Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Use of Music: Musical Masterpost

This post is going to be a long one. I apologize in advance for the varying sound levels of the posted videos.

I first came to enjoy musical's with an episode of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Before that, all I had were the endless reruns my music teacher used to play of West Side Story, mum's favourites The Music Man and Singin' in the Rain, and Disney films like Mary Poppins or Beauty and the Beast. I actually kind of enjoyed those, but then regressed a bit when I watched the sloppy & soppy plots of The Sound of MusicWilly Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (although I do love 'Pure Imagination'), Grease, and Annie. Others I just did not really get. Musical is a tough genre to get into, truth be told. The plots of Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret as well as the humor of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors went over my head because I was too young/uneducated when I first viewed them. Then came musicals like ChicagoRent, and Mamma Mia—all of which made my ears bleed. Harsh, I know, but true all the same.

No, it was Whedon's Once More with Feeling that allowed me to truly appreciate the skillful interweaving of story with lyrical verse. I was already a fan of the show, so I am sure that helped. So did Anthony Head. (Though, for the love of mercy, DO NOT watch Repo! The Genetic Opera. It's sooo terrible.)

Oh, Giles...

Years later I came across another of Joss' works: Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. This three-part miniseries was created during the Writer's Strike of '08, and oooooh did the audience win. Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, and all of your favourite Whedonverse-tropes. The finale has all the feels (I almost never use that phrase, so you better believe I mean it).

The entire movie/combined episodes.

Backtracking a little, I fell majorly in love with Andrew Lloyd Webber's 2004 film version of The Phantom of the Opera. Well, in all honestly, I hated it the first time I saw it. Twelve-year-old me was in that awkward 'What's the fuss about all these silly moozakaalz?' phase. Ah, youth. Stupid youth. After I had finished rolling my eyes at the ludicrousness of people breaking out into song in a legitimate, modern Hollywood movie that did not involve old-timey morals or animated characters, the film ended and I was bawling. The Phantom is a tragic character, and I have always been a sucker for that kind of thing. Becoming obsessed, I read Leroux's original novel, watched a crap-ton of other—admittedly wretched—versions, and saw ALW's live production a few years ago. It was by far better than the I recommend purchasing a ticket if it is ever showing in your neighborhood. There's a good reason it is the longest-running show on Broadway.

Oh snap, he calls Piangi fat! >_< Also, way to be a creeper at the end, amirite?

Then came the patently Tim Burton version of  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Who knew Johnny Depp could sing so well, eh? Or Helena Bonham Carter, or...Alan Rickman?! Arising from the Penny Dreadfuls of old, this story is really dark for the genre. I did not guess the twist until the very end—should have seen it coming!—but was still left satisfied, if a bit terrified. I would not object to seeing a live production at some point in my life, either.

Dangit, stalker-kid Anthony! Stop interrupting!

At some point I watched Baz Luhrmann's 2001 creation Moulin Rouge! in its entirety. It's one of those movies that was on tele all the time, but one could never quite sit down and watch it all the way through because it is so...hard to describe. The first half is completely crazy banana-pants, but you have to admire the technique. This musical meshed modern-era songs and fit them into a story loosely based upon the opera La Traviata. Ewan McGregor is another surprising actor in the singing department, and the end of the film always makes me tear up a bit. Whether that's due to (spoiler!) Satine's death or the fact that the movie just finally ended is a question that boggles my mind to this very day.

I've tried fixing the video clip at least three times
and it always gets taken down, so fuck it. Gif'd!

Let's move onto Across the Universe. This musical doesn't seem to be that well known despite the fact that it is an absolute masterpiece. Set during the Vietnam war, the story is molded around the music of The Beatles and more-than-adequately performed by the actors/singers in the film. The narrative was fresh and the historical feel seemed accurate enough. 10/10 stars from this viewer.

These characters are the best in town.

I had to watch the most recent Les Misérables for a history course on twentieth century France here at Alverno, and it was definitely a different experience. Unlike musicals I was used to at the time, the entire thing was sung in verse. I mean all of it. I could not stand that. Peoples' ears need to take an intermission or two, but with Les Mis it was unrelenting. There was also the whole controversy about getting famous Hollywood actors to take on roles better suited for theatrical singers, and I have to concede that I probably would have liked PotO, ST, or even MR! better had the singers been trained professionals/experienced in the genre. Grant it, I thought Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway did well in Les Mis while Mr. Broadway Hugh Jackman was meh. As usual, it all comes down to personal opinion. This is a story that probably would have been better off as a normal, non-musical movie. Some of the songs aid while others just feel drawn-out. I wonder what Hugo's opinion would be.

Rooftop scenes happen a lot in musicals—skyline backdrops are easy to create.

It would be remiss of me to not mention ALW's Jesus Christ Superstar, even if it is technically a rock opera. The original Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson, ladies and gents: they have got some pipes. Funnily enough, JCS is like Les Mis in that there are no spoken lines of dialogue. However, it is done in a way that actually suits the story. Not a single line seems forced. I suppose that you need to see it to truly understand my point. Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post, I am mad for Tim Minchin. He played the most recent incarnation of Judas in the 2012 Live Arena Tour. I must say, even with the unfortunate auto-tuning job done to the DVD version, Minchin still sounds pretty swish.


Speaking of Minchin, did you know that he wrote the music and lyrics for the multiple award-winning Matilda the Musical? I don't much like children...least of all when they are singing. But in this story, children are maggots. Very talented ones at that. Still, if that's not your cup of tea, let this medley performed at the 2013 Tony Awards convince you:

Get it? "Revolting" children? Clever-clogs.

I know this next one is not a musical per se because there isn't actually any singing, but if you enjoy choreography set to a phenomenal soundtrack, then Jon M. Chu's Legion of Extraordinary Dancers comes highly recommended. Try their YouTube channel for free episodes, or take on all three feature-film versions. The series is on hold because one of their main dancers is recovering from a ruptured brain aneurysm...but hopefully, one day, it will return. My personal favourite is the Dark Doctor played by the amazingly talented JRock Nelson. Check out the video below and you will not be disappointed. This is only episode three, so watching it will not spoil anything.

How do they even do that?!

Lastly, I am most certainly looking forward to Psych: The Musical. Both a long time fan of the series and a firm believer in the idea that if a show reaches seven+ seasons a musical episode should be obligatory, I could not be more psyched. [Lazy pun intended.] December 15th could not possibly arrive soon enough.

UPDATE 12/20/13 - I cannot get "Jamaican Inspector" out of my head. >_< Also, Timothy Omundson has a rather lovely voice.

UPDATE 1/25/15 - Galavant. King Richard <3

Again, let me just asdfghjkl;'.

What are your favourite musicals? Which ones do you dislike? What story would you like to see turned into a musical? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. LOVE this post. You reminded me of some past pleasures (the musical Buffy, Across the Universe). You have such a wide variety of samples here, ranging from classic musicals and contemporary musicals, to music in television shows. How's about a musical Sherlock??? And you took a French History class here?

    1. I would pay good money to see Freeman, Cumberbatch, and the rest of the gang sing as their characters. >_<

      Yup, HS212 with Nat Godley. Fascinating stuff. A lot of war.