Larger Than Life: Showtunes About The Movies

Broadway musical fans tend to be fans of film (particularly those made in Hollywood’s heyday of the 1930s and 40s), or at least that is the impression I get. We like things bigger, grander, and larger than life, with an elegance and style that is seldom found in contemporary film. There is just something about those old film and the allure of Hollywood itself that speaks to many of us. That got me thinking: how about looking at some showtunes that celebrate the world of film? Here is a fun list that I cobbled together for you to enjoy movie classics through the lens of Broadway showtunes. I hope you enjoy.  

Broadway Blip: Blood Brothers

It is the very rare occasion that a musical has a book, music AND lyrics all by the same person. Meredith Willson did it all three for The Music Man, but even he had help from Franklin Lacey on the book. No, it takes a very special talent to navigate all three of these components. That’s why Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers has always been a fascinating musical for me. It is all of one voice, and the epic tale of the Johnstone twins is a thrilling soap opera steeped in superstition, pop music, tragedy and humor. 

Flahooley: The Broadway Musical that Dared to Be Too Honest

Now here is a musical flop that I simply adore, as much for its audacity as for its simply enchanting score. Flahooley, which may have many of you wondering at its bizarre title, opened on Broadway in 1951 at the Broadhurst Theatre. The musical was expected to be a hit, enjoying an enthusiastic out of town tryout. Even theatre caricature artist Al Hirschfeld, who often visited shows in their tryout cities to begin his artwork, was certain that the show would be an enormous hit in New York. Sadly, the show ran for only 40 performances, closed, and faded into obscurity. 

Broadway Blip: Henry, Sweet Henry

Of all of Bob Merrill’s projects that should probably have been a hit, but somehow never got the accolades (and ticket sales) that it deserved, was the 1967 comedy Henry, Sweet Henry. Based on Nora Johnson’s novel and the subsequent film adaptation The World of Henry OrientHenry, Sweet Henry featured both music and lyrics by Merrill and a book by Nunnally Johnson (Nora’s father), all of the puzzle pieces were in place for success. Author William Goldman chronicled the story of Henry, Sweet Henry as part of his book The Seasonand asserted that audiences loved the piece as much as any of the other big hits on Broadway. A bad review from the all-powerful Clive Barnes, the critic for The New York Times, was all it took to make a crowd-pleaser shutter after a few months.