I’ll say it again: I love music. I need music. If I don’t listen to music for a while, I can get downright cranky. It’s as vital to me as breathing, and I go to concert after concert after concert for the love of music, even though I hate crowds and I have a fair amount of travel anxiety. I can’t not go. (FOMAC, or Fear of Missing a Concert, is an entirely different blog post that I may come back to later. Shut up, it’s a real thing!)
With that introduction in mind, I want to talk about music throughout various parts of my life. I’ll start at the very beginning.
My earliest memory of music, any music, was all the way back in 1978. I was five years old, and I remember being in some sort of a school or daycare center or something along those lines- it wasn’t a usual place for me. I was waiting near some other kids while we picked up one of my siblings. The kids I was hanging out near were playing with original first-generation Star Wars action figures. I remember they made me be C3PO. While we played with the Star Wars toys, there was a radio on.
There were two songs in heavy rotation on the radio at that time, and they were the first songs to ever penetrate my tiny little head. Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air.”
Those two songs played back to back. I can’t remember ever hearing music before that day. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember it.
I also recall the very first album that I ever owned. When I was ten years old, there were advertisements in the back of comic books that said that if you sell stuff from their crappy catalog, you could win prizes. This company sent an army of tiny Willy Lomans (Lomen?) door to door to sell magazine subscriptions, Christmas cards, pecan turtles, and wrapping paper. With enough sales, you could get yourself a tent, a bicycle, or any number of other “fabulous prizes.” It took a hell of a lot of sales to get anything substantial, but in 1983, I used my hard-earned prize bucks to get a voucher for a cassette tape from one of those music places like Columbia House or BMG, only not quite as obnoxious. That first album? I was grooving to “Future Shock” by Herbie Hancock.
I had seen the video for Rockit, of course, and the kicking-pants robots made me want to dance. Or something. The entire album turned out to be really phenomenal, but I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much in 1983 as I do now.
My mom got me the second album I ever owned- we were in a Richway, which was sort of like the larval form of the retail chain now known as Target. Richway’s parent company sold all of their stores to Dayton-Hudon Corporation around 1988, and that company closed all the stores, stripped them for parts, and then reopened most of them as Target stores. The specific Richway from this story is actually some other non-Target store, according to Wikipedia.
But I digress. We were in Richway, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1984. It was an amazing day for eleven-year-old Steven because not only did I get my first transforming toy there, a red Gobot sports-car named Turbo, but Mom also bought me a cassette of Rockwell’s first album. Again, I was familiar only with the first single released, a popular song called “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which had Michael Jackson on backup vocals. The rest of the album was a lot of fun, though, and I still listen to it sometimes. “Obscene Phone Caller” was always one of my favorites songs, even though it would be years before I actually understood how pervy the song really is.
What was your first album? Your first concert? The first song you remember hearing?
On Friday night, I watched the movie adaptation of the musical Cats. A great deal of the Internet has already made fun of this psychedelic oddity of a film adaptation, but I actually kind of loved it. I think it was a pretty decent stage adaptation, despite Taylor Swift adding a new song to it for some reason. It definitely had some oddities, like some of the cats having sneakers or tap shoes or even fur coats, which is a weird thing for a cat to wear. Here are a couple of choice Twitter post observations, before we move on:
My favorite moments of Cats (2019), a non exhaustive list: •Jason Derulo screaming MILK at the top of his lungs •Ian McKellen saying “mew mew mew” while everyone else is singing human words •The very wide shot during Skimbleshanks where you can’t tell what anything is
After far too much thought and analysis I have determined that the Idris Elba cat is the most terrifying one cause he's the only one that is one solid color thus making him look like a naked svelty man and not a cat. Also he has pecs. pic.twitter.com/oZfgfKdnrN
Getting back to my original point- I was always going to love the Cats movie, because I’m an unapologetic musical theater geek. Always have been, and always will be. I’ve been listening to (and occasionally seeing) musicals for as long as I’ve been aware of them. I saw A Chorus Line at the end of its decade-busting run at the Schubert in New York City back in the 80s. I’ve seen Wicked enough times and in so many different cities that I’ve actually lost count. I’ve been a season subscriber to local theaters a few times now, and it’s a wonder that I didn’t major in musical theatre.
