Ongoing Song and Dance
When done with imagination and style and avoiding budget-busting excess, the movie musical still abides and endures. Recent years have brought us huge box-office successes (Les Miserables), sincere attempts that didn’t catch on (Jersey Boys) and jewel-box-sized surprises (The Last Five Years). Hopes are high with the spectacular promise of forthcoming film versions of Hello Again, Beauty and the Beast (itself born out of an animated movie musical), Wicked, Matilda, In the Heights and – eventually – Hamilton. On the near-term front and clearly demonstrating that any subject is fair game, there’s the acclaimed new-in-U.S.-theaters British musical London Road, director Rufus Norris’s filmization of the National Theatre production about the quiet rural community of Ipswich, struck to its core in 2006 by the discovery of the murdered bodies of five women, and depicts through songs (by Adam Cork and Alecky Blythe, with lyrics “created from the actual words” of Ipswich residents) the anguished desperation of the townspeople (played by Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman, Les Miserables’ Linzi Hateley, EastEnders’ Anita Dobson and recently christened Mad Max Tom Hardy, among many others) as they realize there’s quite possibly a mass murderer in their midst. Due this December is the critically cheered new musical La La Land, already canonized as a prime 2016 Oscar® contender after Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festival screenings, Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle’s beautiful idyll of strivers Emma Stone as an aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling as a brooding jazz musician, bursting forth in deliriously dreamy song and dance all around Los Angeles in search of their career and romance goals, unabashedly evoking nostalgia for the Golden Age musicals of yore. With five songs by composer-lyricist Justin Hurwitz and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, plus another with words penned by John Legend, Angélique Cinélu and Marius de Vries, it also harkens back to the open landscape exhilaration of the enchanted Jacques Demy duo of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. Looking back, looking outward, looking forward: these attributes also describe an intimate yet sweeping screen musical covering love, self-discovery and the heartbreak of reality that opened 16 years ago today: The Fantasticks (1995/2000). The gossamer Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt fable has an enduring 56-year life as a stage classic (it’s still running off-Broadway in New York and currently also on the boards of the Pasadena Playhouse in a well-received revival) but its big-screen incarnation was plagued by movie business hazards of evolving audience tastes, market testing brutality and gutted studio confidence. But director Michael Ritchie persevered to deliver a pictorially ravishing movie of unique charm and playful emotional directness, supported by gorgeous Jonathan Tunick orchestrations and eye-popping Fred Murphy cinematography, in which two young lovers (Jean Louisa Kelly and Joe McIntyre), seemingly fated to mate from the opening frame, are forced to confront obstacles to their union and finally, perhaps more challenging, the rigors of lasting commitment. Sinuously juggling the wide-open spaces of Arizona with the rattletrap, flimflam bustle of a motley traveling carnival, the film compels us to Try to Remember our own youth and first flushes of personal freedom in what resident TT essayist Julie Kirgo dubbed “the pristine beauty of a long-lost America, peopled by the ardent, the poignant, and above all, the sincere.” Also starring Joel Grey, Barnard Hughes, Jonathon Morris, Brad Sullivan and Teller, Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of The Fantasticks, with two versions of the film (the edited 2000 Theatrical Release in hi-def, the Original 1995 Version – more faithful to the stage original – in standard def) and three revelatory Audio Commentaries, is a sincere effort to make the case for this beleaguered movie musical gem to abide and endure.