Are Musicals Going to Make A Comeback?

Mister D: Well, if they do make a comeback, PLEASE let some of the pros get on board, i.e., of course, big duh, and puh-leeeezzzeee…BETTE MIDLER!!!! Who do I have to lay to get this done?:-)…The extremely powerful lobby of the Exclusive Bette Midler Club??? Just a yolk folk…fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke!!!!:

IT’S THE MUSICALS, MAN Suddenly, once again, actors gotta sing, gotta dance BYLINE: PHIL KLOER, Staff EDITION: Home SECTION: Arts

MGlowworm.jpgWhen Richard Gere launches into his courtroom tap dance in the movie “Chicago,” he explains that he’s going to lay “the old razzle- dazzle” on the jury. “Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it / And the reaction will be passionate,” he promises.

The reaction of moviegoers to “Chicago” has been every bit as passionate as any fan of the old razzle-dazzle of movie musicals could hope for.

The movie won three Golden Globe Awards and is a (soft) shoe- in to be at the head of the pack when the Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday. Although not yet a blockbuster in terms of its gross (because of its release on a limited number of movie screens), “Chicago” has been making significantly more money per screen than mega-movies such as “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

“You see ‘Chicago’ and you leave the theater feeling happy and excited and you want to see it again,” says Tim McDonald, creative director of the Junior Theater Festival, which last month brought hundreds of school-age music buffs from across the country to Atlanta for performance workshops.

“Chicago” is being credited with single-handedly reviving the old-fashioned movie musical, a genre that had long been considered as dead as “Carousel’s” Billy Bigelow. There’s just one niggling detail: The movie musical (whether made for theaters or television) was already verging on a comeback. Maybe it hadn’t even gone away as thoroughly as people thought.

Well before “Chicago” opened in December, ABC was remaking Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” with Matthew Broderick channeling a bit of Ferris Bueller while playing Professor Harold Hill; the three-hour special airs Feb. 16 and is already getting 76 trombones’ worth of hype. A new feature film version of Dennis Potter’s “The Singing Detective” starring Robert Downey Jr. premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival and is headed to theaters. And PBS will air Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” taped last year on the London stage, on Feb. 26.

“The most successful musicals are the ones where the emotions are so great you can no longer talk, but have to sing,” says Neil Meron, executive producer of both “Chicago” and ABC’s “The Music Man.”

And the entertainment-industrial complex is singing a new tune, or, in many cases, some familiar old ones. With “Chicago” getting such big buzz, there’s talk of new movie versions of “Guys and Dolls” and “Bye Bye Birdie”; Meron and his partner, Craig Zadan, are definitely doing a remake of “Fiddler on the Roof” for ABC next season, and ” Rent” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” may finally get made as movies.

Though many might be singing, “Curtain up! Light the lights! We got nothing to hit but the heights!” along with “Gypsy’s” Mama Rose — who’ll soon be revived on Broadway by Bernadette Peters – — others are more cautious. “Whether or not it’s a comeback I think it’s too soon to tell,” Meron says.

The golden age Of course, the American musical probably will never again hit the heights it did during its golden age, from World War II through the mid-1960s, the era of Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Oklahoma!”), Lerner and Loewe (“My Fair Lady”) and shows such as “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Movies and television gobbled them up: Between 1961 and 1968, four of the Oscar winners for best picture were musicals: “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver!” Families flocked to TV specials such as Mary Martin’s “Peter Pan.” But two coinciding trends in the late ’60s knocked the genre into the orchestra pit. “There was a proliferation of huge, elephantine musicals like ‘Doctor Dolittle,’ ‘Paint Your Wagon’ and ‘Star!’ that came out and were enormous failures,” Meron says. ”Decision-makers came to the conclusion that nobody wanted to see these projects where people burst into song in the middle of scenes.”