There are a LOT of stage musicals that have been made into movies. Don’t believe me? Go look up “movies of musicals” on Google. I’m not going to cover even a fraction of them here, just a few that have my attention right now. I’m also leaving out musical movies that were not originally stage shows at all, such as The Greatest Showman – that’s an entirely different post.
I’m sure that everyone who leaves a comment on this post will have some thoughts about musicals I’ve missed. Here are my thoughts on a few of them.
Little Shop Of Horrors I love Little Shop. This has long been one of my all-time favorite musicals. So much so that I own three different variants of the soundtrack- the movie, the original broadway, and the recent revival. I even saw this in German while I was in Germany- hearing the same songs with lyrics auf Deutsch was fascinating.
The movie adaptation of Little Shop committed two sins, though. The first sin: It added a song to the movie that wasn’t in the stage show. This wasn’t too bad though, because the song was “Mean Green Mother,” which is hilarious and fun. The other sin, the more egregious mortal sin, is that the movie was unnecessarily given a happy ending when the stage show (and the original Jack Nicholson black and white movie, for that matter) don’t have happy endings. Still, this is a great movie adaptation. Plus, it has a bonus fun bit with Bill Murray that is entirely pointless, but still great fun.
West Side Story and Guys and Dolls I can’t ignore the older musical movies – I love many of the “classic” movie musicals, and there are a great many: Kismet, Bells Are Ringing, My Fair Lady, and two of my long-time favorites, West Side Story and Guys and Dolls.
West Side Story is such a delight that I can’t even relate the sheer number of times that it’s filtered into other pop culture or been an integral part of a joke. Plus this musical is why all the gangstas in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video were such accomplished dancers.
As for Guys and Dolls, the movie is 65 years old but it still holds up, with Brando, Sinatra, and a fantastic supporting cast. Stubby Kaye sings one of my favorite songs from the entire musical:
A Chorus Line: The Movie A Chorus Line is so very, very, very dated. The original stage show holds up much better because it gets occasionally updated. The movie version, on the other hand, is pure 1985 cheese with regard to instrumentation, arrangement, and dancing styles. Add to that the venial sin of adding a song that isn’t in the original stage show, and you have a movie that is absolutely terrible. The added song is so ear-wormy that it quickly became my favorite song in the movie, despite my previous complaints about movie-musicals that add a song just for the movie. I’m fickle and complicated; sue me.
Phantom Of The Opera I wanted to love this because the stage show is amazing. The movie got the look spot on- the staging, the costumes, the orchestration- everything was perfect. Except for Gerard Butler. Why did they have to cast someone as the Phantom who makes me want to stick needles in my ears every time he opens his mouth? This musical movie adaptation would have been perfect if Butler had never opened his trap.
Rent My only complaint about the movie adaptation of Rent is that the stage show has some grit to it, and the movie is so polished that it felt like an MTV video of the stage show. They get bonus points for pulling in many of the original Broadway cast actors for this one, and when they did bring in new talent, it was a good fit. Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms both did really excellent jobs with their songs, and I have no complaints.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street When I saw that they were making a movie of this, I was ecstatic. Then I saw they were casting Johnny Depp as Sweeney and I was distraught. I love Avenue Q. I adore Wicked. But Sweeney Todd may be my all-time favorite musical. Especially the original Len Cariou/Angela Lansbury version. (Bonus geek trivia: Len Cariou, the original Sweeney, played Janeway’s father in one episode of Star Trek: Voyager. True story.) I love Sweeney Todd so much that I was horrified at what might happen with Depp in the lead. I wasn’t sure if he could sing, and it reeked of stunt casting.
I had nothing to fear though- I was in the audience opening weekend, and my row-mates actually caught me squeeing a number of times- Depp and Helena Bonham Carter both did an amazing job. And I found, to my delight, that this was the single best movie adaptation of a musical I had yet seen. It was faithful enough to the stage show that I didn’t feel like it was needlessly truncated, and the entirety of it was pitch-perfect in every way. Pun only mildly intended.
It’s also the only time I’ve seen Sacha Baron Cohen in any role without getting irrationally snarky and irritated. Make of that what you will.
This one made me very, very happy.
