The movie musical is back in fashion. After a recent string of big-screen hits like West Side Story, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, and with highly anticipated adaptations like The Little Mermaid and Wicked in the pipeline, it’s clear that this sometimes-ridiculed, all-singing, all-dancing genre is experiencing a renaissance.
The musical has been an inextricable part of cinema history since the advent of sound in 1927. “Make It Musical” – an ongoing retrospective series screening at Classic Cinemas Elsternwick, Lido Cinemas Hawthorn, Cameo Cinemas Belgrave and Ritz Cinemas Randwick – makes a ‘song and dance’, so to speak, of this long legacy.
The series, which runs weekly on Sundays until December, includes blueprints of the genre like Singin’ in the Rain and The Sound of Music, as well as off-kilter cult classics like Spice World and Sister Act. There are many films in the series which highlight the Jewish experience, including a cheeky Christmas Day screening of the classic Fiddler on the Roof, starring the late Chaim Topol as Tevye.
Also screening is Funny Girl, which changed the movie musical forever when a young Barbra Streisand was cast in the lead role of Jewish singer and comedienne Fanny Bryce. Streisand’s unique look and rare ability to eschew conventional movie star glamour for goofiness and raw emotion transformed our idea of the movie star, and earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Later, Streisand would prove her mettle in the Hollywood boys’ club by becoming the first woman to write, direct, produce and star in her own film, Yentl, also screening in the series. The film tells the story of a Jewish woman in Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century who is prohibited from learning the Torah due to strict societal regulations. As a solution, she disguises herself as a boy and enters religious training undercover.
Cabaret, the unflinching, Bob Fosse-directed breakout vehicle for Liza Minelli, is set in Weimar-era Berlin under the threat of Nazi ideology. Screening in November, the film follows Sally Bowles (Minelli), a performer at a hedonistic nightclub, and features a subplot in which a Jewish man passing as Christian falls for a Jewish heiress who doesn’t know his secret. The film earned Jewish actor-dancer-singer Joel Grey the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
These films highlight what the movie musical is capable of at its best.
Spectacular in scale and scope, emotionally elevated and with an emphasis on entertainment, they also endeavour to tell stories of human struggle and triumph. While the look and feel of the movie musical may have transformed over time, and its critics remain staunch, the fact remains: if there are stories to be told and songs to be sung, the musical is here to stay – it’s tradition!
Visit the Classic Cinemas, Lido Cinemas, Cameo Cinemas and Ritz Cinemas websites for more information.