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.
“I Want to Go to Hollywood” - Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel is a dark and thrilling ride of music and dance, set in the Berlin Grand Hotel of 1920s. Each of the main six characters are guests of the establishment, each keeping a desperate secret. One of them, the typist Flaemmchen, a young single woman (played to glorious triumph by a young Jane Krakowski in the original production) who is pregnant. She dreams of escaping her dead-end world and going to Hollywood and becoming a movie star. Her song “I Want to Go to Hollywood” is a juxtaposition of her bleak life against the glamour and opportunities she envisions in her head. Maury Yeston wrote the jaunty ditty.
“Only in the Movies”- Kiss of the Spider Woman
Kander and Ebb’s score for the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman makes many references and allusions to the movies, and why wouldn’t it? The musical’s protagonist is a gay window dresser spending time in an Argentine prison on a morals charge of corrupting a minor. He recalls his visits to the cinema as a child where his mother was an usherette and uses his memories to create escapist fantasies to survive the brutal torture of his incarceration. As his story reaches its tragic conclusion, Molina escapes into his biggest fantasy yet, donning a tuxedo with tails and gliding into the airy “Only in the Movies,” a tribute to how film takes us away from the awful moments of life.
“My Husband Makes Movies” – Nine
Here is Maury Yeston again, on this occasion writing a score about a filmmaker named Guido Contini. Guido is a supposedly a genius filmmaker who is ever-suffering from his inability to have healthy relationships with women. Also suffering is his wife Luisa, one a promising actress who now stands in the shadows and witnesses her husband’s successes and indiscretions. The song “My Husband Makes Movies” is her reflection on her life with a man who devotes himself more passionately to his art than to her.
“Larger than Life” - My Favorite Year
Here is a movie showtune that I simply adore. Ahrens and Flaherty are one of my favorite composing teams and they continue to astound me with their melodious, character-driven scores. In their short-lived musical My Favorite Year, Benjy Stone, a young sketch writer for the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade, learns that his favorite matinee idol Alan Swann will be the show’s next guest star. Benjy reminisces about his time at the RKO Theatre, watching Swann on the big screen and recalls how he was inspired by this swashbuckling, heroic persona. The song “Larger Than Life” is a soaring “I am” song for Benjy, letting us know what an idealistic young man her is.
“Just Go to the Movies” from A Day in Hollywood/A Night in Ukraine
A Day in Hollywood/A Night in Ukraine doesn’t exactly trip-off the tongue as a musical title, not is it a show that you hear being discussed much these days. It is predominantly remembered for its clever choreography by Tommy Tune and Thommie Walsh. It was essentially two one-act musicals, the first-act a celebration of the great music of Hollywood which suits the purposes of this article. What very few people seem to know is that the musical’s opening number “Just Go to the Movies,” sung by ushers at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, was written by composer Jerry Herman. The song is a “Who’s Who” list of the stars, movers and shakers of the silver screen.
“The Buddy System” - City of Angels
Hollywood may seem all glitter and magic, but there is also a dirty, oily underbelly to the world of making movies. The musical City of Angels, with a score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel, and a book by Larry Gelbart, depicts the harsher side of showbiz. An author named Stine is hired to come to Hollywood to adapt one of his novels for the screen. He soon learns that personal integrity and fidelity to his work must be thrown out the widow as he is instructed in the ways of “adaptation” from producer Buddy Fidler. “The Buddy System” is Fidler’s manifesto on how books become movies. The song is a particularly delicious play on words, Zippel’s lyrics a shining example of wry playfulness in lyric writing.
“Movies Were Movies” - Mack & Mabel
Mack Sennet was one of the great directors of the silent film era, ushering in such classic series as The Bathing Beautiesand The Keystone Cops. In the musical Mack & Mabel, the show opens with an older Sennet thinking-back on his career and how humor was different in those days. Jerry Herman’s driving melody and snappy lyrics for “Movies Were Movies” celebrate the physical humor that used to be what the audiences wanted. Of course, Sennet’s work on these films led to his meeting and falling in love with Mabel Normand, one of Hollywood’s first movie stars.
“As If We Never Said Goodbye” - Sunset Boulevard
Let’s face it: you would have all strung me up for not including something from Sunset Boulevard. The musical, based on the classic film of the same name, about a reclusive silent film actress who plans to make her triumphant return in the talkies, is the story that movie legends (and Hollywood tragedies) are built on. When Norma Desmond returns to the studio of her youth, she believes it is because director Cecil B. DeMIlle is interested in moving ahead with her comeback film,. She drinks in the atmosphere of the “magic in the making” and feels both frightened and empowered to, once again, be a blazing star in the firmament. “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, is her tour-de-force moment in the musical. This songs stands an anthem to Hollywood and all the promises, hopes and disappointments it stands for.