I think my love for theater must have originated from such early exposure to movie musicals. When I think back to the movies that played on repeat during my childhood, the Big Three (in my experience) of musical adaptations come to mind – The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Bedknobs and Broomsticks gets an honorable mention. Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke were the icons of my childhood, and my tendency to memorize movies word-for-word probably started when watching these films constantly.
I’m fiercely nostalgic about these movies, and, now looking back, I can see how so many of my lifelong interests stemmed from watching them. The era of World War II, as seen in both The Sound of Music and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, is one of my favorites. I love stories that are about large families, a la The Sound of Music. The English settings of Mary Poppins, Chitty, and Bedknobs probably contributed hugely to my Anglophile nature.
So what does an early life defined by fictional, magical caretakers entail for one’s future? Well, seemingly an affinity for stories with Nazis (historical fiction, people, don’t freak). Secondly, the ability to try any movie musical at least once. I think it’s hard for movie musicals to be critically successful today, because now studios cast well-known stars who may not be the greatest singers in order to guarantee an audience for these adaptations. Plus, in my opinion, it’s difficult to picture a popular actor as a very distinct character. Think of Les Miserables – sure, you knew that Russell Crowe’s character was named Javert, but all you really saw was Russell Crowe trying to sing.
With the movie musicals made in the 1960s, 70s, and even earlier, I believe that there was less pressure to create an all-star cast because, back then, actors were more encouraged to sing, act, and dance, and were usually accomplished in all those skills. Audience members’ tastes have also greatly shifted since then. So, while I enjoyed the movie adaptation of Les Miz (and I haven’t watched it in over two years, so I do need a refresher…all I remember is how it made me fall in love with Aaron Tveit and everyone in the world but me hate Anne Hathaway), it lacks a certain quality that these earlier adaptations have.
Another early musical adaptation that has been a huge part of my life is Fiddler on the Roof. My first exposure to the actual musical was through a youth group production, and I don’t remember my reaction to this showing, but it must not have been too strong. A little while later, my sisters and I checked the movie out of our grandparents’ library, and we (okay, maybe just me) became obsessed. For several years, I’d list Fiddler as my all-time favorite movie (it no longer is, but it is still on the favorites list). I saw another (better) production of it at my high school, and fell even more in love. This is another musical I know word-for-word, and I definitely want to see it when it comes back to Broadway at the end of this year.
Both the 1982 and 1999 versions of Annie were essential to my childhood viewings as well. Strangely I was exposed to the 1999 adaptation with Victor Garber and Kathy Bates first, probably because, in my house, we were all big Wonderful World of Disney fans back then (um, Geppetto with Drew Carey, anyone?).
When it comes to the adaptations of the twenty-first century, I’m quite pathetic apart from Les Miz. My high school performed the show the year before the movie came out, so I was first introduced to and fell in love with the musical as a high school sophomore. The love affair continued until I saw the movie a little over a year later, and then it died down afterwards. I have never seen Chicago or Into the Woods – on stage or on screen – but from what I’ve heard they’re in the better tier of musical adaptations.
And yes, I’m secretly intrigued by the idea of a Wicked movie.
What about you? What are some of your favorite musicals or musical adaptations?
EDIT: I completely forgot about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the superior, classic version with Gene Wilder that I also grew up watching. I have never seen the entirety of the Johnny Depp version, because it just feels blasphemous to me.