‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’

A beguiling sugar candy tale of love and loss entirely sung and with a young Catherine Deneuve is a delightful confection of early 1960s French cinema.

Operatic romanticism as 16 year-old Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve – Indochine, Belle de jour) falls in love with car mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo – The English Patient, Rocco & His Brothers). But her mother (Anne Vernon – Bel ami, Il conte Max), the owner of the struggling umbrella shop, refuses to consider marriage – particularly as Guy has yet to complete his military service. When the young lovers are parted by his call up to serve in Algeria, mom uses the opportunity to introduce her now pregnant daughter to the wealthy yet kind-hearted diamond merchant, Roland Cassard (Marc Michel – Lola, Le trou).

Touching and ageless (directed by Jacques Demy – The Young Girls of Rochefort, Lola with a score by Michele LeGrande – Yentl, The Thomas Crown Affair), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a very French, very idiosyncratic musical that is both whimsical and charismatic.

Nominated for best foreign language film Oscar in 1965, nominated for 4 Oscars in 1966 including best original script and score. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 74%


An all-dancing, all-singing, all-star version of A Christmas Carol? Visitations by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future will make a difference to the self-centredness of a controversial media consultant? Cue Spirited and the frothy, lightweight storytelling of writer/director Sean Anders (Instant Family, Horrible Bosses).

After more than two centuries, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell – Holmes & Watson, Eurovision Song Contest) is up for retirement. His reward? A return to earth as a mere mortal. Present is reluctant and wants one more soul to help redeem – identifiying the unredeemable Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds – Buried, Deadpool) as the next haunting. And so a magical journey ensues in the hope that Briggs’ conversion will be a force for positive change in humanity. But how come Briggs’ assistant, Kimberly (Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station, Luce) can see Present?

It’s a musical sugar candy ride with few of the leads being able to hold notes and Ryan Reynolds struggling with his footwork as showtime hits the screen. All singing and all singing choruses break out into tap, jazz and big musical numbers as the overstuffed narrative slips into mind-numbing tedium and awkwardness.

Rating: 38%

‘Guys and Dolls’

As a stage musical, Guys and Dolls is something of a legend. As a film dirceted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, The Barefoot Contessa), it’s not clear as to why.

Challenged to take the Salvation Army-style missionary (Jean Simmons – Hamlet, Elmer Gantry) with him to Havana, the gamble-on-anything Sky Masterton (Marlon Brando – The Godfather, On the Waterfront) accepts the challenge – only to fall in love with her. Back in New York, assuming to be the winner of the bet, Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra – Ocean’s Eleven, From Here to Eternity) organises a crap game with high stakes.

It’s a sprightly enough version but the studio-bound filming highlights the feature’s stilted restrictions which ultimately becomes repetitive and tedious as besuited hustlers scuttle furtively around the alleys of the city avoiding police detection and bursting into song.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1956 for cinematography, art direction, costume and original score.

Rating: 48%


With its inevitable comparisons to Cabaret (but without the benefit of the frisson between the excesses of Berlin and the early Nazi Germany years), Burlesque is a somewhat vanilla all-dancing, all-singing cliche. Yet, predictable and templated it may be, it’s still something of a feelgood treat as Ali (Christina Aguilera – Get Him to the Greek, Pitch Perfect 2) takes LA by storm.

Packed full of music (with Cher and Christina Aguilera heading the bill, no surprises there) and stage based dance numbers, writer/director Steve Antin offers little in terms of originality of narrative. Wannabe star Ali ups and leaves hicksville for the bright lights, eventually finding her way to Burlesque, a rundown club owned by Cher (Moonlight, Mask) struggling to stay afloat. Waitressing is Ali’s way in as she charms most of those around her. But to be able to sing the way she does in a club that lip syncs…… It doesn’t take long for Ali’s talent to be unearthed. Throw in a side story of property development and a couple of love affairs and that’s Burlesque.

It may not win any awards for originality, but the music shines with several diva songs on offer. Built around the music is life in the club – with the stand out chemistry to be found between Cher and long standing friend and Burlesque’s gay costumier, Sean (Stanley Tucci – Spotlight, Julie & Julia). It’s daft, it’s cheesy – but Burlesque is also immensely entertaining.

Rating: 66%


From a fringe Chicago stage musical to global sensation that catapaulted Olivia Newton John into superstardom, Grease is a feelgood 1950s-set school rom com as final year students end the innocence of their school days.

An age-old story of boy-meets-girl over the summer holidays with the sad expectation of never seeing each other again: Sandy is due to return to Australia. Back at school, the now leather-clad greaser Danny Zucker (John Travolta in his follow-up to Saturday Night Fever) struts his stuff in front of his T-Birds gang – only to be side-swiped by the arrival of new girl, a fresh Sandy Dee. A change of plans has seen her stay in LA. In love with a cheer-leader just ain’t Danny’s style.

Lots of tough love from Rizzo (a fabulous Stockard Channing – Six Degrees of Separation, TV’s The West Wing) and girls talk, particularly with best friend, the dizzie Frenchy (Didi Conn – TV’s Benson, Shining Time Station), Grease is the ultimate all-singing, all-dancing coming-of-age tale chocked full of memorable songs including Hopelessly Devoted To You, Grease Lightning and the iconic You’re the One That I Want as Sandy and Tony adapt to be with each other.

Nominated for the 1979 best original song Oscar (Hopelessly Devoted To You).

