Friday, March 14, 2008

"42nd Street" (1933) and "Lullaby of Broadway" (1951) -- Initial Thoughts

My "new" musical last week was 42nd Street; this week, Lullaby of Broadway. I found them oddly similar. Both were about entertainers putting together a musical revue-style show for Broadway, and both had convoluted, not-entirely-unpredictable plots. And both were the style of musical where all the songs are things the characters are rehearsing or performing, not singing about what's happening in the story.

Not that they were bad -- musicals are generally somewhat predictable and a bit unrealistic. They have to be, as people in real life do not periodically dance about and burst into song (Nick Wayne excluded). But I'm finding that I much prefer the style of musical where the songs grow from the plot, where characters sing about the weather or their predicaments or falling in love. I think the thinking behind having the characters be entertainers so all the songs are for a show is that it will make the songs feel more organic and logical, but to me, they too often kill the narrative flow.

Now that I think about it, a lot of musicals are about entertainers. Singin' in the Rain. Band Wagon. White Christmas. For Me and My Gal. Ziegfield Follies and The Great Ziegfield. Summer Stock. I could go on, but you get the picture. I'm sure it's so that the characters have a reason to be great singers and dancers -- ever meet a cowboy or a hoodlum or a painter who also was a great hoofer and singer? But all the same, I like the singing newspapermen and the dancing sailors. Some movies, like White Christmas and Singin' in the Rain and Band Wagon, blend the two styles and have entertainers who sing and dance off-duty as well as on, and those I don't mind.

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