Musicals on DVD 7

Reviews by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2007)

Patience - Opera Australia (Image)

One of a series of Gilbert & Sullivan productions taped live in performance by Opera Australia, this is a first-rate rendition of one of Gilbert & Sullivan's less well known works. Designed as a spoof of Victorian England's aesthetic movement, this operetta still serves as a wickedly funny send-up of social pretensions in our own time. Both the comedy and the music are extremely well served, and the sound and picture quality are excellent. No special features, but G&S fans will relish this wonderful stage performance, including a hilarious flub in the final scene. Very highly recommended!

Peter Pan - Mary Martin (Good Times)

As of this writing, this DVD is out of print -- it is also one of the most highly sought-after items on the collector's black market, and with excellent reason. Mary Martin's Peter Pan conquered Broadway and became a landmark event in early television history. After two black and white broadcasts failed to quell public demand, NBC brought the cast together a third time to videotape this full color version. Martin is at her best as the boy who won't grow up; how well I remember the way reruns of this special left kids in my neighborhood crowing for days! Cyril Ritchard snarled and pranced his way into America's heart as the villainous Captain Hook, and the supporting cast makes the most of every moment. The score is packed with great songs, including the unforgettable "I'm Flying" and "Neverland." This is the best surviving visual record we have of a 1950s "golden age" Broadway musical in action. The DVD had no special features -- the show itself was the only feature required. If a copy of this comes your way, treasure it.

Peter Pan - Cathy Rigby (A&E)

New stage technology and gymnastic ability make Cathy Rigby's flying sequences truly eye popping, but she also sings beautifully and makes a first rate Peter. She is surrounded by a fine cast, including Paul Schoeffler as Hook and Rigby's son Thomas Buck Mason as the loveable dog Nana. While Mary Martin's version remains unsurpassable, this new production is grand fun.

Peter Pan (Disney)

This fine animated film does not always get the credit it deserves. Barrie's tale is given a classy adaptation, and the score includes some very fine songs. A special DVD edition has lots of fun extras. A treat for children, but most adults will enjoy this one too.

H.M.S. Pinafore - Opera Australia (Kultur)

Those brilliant Australian's have struck again, with thoroughly satisfying results. Gilbert and Sullivan's Pinafore is served handsomely, and with the excruciating exception of a loutish Buttercup, is sung with great style. Handsome baritone Anthony Warlow plays the social climbing Captain Corcoran, then returns as the scurrilous Judge in a superb performance of the delicious one act Trial By Jury. This is a must-have for fans of G&S, and a great introduction to two of their best works.

The Pirates of Penzance - Broadway Cast (Kultur)

I adore this DVD! The smash hit 1981 New York revival of Pirates began life as a free outdoor production the summer before, and a video version of that glorious al fresco staging was sadly shelved because of some technical glitches. The feature film version starring most of this cast did not capture the fun of the stage performances nearly as well. So, after years of delay, this live performance was finally released on home video, where it sold well. The DVD remastering makes the tech problems negligible. Kevin Kline is a wildly sexy and comic Pirate King, Rex Smith is a humpy pop-vocal Frederic, Linda Ronstadt is a petite and winning Mabel, and George Rose is a scene-stealing riot as the far from modern Major General. PBS Brit-com fans will delight in seeing Patricia Routledge (Hyacinth in Keeping Up Appearances) in a knockout musical performance. The giddy, souped-up orchestrations add to the fun, and for all the innovative staging, the text and music are both extremely well served. If you love musicals, you will relish this disc.

The Producers (Universal)

The stage hit made it to the big screen with most of its original cast and staging intact, but most of the excitement was lost, and audiences stayed away. Fans of the show can enjoy favorite moments, with the outrageous "Keep It Gay" among the highlights. The DVD release includes an informative but obviously scripted commentary by director Susan Stroman, outtakes, deleted scenes, and a detailed analysis of how the "I Want to Be a Producer" number was planned and filmed. We also get Nathan Lane's deleted opening number, "The King of Broadway." Disappointing in some ways, but overall a worthwhile memento of a Broadway hit.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (20th Century Fox)

There have been many home video editions of this cult favorite, each offering various bonus features. All but the most rabid fans will probably be quite happy with the standard DVD edition, which offers additional footage, commentary by the author, and the option of viewing the film with the sort of audience reaction you would have at a late night public screening. The film looks and sounds great, and it is always a pleasure to "do the time warp again." A great package for a grand bit of campy insanity.

Scrooge (Paramount)

The big screen success of Oliver brought a brief slew of British film musicals based on stories by Charles Dickens, of which this brilliant retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol was easily the best. Handsomely produced and brilliantly cast, this version also offers a first-rate score by Leslie Bricusse, including the rollicking ensemble "Thank You Very Much." Albert Finney is excellent in the title role, and Alec Guinness offers a scene-stealing performance as Marley's ghost. A holiday treasure, very highly recommended.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (WB/Turner)

This MGM classic has had various home video releases. The basic DVD edition includes a "making of" documentary hosted by star Howard Keel. The two disc set released in 2004 adds a commentary by director Stanley Donen and an alternate screen aspect ratio version of the full film. Go for the latter if you can find it, and relish one of the last great musicals from Hollywood's golden age.

1776 (Columbia)

Along with a visually and aurally stunning restoration, the "Director's Cut" DVD edition gives us the socko cut number "Cool Considerate Men" and informative commentary by the director and screenwriter. Most of the original Broadway cast is on hand to recreate their marvelous performances, most notably William Daniels as a fiery John Adams and Howard DaSilva as a cuddly but formidable Ben Franklin. My advice: own it, love it.

Singin' in the Rain (WB/Turner)

The original DVD release offered little worth having, including a so-so print of the film. The two disc "Special Edition" made up for that: an outstanding restoration, an all-star (and at times confusing) commentary track, documentaries, an outtake number and other goodies. Considered by many to be the best original screen musical of all time, this film deserved this fantastic package. All musical buffs ought to own a copy.

Snow White (Disney)

The first of Disney's "Platinum Edition" DVD releases, this one set a high standard. The film was given a painstaking frame by frame restoration, and has never looked or sounded better. There is a commentary track, interesting documentaries, and a second disc packed with games, galleries, bonus audio tracks, and a rendition of "Someday My Prince Will Come" by Barbra Streisand. If you have kids, you owe them a chance to see this. If you still have an inner child, you owe it to yourself.

The Sorcerer - BBC/PBS (Acorn)

The BBC/PBS "Complete Gilbert & Sullivan" series was mostly disappointing, but this production is one of the happy exceptions. Broadway veteran Clive Revill mugs up a storm as John Wellington Wells, a business-like 1870s wizard called on to make an entire Victorian village to fall in love. The physical production is extremely handsome, the cast is up to all the musical and dramatic demands, and most fans will be pleased with the absolute fidelity to the original text.

Back to: Musicals on DVD Index