You’re The Top!: Eleanor Powell Was BORN TO DANCE (MGM 1936)


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Dancing masters like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and The Nicholas Brothers all agreed… Eleanor Powell was the tops! The 24-year-old star made a big splash in MGM’s BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936, and the studio quickly followed up with BORN TO DANCE, showcasing Eleanor’s tap-dancing prowess in a fun musical-comedy-romance featuring a cavalcade of stars, and an original score by Cole Porter. Yep, Leo the Lion was going big on this one!

The plot’s your typical Boy Meets Girl/Boy Loses Girl/Boy Wins Girl Back fluff, this time around concerning submarine sailors in port and the babes they chase after. Nora Paige (Eleanor) enters the Lonely Hearts Club (no, not Sgt. Pepper’s! ) looking for work as a hoofer (“You don’t use a fan?”, says wisecracking Jenny Saks, played by wisecracking Una Merkel ). Nora shows what she can do in the hot number “Rap, Tap On Wood”, a joyous dance number…

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What A Glorious Feeling: On Stanely Donen and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (MGM 1952)


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I constantly tout CASABLANCA as my all-time favorite movie here on this blog, but I’ve never had the opportunity to talk about my second favorite, 1952’s SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Sadly, that opportunity has finally arisen with the death today of Stanley Donen at age 94, the producer/director/choreographer of some of Hollywood’s greatest musicals. Donen, along with his longtime  friend Gene Kelly, helped bring the musical genre to dazzling new heights with their innovative style, and nowhere is that more evident than in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

The plot of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is fairly simple: Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are a pair of silent screen stars for Monumental Pictures. Lina believes the studio publicity hype about them being romantically linked, though Don can barely tolerate her. At the premiere of their latest film, Don is mobbed by rabid fans, and jumps into a car…

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Let’s Talk About Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert (dir by David Leveaux and Alex Rudzinski)


On Sunday night, my family and I ended our Easter Sunday by watching Jesus Christ Superstar Live.  Now, before I say anything else about NBC’s latest live musical production, there are a few things that I should make clear:

In college, there was this girl in my dorm who started the semester as a pagan, spent a month as an evangelical, and then ended the semester as a pagan again.  When she was going through her evangelical phase, she would listen to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack constantly, with the volume turned up so loud that you could hear it up and down the hallway.  Seriously.  24 hours a day.  7 days a week.  After three days, I was sick of hearing it.  I found myself wondering if anyone had ever been driven to murder over having to listen to Heaven On Their Minds one too many times.  Fortunately, something happened to cause her to once again lose her faith and she went back to listening to Fall Out Boy.

For quite some time afterward, I would instinctively cringe whenever I heard any of the songs from Jesus Christ Superstar.  In fact, it wasn’t until I first came across the 1973 film version that I was able to once again appreciate it as a musical and overlook its association with that annoying pagan.  From the first time I watched it, I really liked that movie and, every time I rewatch it, I like it even more.  When I started watching Sunday’s production, I was seriously wondering if I’d be able to set aside my feelings about both the pagan and the movie and judge the television version on its own merits.

Well, I shouldn’t have worried.  While I still prefer the original film version, Sunday’s television production was wonderfully conceived and executed.  From the first note of music to the final curtain call, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert captured my attention and refused to let it go, keeping me watching even through the lengthy commercial interruptions.  The musicians and the singers sounded great, or at least they did once the audience mics were turned down.  (At the start of the show, the audience was so loud that they threatened to drown out Heaven On Their Minds.)  The production design was simply amazing, combining downtown New York with ancient Judea in a way that reminded us just how timeless the musical’s story truly is.  (The 1973 film opened with a bunch of hippies driving through the desert.  The 2018 production opened with Jesus’s name being spray painted on a wall.  Both openings felt perfect for the story that was being told.)

As for the cast, Brandon Victor Dixon was compellingly intense as Judas and Norm Lewis was properly intimidating as Caiaphas.  The big marquee name was Alice Cooper, who obviously enjoyed playing the production’s burlesque version of Herod.  That said, the entire show was stolen by Ben Daniels, who was wonderfully conflicted as Pilate.  I wasn’t as impressed by Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, or I should say that I apparently wasn’t as impressed with her performance as everyone else on twitter.  (To me, she seemed a bit too peppy, especially in the early numbers.  I know I’m in the minority as far as that goes.)  Finally, in the role of Jesus, John Legend grew on me.  Of course, in the show, Jesus doesn’t really become an interesting character until he sings “Poor Jerusalem” and that was the moment that Legend himself seemed to truly feel comfortable with the role.

It’s probably pointless to compare the 1973 film to the 2018 version but still, I did find it interesting how the live version reimagined the relationship between Jesus and Judas.  In the 1973 version, Jesus is largely aloof for almost the entire film.  Judas seems to be frustrated because he can’t figure out what Jesus is planning to do and Jesus himself never seems to feel that he can allow himself to get truly close to anyone.  In the film, Judas’s anger is the anger of someone who has spent the last few years of his life following a leader and who is now wondering if he’s been wasting his time.  He’s like a Democrat who has just realized that his party is even less interested in reigning in Wall Street than the Republicans.

In the live version, the Jesus/Judas relationship came across as being a bromance gone wrong.  In this version, Judas’s disatisfaction is less political and more jealousy over Jesus being closer to the Magdalene than to him.  When Judas snaps at Jesus in the 2018 version, Jesus actually seems to get personally offended.  The dynamic between Dixon and Legend is definitely different from the one between Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson in the original version.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s one of the wonderful things about theater.  When successfully done, each subsequent production brings something new to an old story.

