Cover Girl

I learned about Cover Girl from 4 Star Film Fan, here you can always discover wonderful film classics. Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly an, Eve Arden and Phil Silver, Cover Girl shows Hayworth as Rusty Parker, a captivating beauty and talented dancer who performs in her boyfriend, Danny McGuire’s Brooklyn club. Silver is a comic and the pair’s buddy. Rusty is down to earth but when she hears about a magazine contest she becomes curious about the big time.

Mix ups and show tunes ensue. Danny hopes Rusty will stay in Brooklyn. Briefly he stands in her way, but soon figures Rusty doesn’t really love him if she’s so impressed by the Manhattan set. Of course, Rusty wins the contest. It turns out that the sponsoring magazine is run by a man who fell in love with Rusty’s grandma, who turned him down, married an ordinary piano player and led a happy life.

The emotions were convincing. You hope that Danny will declare his love and that Rusty doesn’t settle for the high life rather than try love. I enjoyed the joking and friendly traditions Hayworth, Silver and Kelly’s characters share. Some numbers ran a little long, but the dancing was solid. I particularly enjoyed Kelly in a scene with his conscience who tries to advise him. You just don’t see such scenes carried off well nowadays.

Cover Girl’s a fun film well worth your time.

The Music Man

The Goodman Theater offers solid brass band entertainment in Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Music Man. One of the top American musicals in my book The Music Man tells the story of con man Prof. Harold Hill comes to small town Iowa to cheat the townsfolk of their hard earned cash by promising them their boys will avoid the evils of the pool hall, a veritable den of inequity, if they just entrust them to him. For the price of instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, Prof. Hill will soon have these children’s virtue in place and they’ll be able to play beautiful music to boot.

The town’s mayor, who owns the new pool hall and the spinster librarian, Marian are among the most skeptical. Hill aims to win them over, though it won’t be easy. Marian won’t be the first skeptical lady his charm has won over.

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With a full orchestra, solid dancing and tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Good Night My Someone” and “Till There Was You” The Music Man knocks it out of the park.

The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer thought the show’s star couple lacked chemistry. Perhaps they weren’t the most electric couple in musical theater, but they did a good job and with these songs, the colorful costumes, creative set, and familiar story, this production won me over.

The theater was quite full and some shows have already sold out. I urge you not to miss this summer’s The Music Man.

The Greatest Showman

Not one to rush out to the theaters to spend $10 to see a new film, I just watched The Greatest Showman on DVD. In short, it’s a fairly entertaining film, that I’m glad I saw for free.

The story of famed showman/huckster, P.T. Barnum, this musical is a fictionalized biography. The film’s got pizzazz and color. I enjoyed the dancing and songs, though the day after viewing, I can’t remember any lyrics. Thus as a musical something’s missing. With a great musical, you can remember several songs. Think West Side Story, Oklahoma, Les Mis. I can sort of hum one of the songs. But I’m not sure I could hum much.

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) grew up poor and was friends with a little rich girl, whom he eventually married in spite of her father’s protests. The mother’s never seen for some reason. The story segues to Barnum toiling in your typical, dark, dreary 19th century office. His spirit is wilting. Then the company folds and Barnum decides to enter show biz. Before you know it he realizes there’s money to be made by producing freak shows that allow the public to see a bearded lady, a giant, Tom Thumb, a little person, a man with a skin condition, etc. After some creative marketing, people are flocking to Barnum’s show and the cash is flowing in.

The film portrays Barnum’s efforts as inclusive. He did hire these people and before working for him they were outcasts. The film does show that Barnum yearned to be accepted by the elites and once he succeeds by using a concert he produces with famed singers Jenny Lind, he shuts the door on his cast, who don’t look polished and elegant. According to History vs. Hollywood, Barnum’s attitude towards diversity and the disabled wasn’t so cut and dried. Clearly, the film paints Barnum as a flawed champion of outcasts. He did hire these people and gave them a means to support themselves and to form community and friendships. I’m not sure how well they were paid. Yet in the film, these characters weren’t well developed. We see no scenes that show Barnum as cultivated a friendship or deep understanding of any of his performers. This aspect and the lack of memorable songs, are the film’s weakness for me. The story’s quite cliched, though it’s well paced and colorful. I wished for more.

Lucky Me

As Doris Day just passed away at the age of 97, I figured watching some of her films would be a good memorial. My library displayed their DVDs with Day and I chose Lucky Day at random.

In Lucky Me, Day plays Candy Williams an aspiring singer and dancer who’s very superstitious and won’t walk by a black cat or step on a crack. Any superstition you’ve heard of in America, she won’t test. Williams is part of a struggling troupe of performers led by Phil Silvers, who’s perfect for his part. Candy gets duped by a well-meaning composer and romantic comedy ensues.

Though Lucky Me isn’t Day’s finest film and there are no great classic songs I recognized, the film entertains. It’s a cheerful story which showcases Day’s optimistic style. It’s sure to make you smile. The supporting cast includes Nancy Walker, who I remember from the sitcom Rhoda. Walker’s dancing skill was a nice surprise and Silver was a wonderful father figure in this tale of old showbiz.

