Tag Archive: musicals

Cats: DVD review

Cats are probably the least domesticated of our domestic animals. Dogs may have chosen to live with us, but they have changed themselves to suit our needs. Cats moved into our granaries when we started storing grain and found the stored grain an outstanding hunting ground.  While they tolerate us, and at times even show great affection toward us, the domestication is on the cat’s terms, not ours.

T. S. Elliott knew this. The cats of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats belong to themselves, not to people, and Elliott actually turned down an attempt by Walt Disney to make a movie of the poems, because he did not want his cats made into cartoon cats. But when Andrew Weber approached his widow about making a musical from the book, with the cats being very much street cats, she agreed that his vision was what her husband would have wished. The result was one of the longest-running musicals on the London stage.

Cats was made into a movie 13 years ago. I watched it a couple of times on PBS, taped it, bought the official tapes from PBS (and was rather annoyed that some of the material I’d taped off-air wasn’t on the official tape) and finally bought the DVD as part of a set of Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals. It’s one of those DVD’s I have played so often I’m worried about wearing it out.

It doesn’t have much of a plot. What plot there is is centered on Grizabella, an old cat who’s had a very good, if slightly shady, life and is now shunned by the other cats. A secondary plot is the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy by the feline outlaw, Macavity, and his rescue by the kitten prodigy, Mr. Mistoffelees. But the music and dancing are the heart of the production.

Most of the songs use lyrics straight (or almost straight) from the book, but I think my favorite is “Memories,” which along with Grizabella herself, were added. Of the characters straight from the book, I think my favorites are Rum-Tum-Tigger (a tomcat in his prime who’s a rock ‘n roll teen idol) and Mr. Mistoffelees (a kitten with powers he doesn’t quite know how to handle.)

Surprisingly the dancing, while I love it, is not nearly as cat-like as Puss in Boots and the white cat in the ballet, Sleeping Beauty (Opera de Paris.) But the whole performance is still enjoyable enough to repeat.

Singin’ in the Rain DVD review

“The times, they are a-changing,” and as a writer, I am well aware of the confusion in the writing world. E-books and independent authors are turning the world of publishing upside down. Readers are awash in a sea of new authors, some excellent, some really awful, and how do they tell the difference?

The internet and e-readers have made a tremendous difference, but it’s far from the first time a technological advance has turned the way artists get their work to the public upside down. Look at what happened when synchronized sound came to the movies.

One of my favorite DVD’s is another with, and directed by, Gene Kelly – Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a movie about the tumultuous time when sound came to the movies. The film didn’t start that way. It began simply as a showcase for the songs of Arthur Freed.

MGM got into musicals almost as soon as movie studios began jumping on the sound bandwagon, and Arthur Freed began writing music for those musicals almost from the start of musicals. Around the middle of the 20th century he had the idea of a musical that would showcase a number of those songs, none of them new and some used in movies as far back as 1929.

The writers were at first at a loss. How were they to do a modern (at that time) musical, with a plot of sorts, with a group of songs written much earlier in the century? But then they came up with an idea: since the songs were written starting at the time sound movies were replacing silent films, why not design a plot around that time period? Specifically, why not center the film on actors and actress who were able to make the transition (Gene Kelly’s character, Don) and those who were not (Jean Hagan’s character, Lena?)

The result is now generally recognized as one of the best musicals of all time: Singin’ in the Rain. But a large part of the fascination of the film lies in the fact that at the time it was made and the story line was being written, many of the people who had actually lived through that transition were still at MGM. As a result, many of the anecdotes that made up the final film are based on the stories of people who actually observed them.

Many of the songs that were used were moved around in the shooting. “Singin’ in the Rain,” for instance, was originally planned to be a trio with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds in the rain with umbrellas – an idea that was retained in the opening title and the cover of the DVD. But as actually shot for the film, it was the wonderful sequence of Gene Kelly dancing alone in the rain, after the trio has come up with their idea to salvage the first sound film “Don” and “Lena” made.

Salvage it needed! Jean’s character was one of those beautiful women with impossible voices, and between the fact that the sound men were not used to microphones (which could pick up the most inappropriate sounds) and what I think would be described as a rather nasal Brooklyn accent, the movie was a disaster! I’m not at all sure that the idea of re-recording the dialogue was that early, but it certainly saved “The Duelling Cavalier.”

If you like musical comedies, this one is definitely worth watching. I may wear out my DVD!