At the same time, the social upheaval of the era made musicals suddenly seem as old-fashioned as vaudeville. Within the space of a few years, we moved from a popular culture where the hills were alive with the sound of music to one dominated by “Easy Rider” and “The Mod Squad.” The whole notion of mass-appeal popular music changed as well. “There was a time when you could ride in the car and parents and kids together would hear a Beatles song followed by Sinatra followed by something from ‘Oklahoma!’ ” says McDonald. But then, “Everybody wanted to get into something deep and raw,” says Ann-Carol Pence, musical director of Aurora Theatre in Duluth, which regularly schedules musicals. ”Musicals just weren’ t being produced for a while. But it’s one of the classic forms of American entertainment, and it’s really important to be celebrating an American art form.”

In the 1970s and ’80s, there were a few commercially or critically successful “pure” musicals, such as “Cabaret” and “Grease.” But Hollywood seemed more afraid of the perceived flops (“A Chorus Line,” “Hair” and, later, “Evita”) than emboldened by the successes. Through the hard times, the classic musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein might have seemed as corny as Kansas in August, but musicals morphed somewhat and survived. Audiences could still get their melodic fix, but in different ways. There were movies where music played a key role, such as “Saturday Night Fever,” “Footloose” and even “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, and animated musicals ranging from Disney classics such as “The Lion King” to the obscenity-laced but in many ways classically structured “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.”

Last fall’s surprise hit “8 Mile,” starring Eminem, was arguably a musical, and the biggest midnight-movie phenomenon ever, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” is certainly one. And don’t forget “Moulin Rouge” — perhaps the first domino in this new run. Fans of musicals were divided over Baz Luhrmann’s gloriously overwrought reworking of the genre, but a key audience — young people — got it. “I was watching ‘Moulin Rouge’ and thinking, ‘Oh, God, this is so bad,’ ” says Pence, “but if this is what gets young people interested in musicals, I’m all for it.”

Television also started getting back into the game. The first domino there was 1993’s “Gypsy,” with Bette Midler (also produced by the prolific Meron and Zadan). They followed with remakes of “Cinderella” and “Annie,” both of which featured multiracial casts. ABC is now the home of TV musicals, even though they are “horribly, horribly expensive to make,” says Quinn Taylor, the network’s senior vice president of movies and miniseries. The new “Music Man,” for example, cost $16 million — not much for a feature film but enormous for a TV movie. “I was nervous in the beginning that it was too old-fashioned,” Taylor says. “Was it going to be too difficult to sell the bygone story [set in 1912 in a small Iowa town] to a contemporary audience? But the success of ‘Annie’ and ‘Cinderella’ turned everything on its ear. These songs — ‘Seventy-six Trombones,’ ‘Trouble’ — are kind of everywhere, even if you haven’t seen the musical.”

Some TV series picked up the beat, in surprising ways. You’d be watching “Ally McBeal,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “Scrubs” or even an occasional episode of the daytime soap opera “The Guiding Light, ” and suddenly everyone would break into elaborate song and dance, as jarring — or exhilarating, take your pick — as the moment in ”My Fair Lady” when Eliza Doolittle bursts into “I Could Have Danced All Night.” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did an entire original musical episode last season, and fans (again, many of them young) loved it so much that a CD of the soundtrack was released.

‘Eye candy’ Meanwhile, on Broadway, home of the genre, musicals are alive — but are they well? “The musical has suffered a movement toward the sensational, ” says David Klein, artistic director of the DeKalb School of the Arts. “You go to see the chandelier drop in ‘Phantom [of the Opera], ‘ or ‘Les Miz’ and the incredible revolving set. It’s become eye candy, the theatrical equivalent of going to an amusement park fun house.” Or, if they’re not in that overblown school, they’re revivals, or stage shows based on movies — from the stunning reworking of “The Lion King,” now enjoying a nearly seven-week run at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, to “The Producers” — instead of the other way around, which still somehow seems the natural order. And so the musical is back, even as there is evidence that it never went away. But will the comeback last? “As long as we can mount them the way they should be,” says ABC’s Taylor, “the good ones are always gonna be here to stay. “The first one that tanks, they’re all gonna say it’s dead again.”

PHIL KLOER, Staff, IT’S THE MUSICALS, MAN Suddenly, once again, actors gotta sing, gotta dance. , The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 02-09-2003, pp M1.

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