Into The Woods The wonderful job they did setting this one to film made me very happy, and it gave me optimism that they will eventually do a good film adaptation of Wicked, since both have a similarly fantastical world to set up. Into The Woods had an all-star cast, and I’ll even forgive them for letting Meryl Streep get away with talk-singing her way through most of her bits instead of really singing. Honestly, I still think they should have just gotten Bernadette Peters to reprise her stage role for the film. I know she was 65 when they made this movie, but she looks younger than me. She would have been perfect. Even with that newbie Meryl in the role of the Witch, the movie version of this show was incredibly well done.
Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to mention a bit about the reverse- movies that have become stage shows, against all odds and better judgement. Especially since many of these were not musicals to begin with. Turning non-musical movies into musicals has been a big trend lately, with Mean Girls and Legally Blonde both becoming really popular as stage musicals.
I’m completely ignoring all the Disney broadway adaptations. They’re usually pretty good, and they find little ways to improve on the original cartoon versions, but I still feel like a Disney Broadway show based on a cartoon musical is a bit of a cheat.
I’m also disregarding Spamalot, because although it’s mostly Holy Grail, it goes way off track in bizarre ways. I’m just going to talk about four here:
Xanadu This had great potential to be wonderful. I love the original film it was based on. Regrettably, they really changed the tone and style of the music to make it a stage show, and they camped it up even more than the original movie. I wanted to love this, but I find myself only mildly digging it. Alas.
Heathers: The Musical I absolutely love this one. I appreciate how much of the original score was incorporated into the original music for this one. The original cast recording’s Barrett Wilbert Weed does a great job of sounding like Winona Ryder while still also making the role entirely her own. (She went on to grab a part in the Mean Girls musical after this.). Ultimately, Heathers: The Musical does the thing that every musical WANTS to do: it gets stuck in your head and has you humming the songs after you’ve left the theater.
Evil Dead: The Musical Evil Dead: The Musical is really brilliant. I still haven’t ever managed to see a live show of it, but I very much want to. With song titles like “Do The Necronomicon,” “What the Fuck Was That,” “Boomstick,” and “Blew That Bitch Away,” how could you not love this?
Silence! (The Silence Of The Lambs Musical) Yes. They really made a musical out of this. Last time I looked into it, Silence! was just a concept album really, but since then it’s been performed numerous times in different cities. It’s kind of amazing and kind of hilarious… The music is a lot of fun.
…and last, but not least…
The Last Starfighter I wish I’d been able to fly to New York to see this when it was open. It’s only been done in short bursts, but that’s probably a good thing. I love the original movie- it’s a huge part of my childhood. This musical…. well, it disappoints in almost every conceivable way. I actually bought the soundtrack to the musical with high hopes, and they were shattered on the very first listen. They didn’t even try to work in Craig Safan’s amazing score. This is honestly completely terrible, but I still really want to see it someday.
As you can imagine, I could have written pages and pages more about musicals in film or films that have become musicals, but I had to stop somewhere.
What are some of your favorite musicals, whether they be on stage or on the silver screen?
During the summer before my 10th grade year, my father and my brothers and I all climbed into dad’s 1986 Honda Accord, and hauled ourselves up the interstate highway into New York. We stopped briefly to see dad’s cousin in Hyde Park, to visit dad’s cousin near the FDR Estate. My flawed thirty-years-ago memory insists that dad’s cousin was a care-taker of the FDR estate, but I may not be remembering that correctly.
Ultimately, this trip took us into the city of New York. We walked through central park more than once, due to mild lost-ness, and we also took in a show. We took in this show:
This was the original run of A Chorus Line, which started on July 25, 1975, and was still going strong in 1987 when my brothers and I saw it in 1987. I’m pretty sure dad was behind the camera on this one, because he was definitely with us.
A Chorus Line on Broadway ran until April 28, 1990. When it ended its nearly fifteen year run, the Schubert theater had held more than 6,000 showings. It held the honor of being the longest running show on Broadway, until Cats took the new record seven years later. (Cats has since lost the title to the Phantom of the Opera. There’s always something bigger.)
On the last day that A Chorus Line was running on Broadway, another much smaller production was doing its second to last day: Santaluces Community High School, in Lantana, Florida.
In this production, a certain seventeen-year-old future blogger was cast in the role of Gregory Gardner. Wikipedia hilariously describes the role as, “a sassy Jewish gay man who divulges his first experience with a woman.”
When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know anything about gay people, so I had no idea that playing a gay person on a high school stage in 1990 was a big deal until years later. What I did know was that I’m a mediocre tap dancer at best, and that I looked damn good in gold lamé.
