By Philip Berk
If we go back half century, long before the emergence of the blockbuster, when moviegoing was an essential part of American life, we discover an amazing fact: the one genre that consistently attracted the biggest audiences was musicals.
In the fifties and sixties musicals still dominated but essentially they were Broadway adaptations (South Pacific, Funny Girl, Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, and The Music Man) not surprisingly the work of composers who cut their teeth working in Hollywood.
And during those years no less than three best picture Oscars and Golden Globes went to musicals: West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and of course The Sound of Music.
But then in the seventies they almost completely disappeared. Fortunately the Hollywood Foreign Press had created a separate category for musicals/comedies in 1952. The first movie to win that Golden Globe was a Hollywood original, American in Paris. (Unfortunately the following year that honor went to With a Song in My heart, not Singing in the Rain generally considered the best musical of all time. But even the Academy overlooked that one.) But the rest of the decade went to Hollywood versions of Broadway hits. Thus began the steady decline of the Hollywood musical, which reached its nadir in mid 70s when musicals more or less disappeared.
Why? You could blame it on rock ‘n roll, MTV, or the changing public taste. But thanks to the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. the genre was kept alive. During that period best picture Golden Globes were awarded to Coalminer’s Daughter, Yentl, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Evita.
But in the twenty years following Hello Dolly! which at the time of its release (1969) was mourned as the last of the expensive studio musicals, there were but a handful of screen musicals, among them, Man of La Mancha (a resounding flop) Paint Your Wagon, Finian’s Rainbow, Mame, and The Wiz, all sorry failures. And one blockbuster Grease, which even though it was based on a Broadway musical, derived its success not from the genre but from its star, the overnight phenomenon, John Travolta.
But then with he new millennium there was an unexpected resurgence of the musical starting with Moulin Rouge, and quickly followed by Chicago, Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd, all Golden Globe best picture winners. Hopefully the musical will continue to thrive…
One final irony, almost every musical currently playing on Broadway is adapted from old movies including Catch Me if You Can, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Billy Elliot, La Cage au Folles, Mary Poppins, The Addams Family, and Phantom of the Opera.
What comes round goes round.
|28th April 2011,|