Monday, December 24, 2007

Hooray for Jerry Herman!

Movie addicts like me owe a debt of gratitude to Jerry Herman for giving us our anthem, “Just Go to the Movies,” a song from one of his many musical productions. And now, with the splendid documentary, “Words and Music by Jerry Herman,” we have the opportunity to celebrate the life of this legendary composer and lyricist while enjoying highlights from his other outstanding theatrical accomplishments.

“Just Go to the Movies” may not be mentioned in director Amber Edwards’ entertaining film, but her documentary boasts wonderful scenes from such Broadway hits as “Mame,” “La Cage aux Folles,” and “Hello, Dolly!” What a treat it is to see stars like Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Mary Martin, George Hearn and Michael Feinstein belting out Herman’s endearing and infectious songs, especially Lansbury's spirited rendition of "Mame" and the "La Cage" cast's emotional rehearsal of "The Best of Times Is Now."

My biggest surprise? Those enticing scenes from “Mack and Mabel,” a musical I wasn’t aware of before seeing this film. How I wish I’d seen it on stage! Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters co-starred as Mack Sennett, a filmmaker called the “King of Comedy” back in the early movie years, and Mabel Normand, one of the stars he featured in his motion pictures. The numbers presented here really intrigued me. It’s hard to believe this musical flopped. Go figure.

Also fascinating to see and hear are the interviews with Lansbury, Channing, Hearn and Feinstein, who all seem to greatly admire Jerry Herman. And why not? Herman created the words and music for some of Broadway’s most popular shows -- even though he never learned to read or write music.

Personally, Jerry Herman earned a special place in my heart mainly because of two songs: “Tap Your Troubles Away” (I’ve always found tap dancing better than Zen) and, as mentioned before, “Just Go to the Movies.” While doing shows with the Mesa College Musical Comedy Troupe, every time we sang and danced to “Just Go to the Movies” (from “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine”), my spirits were lifted by Herman’s lyrics advising everyone “to let some shadows appear on the screen” whenever “your life appears a bit lean.”

No doubt about it, watching "Words and Music by Jerry Herman" offers “the best of times” for musical theater fans. Happily, it’s scheduled for release by PBS Home Video on January 1, 2008.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd?

Much as I love both Johnny Depp AND movie musicals, I worry about the upcoming film version of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Yes, Johnny can do almost any character on film, and fans like me will flock to see him. However, is his singing voice up to the quality required in this dark, disturbing production? I certainly hope so, but the previews are of little help in determining the answer to that burning question.

Too bad we have to wait until Christmas to find out. The suspense is excruciating for me!

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