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.
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).
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).
Based loosely on true events and adapted from the stage musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a feel good social commentary as 16 year-old Jamie (Max Harwood in his feature film debut) sets out to follow his dream to become a drag queen.
Supported by his mum (Sarah Lancashire – Yesterday, TV’s Talking Heads), Jamie takes his Sheffield school motto of being true to himself to heart: it’s a dress and full make-up for the prom. Obstacles inevitably come his way and there’s more than a little self-doubt but best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel) is there when needed.
It’s sugar-coated fluff in it’s telling and the songs themselves are hardly memorable – yet for pure-hearted, well-meaning escapism, director Jonathan Butterell succeeds in transferring his stage production to the screen.
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.
A minor work from director Howard Hawks (Sergeant York, Scarface) as two man-hunting showgirls head for Paris, travelling first class aboard a luxury cruise liner.
Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name, itself based on a book from the 1920s, Gentlemen Prefers Blondes is candyfloss whimsy. But with the showstopping Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend at its core and Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as the friends, it’s needless to say the film has gained iconic status. Oscar-winning Charles Coburn (The More the Merrier, The Devil and Miss Jones), as the owner of a South African diamond mine, provides the bling Monroe makes a beeline for as she rolls out the dumb blonde routine in a ludicrously dated narrative.
Schmaltz with a capital ‘S’, bloated with a capital ‘B’, The Prom may be better than Cats – but only just. Director/producer Ryan Murphy (Hollywood, Ratched) has dropped the ball big time with this dire, candy-coated, issue-based confection of the Broadway musical.
Aiming firmly at the feel-good factor, when Emma Nolan (newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) is not only barred from taking her girlfriend to the Prom, but the Prom itself is cancelled, a gaggle of self-obsessed music theatre luvvies descend on the conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana. The purpose? To reverse the decision and ensure an all-inclusive celebration for all.
Big tacky choreographed numbers in school gyms and shopping malls, disingenuous emotions as James Corden (yep – Cats) highlights why he should sack his agent in a role of utter banality and Nicole Kidman struts to the AOR groove. The PTA of the school – headed by the bigoted Kerry Washington – needs to be shown the errors of its ways – especially as it’s Washington’s daughter (Ariana DeBose) who is Emma’s partner. Meanwhile, multi-Tony award-winning Dee Dee (Meryl Streep) has her eyes on School Principal, Keegan-Michael Key.
The Prom means well with its positive message of acceptance and inclusivity but sadly loses itself in the rainbow-coloured mire. The songs are mostly painful and unmemorable, no matter how hard the big cast try – although, as a singer, Meryl Streep continues to impress.
Adapted from the hugely successful stage musical of the same name, it’s the infectious pop of ABBA all the way as Sophie (Amanda Seyfried – Mean Girls, Les Miserables) plans her wedding – with a surprise in store for mum, Meryl Streep (August: Orange County, Into the Woods).
The all-singing, all dancing storyline sees the wedding scheduled for the Greek island that’s been home since the 1970s. But all three of Sophie’s potential dads (it was a fun summer) are on the invite list. As guests descend, so do Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård.
Mamma Mia is fun and infectious – although it struggled to retain interest in a second (recent) viewing. Streep is streets ahead is terms of presence – unlike Brosnan who basically murders all and sundry when it comes to anything vaguely musical.
Winner of 1 Razzie in 2009 – worst supporting actor (Pierce Brosnan).
It’s fun, it’s entertaining, it carries an important sociopolitical message – but, inversely, Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots confirms that the musical is, personally, my least favourite of the stage genre.
The story is based on true events – Charlie Price inherits his family’s Northampton shoe-making business and, in attempting to avoid bankruptcy, makes an unlikely alliance in the making of ‘shoes for women worn by men.’
As drag queen Lola, Callum Francis (understudy in the original West End production) is captivating and likely to give the Broadway and West End stars a run for their money. The showstopping Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me in Your Heart are standouts, with Lola belting them out like the best of them. But sadly, the rest of the energetic Australian cast struggle with the material. They certainly try hard and their enthusiasm is undeniable. But it’s all just a little too try hard.
Enjoyable at the time, listening to the soundtrack a few days later left me, with a couple of exceptions, unmoved – a telltale sign!