Musicals on DVD 8

Reviews by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2007)

The Sound of Music (20th Century Fox)

New DVD editions of this one just keep on coming. The 2000 "Five Star Collection" two disc set has a fascinating commentary by director Robert Wise (arguably the best commentary for any musical film on DVD), a new "making of" documentary, a 1965 featurette, interviews with Wise and Julie Andrews, and an assortment of lesser features. Then came the 2004 "40th Anniversary Edition" which kept the Wise commentary, added a second commentary track by Andrews and Plummer, then introduced four all-new documentaries plus an A&E Biography episode on the real Von Trapp family. Both versions seem to use the same handsome restoration of the film. As a devoted fan of this movie, I wound up keeping both editions -- each has features worth owning. One wonders what the 50th Anniversary edition will bring . . .

South Pacific - TV Cast

The price on this DVD has plummeted over the years, but no matter how you compute the numbers, this is a pricey coaster with a hole in the middle. You certainly won't ever want to put this disaster in your player, unless you want to hear the sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein whirling in their graves. Glenn Close is up to the material, but her supporting cast is uniformly disastrous. A pointless and offensive waste of money, time and talent.

South Pacific - Concert Cast (Rhino)

Taped live in performance at Carnegie Hall (and "sweetened" a bit with dress rehearsal footage), this excellent performance helped restore the reputation of this classic. The libretto is slightly abridged, but the score is uncut and performed to near perfection. Reba McEntire is a charming Nellie, Brian Stokes Mitchell dazzles as Emile (his "This Nearly Was Mine" is ravishing), and Alec Baldwin is surprisingly good as Billis. Jason Danieley is a heartwarming Lt. Cable ("Younger Than Springtime" has never sounded better), and Lillias White is a revelation as Bloody Mary. The wonderful Paul Gemignani conducts the Orchestra of St. Luke's -- it doesn't get better than that. The ensemble is excellent, and the picture and sound quality are outstanding. Very highly recommended.

Star (20th Century Fox)

The folks at Fox made a big mistake when they made major cuts to this film. True, the colorful life story of Gertrude Lawrence is no Sound of Music, but Julie Andrews makes the multitude of musical numbers extraordinary fun. The DVD edition includes a commentary by director Robert Wise, two "making of" featurettes, and screen tests.

A Star is Born (WB)

The DVD edition does not include a commentary track, but there is plenty to justify adding this to your collection. There are three alternate stagings of "The Man That Got Away" (each intriguing), the deleted mini-number "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street," and the full reconstructed "director's cut" of the film -- done in part using photo stills to replace lost scenes edited out soon after the film opened. A must-have for Garland fans, and a great film overall.

Summer Stock (WB/Turner)

Gene Kelly puts on a show in Judy Garland's barn; a musical film buff's formula for good times! Kelly dances a nifty solo with a creaky floorboard and a sheet of newsprint, and Garland offers her unforgettable rendition of "Get Happy." The DVD includes an outstanding "making of" documentary, an outtake number (audio only), and some vintage shorts. A great evening's entertainment all on one disc -- highly recommended.

Sweeney Todd - Stage (WB)

This TV taping of the first national touring version of Broadway's original Sweeney Todd earned 3 Emmy Awards, and with good reason. The DVD edition features an excellent remastering of the once muddy soundtrack, making it all the more joyous to see Angela Lansbury, George Hearn and company in this definitive Hal Prince staging. A must have for any musical theatre buff.

Sweet Charity (Universal)

Bob Fosse did a handsome and entertaining job of turning his stage hit into a great screen vehicle for Shirley MacLaine. The choreography is outstanding, Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Rhythm of Life" soars, and it is great to watch Broadway legends Stubby Kaye and Chita Rivera shine in rare film appearances, is but without a special feature in sight in the DVD, you won't do any worse catching this one on a TV rerun.

The Sword in the Stone (Disney)

The story of Merlin tutoring the boy who will grow up to be King Arthur makes for wonderful entertainment, especially when songs by the Sherman Brothers are thrown in. So far, there has only been a "Gold Edition," so one suspects that Disney is still planning a more ambitious release of this underestimated charmer. The current DVD features include a decent remastering of the film, assorted animated shorts, a vintage featurette with Walt Disney, and the composers performing a deleted song. Great for kids and for anyone who enjoys animation.

