Musicals through the decades

The latest Mach Was challenge is about musicals and ever since I saw that call, all sorts of musicals have been floating around in my head! Even though I am not the world’s greatest musical fan or connoisseur, I really do enjoy a good (movie) musical and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve seen quite a few of them over time – enough to be able to pick my favourites for each decade in musical movie history…

The 1930s – The Rogers & Astaire era

I realize that I should probably choose The Wizard of Oz (from 1939) as a favourite musical from the 1930s but I have to confess that I have never seen that movie! I’ve seen many clips & excerpts, I have read about it, but I have never actually watched it. For me, 1930s musicals are synonymous with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers! I have already once before enthused here on blog about this dancing and singing screen couple. I’ve been reviewing their movies again and I think my favourite would have to be Top Hat (1935), although I also really liked Swing Time (1936). The plots for both movies are somewhat contrived but, oh, the dance numbers!

Top Hat is a mistaken-identity movie. It centers around a model (Ginger Rogers) on holiday in London and Paris who mistakes an entertainer (Fred Astaire) for the husband of her friend. The movie features the very famous Fred Astaire in top hat dance…

… and the ‘Cheek to Cheek’ feather-dress-dance (the feathers on Ginger Rogers’ dress were flying around everywhere, if you look closely in the video you can see it – apparently after that, Fred Astaire nicknamed Ginger ‘Feathers’)…

The 1940s – More Fred Astaire!

The 1940s are still about Fred Astaire for me. He reunited with Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), which I really enjoyed (and of all the Astaire/Rogers movies the plot of this one makes the most sense to me), but the movie I liked even more was Easter Parade (1948) with Astaire and Judy Garland. Easter Parade is about nightclub performer Don (Fred Astaire) who hires naive chorus girl Hannah (Judy Garland) to become his new dance partner to make his former partner jealous. He wants to prove he can make any partner a star. Hannah bristles against Don’s attempts to make her just like his old partner and grows into her own kind of performer.

‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’ may be the most well-known song from that movie…

… and here’s a fun number,  ‘A Couple of Swells’, where Hannah truly is very different from Don’s elegant former partner…

It’s a fun watch! Especially Judy’s acting, and of course Fred’s dancing, stand out here.

The 1950s – The Gene Kelly era

The 1950s had a ton of musicals. I really like another Fred Astaire musical called Funny Face (1957), also starring my darling Audrey Hepburn, and a lovely jazz musical with Danny Kaye called Five Pennies (1959) but, most of all, the 1950s is Gene Kelly’s decade to me! He did An American in Paris (1951) with Leslie Caron, which is a fun musical, but I think my fave 50s musical has got to be Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which Gene Kelly did with Debbie Reynolds.

Singin’ in the Rain is set in the late 1920s when movies went from silent to sound. When two silent movie stars’ latest movie is turned into a musical, a chorus girl is brought in to dub the female movie star’s singing and speaking. Gene Kelly plays the movie star Don Lockwood and Debbie Reynolds plays the chorus girl Kathy Selden. The very iconic title song is maybe the most well-known musical number ever. It never gets old looking at this…

The one I catch myself singing sometimes, just like that, is ‘Good Morning’…

I swear, virtually every number in this musical is legendary, there isn’t a bad song and dance routine in it!

The 1960s – The Julie Andrews era

I liked Hello Dolly (from 1964, with Barbra Streisand) but the mid 1960s is really the Julie Andrews era. She famously starred in My Fair Lady on stage but wasn’t deemed well-known enough for the movie, so the Eliza Doolittle role for the 1964 movie went to Audrey Hepburn instead. In the meantime Julie Andrews made Mary Poppins (yes, we’re still in 1964!) and became very famous for that.  However, my fave 60s musical has got to be The Sound of Music, which was made a year later in 1965.