Guys & Dolls

Last weekend I got to see Northwestern University’s production of Guys & Dolls. Though I knew the name and some of the big numbers like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “A Bushel ‘n’ a Peck,” I hadn’t seen the show and wasn’t clear on the storyline. First performed in 1950, Guys & Dolls is set in New York City and follows a bunch of gamblers who cross paths with some Salvation Army types. Gangster Nathan Detroit, who’s been engaged to his sweetheart Adelaide for 14 years, needs to find a site for his floating crap game, but as the cops are on to him, he’s got no takers. The Biltmore Garage is possible, but the manager wants a hefty deposit for his troubles.

Nathan is sure he can convince gambler Sky Masterson to bet that Sky can take Save-A-Soul Sergeant Sarah Brown to Cuba. That’s a sure thing as A) Sky will bet on anything and B) Sarah is far to holy to agree to a date.

What follows is a lot of toe-tapping music, unlikely romance, and the antics of small time criminals.

The Northwestern performers all had great voice and sure steps. When I saw all the steep steps on the stage, I was amazed that no one took a tumble. How the girls in their heels managed, I’ll never know. Certainly they have more grace than I do.

The casting was excellent, with one exception. I applaud them for color blind casting and having the two lead women be African American. The numbers where some men were cast as chorus girls was funny. The one thing that I found a distraction was that Sky Masterson was played by a woman. It wasn’t that they made Sky and Sarah a same sex couple, It was that they expected the audience to buy into a very feminine woman with classic long blonde hair and feminine make up, to be considered a 1940s man. My friend and I both had trouble buying that choice. I’d have done some color blind casting for Sky.

The play is a lot of fun, but hasn’t aged all that well. It’s clear that for the women, their life goal is to be a stay at home wife. Though Adelaide works as a showgirl and Sarah is a missionary, their goal is to marry and stop working. Also, it’s clear that the norm for women is to find a man and then go to work changing him for the benefit of society. Now we realize that it’s better to find someone whose character you like as is since changing someone is a difficult if not impossible job.

Nonetheless, I recommend if you’re anywhere near Evanston, IL from now till March 3, check out Guys & Dolls.

Gold Diggers of 1933


“We’re in the Money” is just one of the memorable tunes in Gold Diggers of 1933 is a romantic comedy about some dancers whose show gets nixed because the producer couldn’t pay his bills. Next they’re seen shivering in their beds unwilling to get up as it’s easier to starve in bed.

Soon the producer comes to their apartment and hears their talented piano playing neighbor. He convinces Brad, the piano player to write some songs for his new show which will be a smash, if he can just get the funds. Brad, who’s sweet on one of the dancers, turns out to be a rich boy and he finances the show. When the male lead falls sick, Brad must go on and his true identity is revealed, which leads to family interference in his love life. In response to his brother’s meddling the other dancers pretend to be money grubbers to teach him a lesson.

It’s a light-hearted romp, that entertains, unless you judge past eras for their gender stereotypes. The most surprising part of the film was the closing number, “Remember My Forgotten Man” a tribute to the men who served in WWI and whose lives were ruined as a result.

Jesus Christ Superstar

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I had such high hopes for the Lyric Opera’s Jesus Christ Superstar. I was too young to see the show when it first came out. I’m pretty sure I never saw the 1973 movie either though I knew a couple of the songs. The Lyric has high standards so I didn’t feel I had to lower expectations. On Wednesday two performers were interviewed on Chicago Tonight, our local PBS news program and that whetted my appetite for a good show. However, I recommend you save your money. The song above is the best part of the show.

The show started off fine showing a bunch of Jesus’ devotees singing and dancing. Clearly Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were offering a modernized telling of the end of the gospels. But when Jesus took the stage, he seemed rather lackluster. He wore cool clothes and had a hip hairstyle, but under that he was bland. He clearly enjoyed the fame, which isn’t what Jesus was about. Yet the title clues us into that’s the creators’ theme.

The show itself only had two songs I remembered liking and that didn’t change after seeing this production. Many of the songs were just loud and it was hard to make out the lyrics. I agreed with the two women behind me in line for the loo during intermission that the acting was weak. The emphasis was on singing and dancing with just no characterization. In Act Two the dancing was a let down because the choreography was so similar to Act One.

There’s a lot of odd choices in this production. For example, in one number the dancers all hold crosses, but this is happening well before Jesus was condemned to die on the cross. There’s no reason anyone would use a cross as a symbol of Jesus before he’s called in front of Pilate.

The Israel of this production has a hint of dystopia as the citizens all wear drab grays and gender is not marked much in dress or personal style. I was confused in Act II about who was the person in a golden bird costume. It wasn’t till he disrobed to let out his inner hedonist that I guessed it was Herod.

From the Chicago Tonight interview, I learned that this production uses 90 pounds of glitter. (They use a lot of glitter, but it could be 90 pounds worth by the end of the run.) The first time they use it, the shimmer and glow makes sense. Mary Magdalene, who most agree wasn’t the same woman who poured oil over Jesus when he was at a dinner, empties a jar of what is oil over Jesus and it was cool that glitter was used. Later when Jesus is being beaten the men beating him whip him with handfuls of glitter. That was just odd — too much of a good thing.

Spoilers follow.

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