I’ve been able to keep track of a few of the cast and crew members over the years, mostly through the evil web of Facebook. A precious few of the folks in this photograph have been excellent friends to me for the entirety of the twenty-six years since the show (and high school) ended for me. If you know where to look, my good friend, fellow blogger, and Huffington Post overnight editor Jade Walker is in the cast photo below.
As for me, I’m in the front row, fifth from the left. And I still think I look good in gold lamé.
What was the first musical you saw on stage? If you were in drama in school, what was the first show in which you took the stage?
Editor’s Note: I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers. I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?
As we enter into the holiday season, the movie studios begin to ramp up their pitches to have the most popular movie of the holiday season. There are endless commercials already for the newest Hunger Games movie, and we’re about five minutes from the next blast of Hobbit-related advertising. Neither of these are what I’m most looking forward to, though. The movie I’m most looking forward to over the holidays? Into The Woods.
Here’s the trailer, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the story.
Most of my friends know that I’m a musical theater geek. I’ve seen a ton of them live. I went out of my way to see both the Little Shop Of Horrors and Starlight Express auf Deutsch. I’ve seen Wicked six times now (in four different cities), and I’m two weeks away from seeing Book Of Mormon again when the tour hits Miami.
I love musicals, and I love movie adaptations of them… usually. When they come out well, you get movies like Mamma Mia, West Side Story, Bells Are Ringing, Little Shop of Horrors- all excellent translations of the source material onto the silver screen. The single best movie adaptation of a musical that I have ever seen is Sweeney Todd. But then I’m predisposed to like that one; it’s long been one of my favorite musicals.
On the flip side, you have movies that come out a little flat- Rent, for example- it was good, but it felt like an MTV video version of the stage show, rather than a movie. And some movies that are all style with no substance, like the movie version of Phantom Of The Opera- that was gorgeous to look at, but every time Gerard Butler opened his mouth to sing, I wanted to shove icepicks into my ears.
With every new adaptation from stage to screen, I approach the theater with cautious optimism. Into The Woods has a lot of potential, and a great cast. If they don’t let Meryl Streep get away with too much talking through her songs instead of singing, there’s a lot of potential here.
On Christmas Day, I’ll be in line to see this one.
What movie are you most looking forward to this holiday season?
In the first week of April, I took a relatively brief trip to Erding to see Der Kleine Horrorladen, which is one of my favorite musicals – the Little Shop of Horrors – completely in German.
Erding is a small-ish town a little to the north of Munich. By car, it would probably have taken me about 90 minutes to get there, but using public transport it was an 80 minute train ride to Munich, and then a 51 minute S-Bahn ride out to Erding. I debated whether to stay overnight for this, but I’m really glad I did- trying to make it back to Munich after the show would have been rushed, and I would have been on a late train that gets back to Regensburg at around 1:30 in the morning. Sleeping in Erding and having a more relaxed trip back to Regensburg in the morning was definitely the way to go.
Erding is a nice little town. When I arrived, I walked from the Bahnhof to my hotel, a little under a kilometer. The center of Erding is very compact. I like towns that have this kind of “gateway” in their architecture.
Sunny weather means the sidewalk cafes are full, even on a Wednesday. Lunchtime is serious business in Bavaria.
In the evening, I want to Stadthalle Erding for the show. The auditorium isn’t a full time theater- the seats are really just numbered stackable chairs. They have a decent stage though, and the acoustics weren’t as bad as I expected them to be for a room that is entirely done in wood paneling. My seat was literally the furthest seat you could possibly get from the stage.
As for the show, this is a small touring company. The picture and video below are promotional material for this particular cast. I’ve seen nicer stage versions of the plant, but I still enjoyed the show quite a lot. I’m always fascinated when I see musicals here to see how they change the lyrics, which were originally English, to German. When I saw West Side Story, they actually kept the songs in English and only translated the spoken dialogue.
Here, the entire thing was auf Deutsch, end to end. Just as with Starlight Express, some of the lyrics had entirely different meanings in order to have a rhyme scheme that would fit with the music. I was pretty impressed with how much of the original meaning could be kept without losing rhyme or rhythm though.
Have you ever seen a musical auf Deutsch? Was it The Little Shop Of Horrors?