The Sound of Music is about a young postulant, Maria (Julie Andrews), who is sent to be the governess to the children of naval officer and widower, Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). It is set in Salzburg (Austria) in 1938 around the time the Nazis gain power there and is based on a true story. It’s awfully corny in many ways, but I do love it; it is well-acted and has real heart. There are some songs there I don’t like very much (like when the Mother Superior sings ‘Climb Every Mountain’ or the ’16 going on 17′ song), but others are absolutely irresistible, like ‘Do-Re-Mi’, ‘Edelweiss’ or ‘My favourite things’ (which incidentally is also the tag-line of this blog)…

There is also this very romantic dance. Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to German/Austrian ‘Volksmusik’, which this is to a certain extent. This scene, however, always makes my heart skip a beat…

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie; I even went to a Sound of Music sing-along once, eight years ago!

It was absolutely silly but a lot of fun.

The 1970s – The rock & pop musical era but I liked fairytales!

This is the time of the rock & pop musicals, like Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), or Saturday Night Fever (1977) or Grease (1978). All of them fine! But, I was a little girl in the 1970s and just starting to learn about movies and musicals. At the tender age of 7 I fell in love with a kitsch Cinderella movie musical called The Slipper and the Rose (1976) with Richard Chamberlain as the prince and Gemma Craven as Cinderella. I have blogged about The Slipper and the Rose before here and I have shared some fun musical clips from that movie here. It’s probably got a lot to do with nostalgia, but I still love this musical (that virtually nobody knows anymore). Let me share another romantic dance video with you: the prince and Cinderella meet and dance…

… and my father’s favourite song, I always think of him when I see or hear this…

The 1980s – Youth musicals

There was Fame (1980) and Flashdance (1983) and Footloose (1984) and Dirty Dancing (1987), which was all very youth centered and I remember them all being very popular when they came out. I liked them and enjoyed them and fell in love with David Bowie and a teenage Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth (1986), but the musical I loved most was Yentl (1983), which was not so youth oriented. In my house, the whole family loved that movie, we had the soundtrack on LP and played it continuously.

Set in early 1900s Eastern Europe, Yentl is about a young woman (Barbra Streisand) who dreams of studying Talmud but as a girl is not permitted to do so. After her father dies, she disguises herself as a boy and goes out into the world to find a place where no one knows her, so that she can get the education she so covets. Things get complicated when she falls in love (with Avigdor, played by Mandy Patinkin)…

The song ‘Papa’ from the movie, then and now, always makes me think of my own father. Again, in this movie, all the songs are great, like ‘One of Those Moments’…

… or the final song. ‘A Piece of Sky’…

This is also a musical I have seen many times and it never grows old!

The 1990s – Cartoon musicals

There were musicals like Sister Act (from 1992, which was fun) and Evita (from 1996, just OK) but to me mostly the Disney cartoon musicals stand out in the 1990s, like Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992). The movie that sticks out most for me is The Lion King (1994). I thought I was all over cartoons by mid mid-20s until I saw The Lion King in the cinema (I only went because some friends wanted to see it). To my surprise, that movie made me cry in the first 15 minutes! For me it isn’t a musical masterpiece like some of the musicals I mentioned in earlier decades are, but I did love it! The ‘Hakuna Matata’ song was cute! At the time everyone also said ‘hakuna matata’ to each other, it was a bit of a hype.

Last year I went to London for a few days with my son and I promised him a stage show. He picked The Lion King, so we went to see that and very much enjoyed it!


I like that this musical is now linked to my son like that. 🙂

The 2000s – Fairytales & books

Not many musicals spring to mind in this era, but I did really enjoy Moulin Rouge (2001 about a writer and a cabaret star). That movie didn’t have many original songs but it did have great covers of great pop songs which made it a joyous watch. As a Jane Austen fan, I also really loved the Indian answer to Pride and Prejudice, called Bride and Prejudice (2004). In fact, I need to share one clip from that movie. The actor Naveen Andrews (he plays Balraj, the Bingley character, dressed in black), really reminds me of my youngest brother and I could actually picture my brother doing this dance act as well…

I love the way P&P translates to an Indian story and the joy that seeps through in all the songs and dances.

