The Merry Modern Musical

The dumbing down of the country reflects itself on Broadway. The shows get dumber, and the public gets used to them.
Stephen Sondheim

The Merry Modern Musical

I saw Beauty and the Beast this weekend. Lovely film and a blockbuster with star power and production value, plenty of humor, songs and I think you’d have a fine time. At the end, I’ll confess, when the spell is broken and the world returns to normal; I was a little sad. I wanted to still live in the castle with magic all around.

One might dial up any Musical and think that things have not changes over time. Compare Hello Dolly to Beauty and the Beast and you’ll see lavish costumes, huge song and dance numbers and a love story.

However. I think that we are being robbed. This can’t continue. The product is sullied and with no good reason. Our experience is weakened and we have a time-honored fix that Hollywood is ignoring.

Not all actors can sing.

And that is okay.

There are some actors who are “once in a generation”. Amazing triple-threat players who can sing, act and dance. And I mean really sing. Julie Andrews and Barbara Streisand. Idina Menzel has a voice that can bring the house down as in Defying Gravity and Let It Go. Players who can sing that show-stopper!

The genre needs its star power. We pay to see Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, Johnny Depp, Emma Watson, Bing Crosby, Richard Gere and so many more come play the parts. But not all can sing and there is a well-grooved precedent. Like in Singin’ in the Rain, someone hides behind the curtain and sings for the unfortunate star.

The most famous that I can think of is Marni Nixon. Here is a paragraph from her Wikipedia page:
In 1956, she worked closely with Deborah Kerr to supply the star’s singing voice for the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I and the next year she again worked with Kerr to dub her voice in An Affair to Remember.[1] That year, she also sang for Sophia Loren in Boy on a Dolphin. In 1960, she dubbed Janet Leigh’s voice in Pepe[1] and had an on-screen chorus role in Can-Can.[5] In 1961’s West Side Story, the studio kept her work on the film (as the singing voice of Natalie Wood’s Maria) a secret from the actress,[6][7] and Nixon also dubbed Rita Moreno’s singing in the film’s “Tonight” quintet. She asked the film’s producers for, but did not receive, any direct royalties from her work on the film, but Leonard Bernstein contractually gave her 1/4 of one percent of his personal royalties from it.[8] In 1962, she also sang Wood’s high notes in Gypsy.[5][9] For My Fair Lady in 1964, she again worked with the female lead of the film, Audrey Hepburn, to perform the songs of Hepburn’s character Eliza.[6] Because of her uncredited dubbing work in these films, Time magazine called her “The Ghostess with the Mostest”.[10][11]

There were times in Beauty and the Beast when I wanted Emma Watson to take a breath and Sing. Oh, she can sing and carry a tune. But, the songs demand something bigger. I was offended by Johnny Depp (how dare I!) in Sweeney Todd — I’ve listened to the Broadway soundtrack for twenty years and it has operatic glory; in the movie, Mr. Depp mumbles the songs.

Too many examples to list but here is another. Queen Latifah in Hairspray. She has the show-stopper song but she is a fine singer and actress but is not a belter, she can’t fill her lungs and unleash the power that the song itself demands. And, I think, the movie suffers for it and there is no reason for that to happen.

The Merry Modern Musical of today is breaking our hearts and showing less of what it was designed, written, composed and created to be. Our stars are wonderful and I’m sure they take singing and dancing lessons but few can claim the moment and stand there and tell us that nobody is going to rain on my parade or that everything is coming up roses or that the cold never bothered me anyway.

I read the credits of movies. I am sure you do too. The movie Chicago has a line in the credits that Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones did all of their own dancing! So rare that it must be stated; good stuff.

We have a fix. The problem was solved long ago. Give us the show that was dreamed. Please.

8 thoughts on “The Merry Modern Musical

  1. For the singing voice there could be a different actor/-ess, and it’s a common practice.
    However Emma Watson is kind of a cult among audience (and Depp too), so I think people would prefer her own voice even if she missed every note.
    Didn’t see a movie yet myself (I’m a Disney and musical fan, so I will).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So true! I love Les Miserables musical but I was cringing so much during the 2012 movie. I would prefer people who are not Hollywood celebrities but actually can sing very well, some of them must be good actors/actresses too. And Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd was just not good enough.

    Liked by 1 person

      • That was weird. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” wasn’t bad but it felt like one of those cases where things the person did outside the movie matters more than their performance in the movie, basically “you lost a lot of weight and did a solid job, here’s an Oscar”. I don’t really like that.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, Danny Kay. So many that brought it all. If I had to name one actor, ok maybe two. Nathan Lane, Hugh Jackman, oh cannot forget Julie Andrews. So many new actors I think may be afraid to try to sing and dance. The fear people may be turned off. The vaudeville era had so much raw talent. And you had to do everything.

    Liked by 1 person

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