Rating: 71%

‘West Side Story’

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s a visual treat with iconic songs (Maria, Somewhere) but, like its 1961 predecessor, it’s somewhat dull at two and a half hours.

The Romeo & Juliet story transposed to a 1957 Upper West Side New York musical, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds clash for control of territory slowly disappearing under the developer’s wrecking ball. The Jets are being displaced by the Puerto Rican newcomers, the Sharks. But not without a fight. So when Tony (Ansel Elgort – Baby Driver, Divergent) falls for Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) , few are happy, leading to a gang showdown and two deaths.

Director Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Ready Player One) is enormously respectful to the classic original whilst updating (slightly) the social consciousness of what is a racist storyline of white versus latino where love is supposed to conquer all. The two leads are surprisingly unconvincing – it’s Maria’s sister, Anita (Ariana DeBose – Hamilton, TV’s Schmigadoon) who steals every scene she’s in along with the Romantic casting of Rita Moreno – the original Anita – as Valentina, Tony’s landlady. But it’s always a difficult premise: a musical in today’s age of street gangs.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2022 including best film, director, production design, won 1 for best supporting actress (DeBose).

Rating: 54%

‘tick, tick…BOOM!’

Sheer joyful entertainment, music theatre style as Jonathan Larson looks to Broadway success, preferably before his 30th birthday.

Based on Larson’s own breakout musical, a captivating and energetic Andrew Garfield (Hackshaw Ridge, Never Let Me Go) careens across the screen as he desperately looks to make a forthcoming public workshop a success. Self-focussed, love (Alexandra Shipp – X-Men Apocalypse, Straight Outta Compton) and friendship (Robin de Jesus – The Boys in the Band, Gun Hill Road) are severely tested as all look to escape seedy shared Brooklyn apartments and make a success of their lives.

Debut feature film director Lin-Manuel Miranda, fresh from success on Broadway with Hamilton, pitches perfectly the tribute to Larson, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer of smash-hit musical, Rent. Sadly, Larson died the night before the first Off-Broadway preview performance at the age of just 35. But tick, tick…BOOM! is set five years before Rent as Miranda casts a whole bevy of Broadway stars – Joshua Henry, Vanessa Hudgens, Joel Grey, André De Shields, Chita Rivera and more – in a joyful admiration for its subject.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2022 – best actor & editing.

Rating: 77%


Gorgeously staged adaptation of the Kandor & Ebb musical, Chicago is a 1920s-set black comedy with big, snazzy numbers and an undercurrent of sleaze as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly find themselves on death row for murder.

Having dispatched her disloyal sister and philandering husband, Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones – Ocean’s 12, Traffic) belts out Overture/All That Jazz, watched by wannabe star, a naive Roxie (Renée Zellweger – Judy, Cold Mountain). Before the morning’s out, Roxie has joined Velma in the local jail with lover Fred (Dominic West – Pride, Colette) dead on her apartment floor. Watch the two women battle for supremacy in the jail, lorded over by Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah – Hairspray, Girls Trip) and the attentions of lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere – Pretty Woman, Norman).

It’s bold, it’s full of vaudeville showmanship with seductive choreography and memorable songs – and unexpectedly fine performances by the three leads. But Chicago is ultimately a little vacuous and runs out of steam as a narrative way before its grand finale.

Nominated for 13 Oscars in 2003 including best director (Rob Marshall), actress, supporting actress (Queen Latifah), supporting actor (John C. Reilly), won 6 including best film, supporting actress (Zeta-Jones), costume, art design.

Rating: 63%


A lollipop pastel, candy-floss of a musical series (six thirty-minute episodes) that is, within its lightweight content, fun and oddly appealing.

Looking to reinvigorate their relationship, Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong) get lost on a hike and stumble into the town of Schmigadoon. Only they cannot leave until they each understand the true meaning of love. It’s all very silly as the two, not able to leave together, assume they must find love with someone else. Musical references galore as the all-singing, all-dancing town-dweller chorus provide plenty of pointers as the closeted gay Mayor (Alan Cumming) helps Josh and Melissa deal with finding a way out – and confront the local bigot Mildred Layton (Kristin Chenowith).

It may be centred around the Lerner & Loewe musical Brigadoon, but Schmigadoon is chock-full of Broadway and West End references from The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, The King & I and more as well as the recent Dolly Parton TV special Christmas in the Square. And, with its live and let live message, Schmigadoon does have something to say among all that sugar-coated candy.

Rating: 60%

‘Funny Girl’

A Hollywood debut doesn’t come much bigger than Barbara Streisand’s Oscar-winning performance as Fanny Brice. Comedienne, singer and all-round entertainer, Brice was a true early 20th century American vaudeville star. But success on stage was not mirrored in her personal life, married as she was to debonair, seductive gambler, Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif – Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago).

A big, bold musical transferred from Broadway, Funny Girl follows Brice from early Manhattan days struggling to gain a role in a local, run down burlesque show to fame and fortune via the Ziegfeld Follies. There’s snappy dialogue and comic timing aplenty in the early home-life scenes as Streisand belts out showstopping signatures such as People and Don’t Rain on My Parade. But in its 150 minute running time, energy palls as Fanny settles into wealthy loneliness and motherhood.

A self-assured Streisand commands the screen but a miscast Sharif struggles in the later half of the film as the material wears thin and settles into biographical soap opera. But all that can be forgotten with the finale and the heart-rending My Man.

Nominated for 8 Oscars in 1969 including best film, supporting actress (Kay Medford as Fanny’s mom), musical score, won 1 (best actress).

Rating: 68%