My fave 2000s musical, however, has got to be Enchanted (2007). A young maiden called Giselle (Amy Adams) who lives in a land called Andalasia and is prepared to be wed to Prince Edward (James Marsden), is sent away to cynical New York City by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon), where she falls in love with lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey). It’s a real princess story yet also a spoof on all (animated) Disney princess stories, with even a hint of The Sound of Music spoof thrown in. See if you can spot that reference in this joyous ‘That’s How You Know’ number…

It’s fun and funny for adults and there’s also serious princess stuff there for the little ones. I discovered Amy Adams through this; she plays the princess so brilliantly and is nicely offset by grumpy Patrick Dempsey who slowly thaws (and she learns how to be angry!).

The 2010s- The Hugh Jackman era

So, here we are – the musicals of this present decade! I probably should mention La La Land (2016) here, as it won so very many awards! I felt, however, that that movie was very over-hyped. It was nice enough but the quality of the main actors’ singing and dancing just couldn’t hold a candle to some of the musicals mentioned above. I was underwhelmed. For me, the best musicals of the past 7 odd years have starred Hugh Jackman, so to me this is the Hugh Jackman musical age!

First off, Les Miserables (2012). I have always loved Les Miserables. In the mid 1980s we had a tape at home with all the songs from the London stage musical. I knew all the songs before I even knew the story. I finally saw the musical live in the West End in London in the fall of 2013 which was a dream come true for me! About half a year before that, I saw the 2012 movie musical version with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in the cinema. I know several people who didn’t like it, but I absolutely loved it!

Les Miserables is set in 19th century France. It’s the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who has served 19 years of imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread. He breaks parole and after that is hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russel Crowe). He agrees to take care of a factory worker’s (Anne Hathaway) daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Once grown, Cosette falls in love with revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne), while Valjean wants to keep Cosette and himself out of the way of Javert.

Jackman was brilliant, as was Hathaway (she deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this, I felt) and Eddie Redmayne has this surprising angelic voice. Recently I already shared a clip of Hugh Jackman singing ‘Who am I’, let me share Eddie Redmayne singing ‘Empty Chairs’ here (makes me cry every time!)…

I can’t possibly begin to select songs here to post, I would have to post the whole movie! So, here’s a trailer that gives a nice sampling overview…

I can’t just pick one favourite for this decade, now that the latest Hugh Jackman musical installment is here: The Greatest Showman (2017). I thought it would be a mildly amusing movie to go see, I never expected to love it this much!

The Greatest Showman is a musical inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman). Barnum rises from nothing to create the “Greatest Show on Earth,” a spectacle and circus, starring ‘oddities’ like the bearded lady and a dwarf. It is inspired by true events but must certainly not be taken as gospel! It’s basically the fairytale version of Barnum’s life, with a nice message of celebrating difference and inclusion.

I can’t find many clips from the actual movie on YouTube (although you can see the trailer), but I can share a clip of a live performance the cast did of one of the songs…

And the anthem about being OK with who you are and showing yourself as you are, has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Song this year! Here is a clip from the movie, when the Bearded Lady (Keala Settle) sings ‘This Is Me’…

Again, with this movie I love every single song! I have been playing the soundtrack in the car virtually non-stop for all my commutes to work these past few weeks. I’m secretly hoping for the sing-along version to also come to The Netherlands… 😉

So, there you have it, my Mach’ Was musicals through the decades list! I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of great musicals, so if there are any you feel should not be left unmentioned, feel free to do so in the comments. 🙂



With all this stuff going on in the world right now, be it horrible mass shootings, the tragic murder of a British politican, fearmongering, and yes, cyberbullying (I mention that as we await what Richard Armitage has to say on that subject today), I find myself thinking of empathy. That leads me to the ‘philosophy of empathicalism’, the fictional philosphical theory used in the 1957 movie Funny Face with Audrey Hepurn and Fred Astaire. Here are two clips of the movie that I put together in one video, explaining the theory:

These clips and sending up empathy make me laugh! They also show me that only empathy (and ‘thoughts and prayers and sympathy’) isn’t enough. We need the right words and actions to back it up in all situations in life! Empathy means trying to understand the other and put yourself in someone else’s shoes, just like Atticus Finch says to his daughter Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”

Empathy is a wonderful thing but it shouldn’t stop there. From empathy grows discussion and then hopefully positive action and change. This goes for the aftermath of the recent tragedies we have witnessed as well as for anything yet to come on this Cybersmile  “Stop Cyberbullying Day” that Richard Armitage has subscribed to.

What I hope for after whatever message Richard Armitage sends about cyberbullying is that it sparks healthy, critical discussion but that it does not turn to vitriol and trolling (so brilliantly explained by Servetus in her recent post). I expect his message to be empathicalist (yay! I’ve connected Richard Armitage to Audrey Hepbrun!) and whatever happens afterwards will range from extreme adoration to the extremely critical, all valid reactions. However, being critical does not equal being hateful or bullying and empathy does not equal wordless acceptance.

In my view, empathy is only the beginning and I believe we need to build on that. I think Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) in Funny Face may have understood that: empathy alone is not enough… Let the (constructive) games begin!

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers dance!

The latest “Mach was” (“do something”) challenge is a call to do something with dance and I have to say, I was stumped for a while. What to do with dance? I once did ballet from the age of 10-14 but, while fun, it never really inflamed a passion for me. I do enjoy going to the ballet, but not enough to actually write a whole post about it. I just don’t see ballet often enough. So, what else could I do with dance? What do I like and how can I connect that with dance? Well… I love the movies… and hey, presto, there was the idea!

The first thing that springs to my mind when I think of films and dance is… Fred Astaire! And it didn’t stop there, I immediately had this image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing their Cheek to Cheek dance number in the film Top Hat. If you look closely, you can see the feathers flying off Ginger Roger’s dress as she is being twirled around. And I thought of the dance (Never Gonna Dance from the movie Swing Time) where they each have to twirl up this staircase. To get the timing right, it had to be repeated so often that Ginger Roger’s feet were reportedly bleeding by the end of it. And I thought of the roller skates dance… and the dance where Astaire demonstrated to a dance school owner how much Rogers has apparently taught him (also from the movie Swing Time)… Of course I could have gone into Fred Astaire’s solo performances as well, which were just as wonderful, but no, the partnership with Ginger Rogers beckoned. What’s a girl to do but follow her heart, right? So Rogers & Astaire it is for this challenge!

Fred Astaire had many great dance partners but the one he somehow shared the most magic with was Ginger Rogers. Katharine Hepburn reportedly once said of them: “He gives her class and she gives him sex appeal” and I think that hits the nail on the head. They fit, they molded together very well and they danced brilliantly (even though Ginger Rogers still had a lot to learn when she started out).

Fred-Astaire-and-Ginger-Rogers4Those two just floated in each other’s arms in the romantic dances and the fun just jumped off the screen in their lively, more playful numbers.

Their tapdancing was always fun and, as mentioned above, they even tapdanced on roller skates once (Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off in the film Shall We Dance?)!


Fred Astaire (1899-1987) had danced in shows and revues with his sister Adele very succesfully on Broadway and in London until she got married in 1932. He then went into films on his own and very soon (in 1933, in his second film!) he was paired in a supporting role with Ginger Rogers (1911-1995) in a movie called Flying Down to Rio. A review said that, “Astaire starts dancing where the others stop hoofing.”

Astaire and Rogers were an immediate success and although Astaire wasn’t keen to be in a ‘partner act’ again (it had taken him a while to live down the partnering reputation with his sister), he was persuaded to first make one more movie with Rogers (The Gay Divorcee), and then persuaded to make many more. Between 1934 and 1939 they starred in 8 movies together and most of them were box office hits. The stories weren’t that deep, the plots sometimes convoluted but the films were fun, it was pure entertainment, and the dancing was of course magical. Many of the songs in those movies are all time classics!  After a break of 10 years, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made one last movie together in 1949 called The Barkleys of Broadway.


