2 disc DVD set is a winner, with a long list of interesting special features.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Paramount)

Only a modest success on stage, this musical proves downright dull on screen. Director Vincente Minnelli is not at his best with this, his last musical film -- although many sources suggest the producers mangled his work. The main attraction is hearing Barbra Streisand sing some fine songs by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner. The DVD edition has no notable special features, so you'll do just as well catching this on a late night rerun, when it can lull you to sleep.

The Pajama Game (WB/Turner)

Doris Day joined John Raitt and other members of the original Broadway cast to bring this hit to the big screen with delightful results. Bob Fosse's choreography is preserved, including Carol Haney's unforgettable performances of "Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway." The DVD has only one major special feature, but it's a doozy -- Day's rendition of a "The Man Who Invented Love," a fine new song that was cut from the film. One of Day's best screen performances, fans will enjoy having this in their collections.

Passion (Image)

Few Tony Award winners for Best Musical have ever made it to home video exactly as seen on Broadway. Here we have the original cast, taped live on stage. Along with the show itself, the DVD offers a commentary track with songwriter Stephen Sondheim, director-librettist James Lapine and several of the leading cast members. There is also an audio-only track of a number cut during previews. A must have for Sondheim fans, and fascinating for anyone with a serious interest in musical theatre.

Years later, the PBS series Live From Lincoln Center broadcast a concert version of Passion starring Patti Lupone, Michael Cerveris and Audra MacDonald that was every bit as wonderful -- some even preferred it to the original staging. Unfortunately, that version was never released on home video.

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