Jesus Christ Superstar definitely worked.  As far as the current wave of live television musicals is concerned, this was the best one yet.

Dance Baby Dance: Movie Preview and Review


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Preview:

Have you ever had a dream? JIMMY PERCER did. His was to be a professional tap dancer. And in his early 20s, he was on his way … until a horrible knee injury stopped him in his tracks. He rehabbed like crazy to get back to where he had a chance again … only to re-injure the knee….

Stars:

Beverley Mitchell (“Seventh Heaven”), Jim O’Heir (“Parks and Recreation”), Carlos Alazraqui (Despicable Me 3)

Review:

#TSL family, you know I mostly review/preview horror movies, but this movie hit me right to the core, hard. I remember the day… No, I am going to stop there…

…And pick up here…There is one day all of us have fallen down.. It happens to the best of us….

…And.. no, this ending is like no other you have ever seen!

Brilliant! Fantastic! And a gut-punch of a movie!

Would I recommend:

If you haven’t already figured out, this is a great movie!

Here is the trailer:

Dance Baby Dance has a limited movie release in theaters on January 19th followed by an Amazon release on January 25th

Credits:

Studio: Indie Rights
Director:  Stephen Kogon
Cast :  Stephen Kogon, Beverley Mitchell.

A Christmas Film Review: Scrooge (dir by Ronald Neame)


There have been many good film versions of the Charles Dickens novella, A Christmas Carol.  Several of them could even be called classics.  Everyone from Bill Murray to James Earl Jones to Tori Spelling to Fredric March has taken a turn at playing a version of the famous miser who, after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, changes his ways and becomes the most generous man in London.  This holiday season, I watched quite a few old TV shows and I was somewhat surprised to discover just how many sitcoms have featured an episode where one of the characters has A Christmas Carol-like experience.

Though actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  A Christmas Carol is a universal tale and it’s one that continues to be appealing 174 years after it was originally written.  You don’t have to be rich, British, greedy, or even a man to relate to what Ebenezer Scrooge goes through.  We’ve all be haunted by the past.  We’ve all wondered what we’re missing out on in the present.  And we all fear how we’ll be remembered in the future.  In fact, I would say that A Christmas Carol is probably as close to perfect you can get.  The only problem is that Bob Cratchit’s son is named Tiny Tim and any work of fiction that features a character named Tiny has to be docked a few points.

With all that said, my favorite film version of A Christmas Carol is the 1970 musical, Scrooge.

Scrooge sticks to the original details of the story.  Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Albert Finney.  (Finney was only 34 when he made Scrooge but was made up so that he looked closer to 120.)  The men, women, and spirits in Scrooge’s life are all played by a collection of distinguished British thespians.  Edith Evans is the stately Ghost of Christmas Past.  Kenneth More is the Ghost of Christmas Present, a decadent figure who drinks wine and travels around with two frightening-looking children.  Alec Guinness is a heavily chained Jacob Marley and he plays the role with just the right combination of sarcasm and concern.  (“No one else wanted to come,” Marley says when he greets Scrooge at the entrance of Hell.)  An actor named Paddy Stone is credited as playing the silent and shrouded Ghost of Christmas Future.  Let me just say that the Ghost of Christmas Future always scares me to death whenever I watch Scrooge.  I imagine little children in the 70s were traumatized by his skeletal visage.

What sets Scrooge apart is that it has singing and dancing!  That’s right, this is a musical version of A Christmas Carol, featuring songs composed by Leslie Bricusse.  Now, the overall quality of the songs is open to debate.  There’s 11 of them and really, only three of the songs are particularly memorable.  (Those songs are: I Like Life, I Hate People, and the Oscar-nominated Thank You Very Much.)  But, honestly, who cares?  The cast performs them with so much energy and enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to get swept up in it all.

(Admittedly, Albert Finney doesn’t really sing.  He just kinda growls the lyrics.  But that’s appropriate for the character of Scrooge.)

Scrooge is an outstanding production of a timeless tale.  It came on TV at least four different times this holiday season and I watched each time.  And I’ll do the same next year!

And as Tiny Tim, who did not die, said, “A Merry Christmas to all!  God Bless us, everyone!”

She Was Never Lovelier: Rita Hayworth in COVER GIRL (Columbia 1944)


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Bright, bold, and bouncy, COVER GIRL was a breakthrough film for both Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. Sultry, redheaded Rita had been kicking around Hollywood for ten years before Columbia Pictures gave her this star-making vehicle, while Kelly, on loan from MGM, was given free rein to create the memorable dance sequences. Throw in the comedic talents of Phil Silvers   and Eve Arden , plus a bevy of beauties and songs by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, and you have what very well may be the quintessential 40’s musical.

Rusty Parker (Rita) is a hoofer at Danny McGuire’s (Kelly) joint in Brooklyn (where else?). She enters a contest sponsored by Vanity Magazine to find a new cover girl for their 50th anniversary issue. Editor John Coudair ( Otto Kruger ) spots her and is reminded of the girl he once loved and lost (who turns out to have been…

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“The Hat Me Dear Old Father Wore (Upon St. Patrick’s Day)” – Gene Kelly in TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME


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Continuing today’s salute to St. Patrick and all things Irish, how about Mrs. Kelly’s baby boy Gene dancing up a storm to “The Hat Me Dear Old Father Wore” from the 1949 musical TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (which you can read about here).  Does it get anymore Irish than this?

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