A dance commentator (John Mueller) analysed the magic of these two together as follows: “Rogers was outstanding among Astaire’s partners not because she was superior to others as a dancer, but because, as a skilled, intuitive actress, she was cagey enough to realize that acting did not stop when dancing began … the reason so many women have fantasized about dancing with Fred Astaire is that Ginger Rogers conveyed the impression that dancing with him is the most thrilling experience imaginable”. And Fred Astaire himself once said: “She got so that after a while everyone else who danced with me looked wrong.” He credited the success of their partnership largely to her.

In the 1950s Rogers career declined, there being a lesser demand for ‘older’ Hollywood actresses. Fred Astaire’s career remained more or less successful and in later years he also branched out into television. Both of them remain best remembered for their partnerhip in 10 films, however; a partnership that started 83 years ago! I am amazed at how fresh and good the dancing still looks and find that it still holds up well today…

I have spent a little time creating a YouTube playlist with some of their dance numbers that are among my own favourites. If you have some time, take a peek!

This and that

Gosh, I really do have a lot of internet stuff to catch up on! But first had to finish this Miss Fisher video set to a Fred Astaire song. I felt the lyrics quite suited Jack’s story. 🙂

I have always loved Fred Astaire! Here, have him and Ginger Rogers on roller skates!

In other news: the first new Bridget Jones movie trailer has been released (Bridget Jones’s Baby). I’m not sure what to think of it. It all seems such a rehash of the the first two movies… Of course I will have to see it when it comes out because of, well, Colin! And Emma Thompson is in it too! But I don’t know if I like this whole “I don’t know who the father is” scenario…

There are some Richard tidbits too… looks like he’s had a fun Easter…

And now there’s Armitage & the chimps (sounds like a 60s band name)! Richard seems to have joined yet another cause, going by a tweet picture posted by his co-star Michelle Forbes…

Armitage & the chimps

No idea what this is about yet, and I love Richard’s good heart, but his cause-supporting is all over the place, influenced by whatever project he is working on or whatever co-star he is working with. I wonder which cause is truly closest to his heart?

Outta here, real life beckons…

Cheering up on a rainy day

This is what I like to watch on a rainy day like today:

In the past (albeit long ago) I have even re-enacted this on occasion, outside on the streets! It really does make rainy days less somber. The movie “Singin’ in the Rain” is full of great numbers, like “Make ’em Laugh” and “Good morning” (that I still regularly sing to myself when I have a cheerful morning)

And then Gene Kelly makes me think of Fred Astaire and the awesome stuff he did in film dancing, like this one on roller skates!

And then I get nostalgic for old movies and old songs in movies, and I think of this:

Oh, how I love Audrey Hepburn! And Audrey Hepburn makes me think of Ingrid Bergman, my other favourite actress from long ago:

Casablanca is still a masterful movie… (and has another classic music scene where the people in the café drown out the Nazis’ singing with The Marseillaise).

Of course, when thinking of music in films, “The Sound of Music” pops up in my head as well. Quite some kitsch in there, but I can’t help myself, I love the film (I even went to a Sound of Music sing-a-long once, and boy, was that fun!). So, here’s “Edelweiss” (oh, and I adore the Baroness’s sarcastic comment just before Captain von Trapp starts singing):

Another one I like, although not so old (my kids would disagree, this is from before my eldest was born) is something Heath Ledger did in “10 Things I Hate About You” that makes me grin every time:

Another modern one that just makes me laugh from the movie “Enchanted”:

And of course, Monty Python makes me happy. I could link to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from their absolute masterpiece film “The Life of Brian”, but I’ll choose the Galaxy Song instead (from “The Meaning of Life”), and then in the version as sung by Stephen Hawking!

And that is how you make a grey rainy day all happy and cheerful! 🙂