This Is the Army (Warner Bros.)

By some legal technicality, this film fell into the public domain. As a result, all early DVD editions sucked big time, with lousy sound and picture quality. But Warner Bros. has finally given the stellar screen version of Irving Berlin's smash hit World War II stage revue a top quality remastering. Released in a set with other WWII musicals, it boasts a great score and some fine performances. Highlights include Kate Smith's powerful rendition of "God Bless America" and Berlin's irresistible performance of "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning." And the endearing "I Left My Heart at the Stagedoor Canteen" is a personal favorite.

Thoroughly Modern Millie (Universal)

Julie Andrews is at her best in this uneven spoof of the roaring 1920s. Great vintage songs blend with enjoyable new numbers, including the acclaimed title tune. This is one of the few times stage legends Beatrice Lillie and Carol Channing preserved their zany comic antics on film. The overstuffed farcical plot falls apart by last half hour, but if you can overlook that, there are many great bits to enjoy along the way. The bad news is that the DVD has no special features, so you may as well catch this one on a good TV rerun.

Tom Sawyer (MGM)

Reader's Digest had a hand in producing this bland musical version of Mark Twain's classic. TV kid stars Johnny Whitaker and Jeff East are well cast as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and Celeste Holm is a great choice to play Aunt Polly, but the film just does not gel, and the Sherman Brothers score is not up to their usual standard. The DVD release has no special features.

Topsy Turvy (USA)

Director Mitch Leigh turned the story of how Gilbert and Sullivan wrote The Mikado into a handsome, riveting look at life in the theatre. Few films have so effectively captured the true spirit of backstage life. The cast is uniformly magical, and everyone does their own singing. Heck Allan Corduner (wonderful as Sullivan) even did his own piano playing. The last ten minutes of the film are not quite necessary, but at the tail end of a feast there is no point in complaining that the coffee is so-so. Anglophiles and G&S fans will adore this film, as will all dedicated theatre buffs. The DVD has a brief "making of" featurette, plus the usual cast bios and trailers. Very highly recommended.

Vaudeville (Fox Lorden CentreStage)

One of the best performing arts documentaries ever done, this was created as part of the PBS American Masters series. The history of vaudeville makes for fascinating viewing thanks to a feast of rare performance clips and interviews. Very highly recommended!

Victor/Victoria - Screen (WB/Turner)

One of the last truly great original screen musicals! But what else should have happened with Julie Andrews and Robert Preston singing songs by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse? Thanks to director Blake Edwards, the comedy is hilarious throughout, and the DVD includes an excellent commentary track featuring Andrews and Edwards. You will feel as if you are sharing a private screening with this gifted couple. Musical film buffs will relish this!

Victor/Victoria - Stage (Image)

More than a decade after the film version, Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards brought Victor/Victoria to Broadway, and the results are preserved here by the entire original cast, live in performance. Nothing could hope to eclipse the screen version, and we now know that the strain of eight performances a week would prematurely silence Julie's singing voice. That said, the stage version still has its share of great moments, and this DVD gives it to us with excellent picture and sound quality.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (WB/Turner)

One of the great movie musicals gets a sensational presentation in this two disc DVD set. There is a crystal-clear visual restoration, as well as an informtive commentary track by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Of James Cagney's many films, this was his personal favorite, and it isn't hard to see why. He is in his element, a one man musical comedy dynamo. The story of Broadway legend George M. Cohan rewrites history at almost every step, but offers fine renditions of Cohan's most beloved songs. A new featurette looks back at the making of the film, Michael J. Fox hosts a documentary on Cagney, and we also get a radio version of the show, audio outtakes and several enjoyable short subjects. Very worth owning and highly recommended.

You're the Top: The Cole Porter Story (WinStar)

This excellent hour long PBS documentary on the life and career of Cole Porter is packed with great vintage performance footage -- Astaire, Merman, Sinatra, Chevalier, Garland, Crosby and more are seen and heard making Porter's exquisite songs all the richer. Aside from a few readable reference pages, there are no major features, but fans of classic musical theatre and film will be delighted to have this one.

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