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!

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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. 🙂

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The Brussels adventure

This past January my husband and I had the 25th anniversary of our first kiss and to celebrate a quarter of a century together (that sounds sooooo long!) he and I went away, just the two of us, to Brussels for 3 days (2 nights).  We decided to do it the unstressed way: go by train! The journey is only 2.5 hours from where we live and we only had to change trains once. The kids were looked after by friends, so there were no worries there, and we were off last Thursday morning. This is what it looked like just after we boarded the train to Brussels. Coffee for Mr Esther, tea for me, cakes and reading material… Yes, good start to our mini-break!

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We arrived in Brussels and walked to the street our hotel was in (right bang in the historical center!), had a late lunch, checked in to our hotel and then started walking… and walking… and walking… We walked by ‘Manneken Pis’ (yeah, world famous small fountain statue of a little boy peeing)…

… walked some more…

… and popped into a church where I lit a candle for my dad and which also turned out to be Heraldry-heaven for Mr Esther (the man loves medieval history and is a heraldry specialist, a fangirl of sorts, if you will)…

… we walked on and on till we got to the royal palace, which is the Belgian king’s work place…

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… walked from there back into the old town, with a lovely view as we came down…

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… we stopped for drinks then walked on to finally visit a high point: the market square with old city hall and beautiful old buildings surrounding it (click on images to enlarge)…

It’s a gorgeous square, it’s probably the best cared for part of Brussels. Our hotel was situated about a minute minute away from this location. This was our breakfast room view, by the way…

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Our feet were already getting very tried at the end of that first day. We went to the hotel room, freshened up and then went off to dinner and a movie after (Silence – slow moving Martin Scorsese movie about Portugese Jesuit monks in 17th century Japan – 3 people walked out during it, but Mr Esther and I found it totally engrossing).

Friday, the second day, we walked even more… We visited the cathedral (again, click to enlarge)…

… and, as we are Europeans at heart, we walked on to where the European Union administration is situated. The European Commission building is freakishly huge (these pictures don’t even begin to show that)…

… outside that building there is also a piece of the Berlin Wall with a text on the history of that eyesore and how since that was torn down European unity has grown…

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… we walked by the European Parliament buildings…

Outside the parliament building there was a tree decorated in a crocheted work of art. I have no idea what that is about but we found it amusing…

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We walked through more streets closer to the old center where our hotel also was…

… and in less touristy parts of Brussels, we also came across an occasional house painted with interesting illustrations (again, click to enlarge)…

Speaking of cartoon characters, we also came across this sign in a park, asking Pokemon character searchers to keep off the grass as the grass had just been re-planted. Apparently massive amounts of Pokemom game players had trampled the grass before…

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Of course, by the end of the day our feet were just about dead and we sat for quite a while sipping wine (me) and special beer (Mr Esther) in the old market square…

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We moved from there to a restaurant and later back to the square again for more beer. The square was beautifully lit after dark…

Saturday, our last day in Brussels, we spent at the museum, seeing an exhibition on famous Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. Alas, his most famous works weren’t there, but he sure made some really wonderful less famous paintings too!

In the same museum we also strolled through the beautiful medieval paintings section…

Alas, we were too tired to go on to the 19th / early 20th century paintings that I had also wanted to see; we skipped that in favour of a café (and more beer and wine) before taking our train and heading back home again.

For me, hardly a trip is complete without fangirling of some sort! And I got to do some on this trip as well! There was no Richard, Colin or latest crush Lucas fangirling but there was the 1920s Magritte painting, that made me think of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries because of the black bob hairstyle (sorry for the fuzzy picture)…

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… and we came across Simon Baker of The Mentalist fame in a Longines watches ad in a jewelry store window ( I stared and smiled at that for a while before moving on, the man and his smile are beautiful)…

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Brussels also likes its comic / scifi / fantasy stores… In a store window, for instance, we saw all sorts of wands from Harry Potter characters for sale…

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… and then in another store, which was filled with so much stuff you could hardly move, I decided to search once again for a Pop Thorin figure. I always regretted not getting Pop Thorin at the time The Hobbit movies came out and now they are sold out everywhere and they’re very expensive online. Well, I didn’t find Thorin but then my husband called me over and I saw these two…

20170305_155620… Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy! Granted, not Colin Firth as Darcy but hey, he can pass for it, right? And a kick ass Elizabeth Bennet, who I did enjoy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So yeah, I didn’t want to regret not getting Elizabeth Bennet! I bought her first, then the next day decided I’d get Mr. Darcy as well. I want no more Pop-regrets…

And the last bit of fangirling had everything to do with Charlotte Bronte! Jane Eyre is still one of my absolute fave books ever, this coming summer we will be travelling to Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire where she lived, and yesterday I walked in her footsteps in Brussels! Charlotte Bronte stayed in Brussels for about a year in her mid twenties, learning French at a ‘pensionnat’, a school for girls, and also teaching English there. She also fell in love with the husband of the pensionnat owner, Monsieur Heger, even though nothing ever came of that. She based two books on her Brussels experiences (‘The Professor’ and ‘Vilette’) and Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester is said to have been modelled after Monsieur Heger. The part of Brussels (between the royal palace and the older city) where she lived isn’t there anymore. Now big buildings stand on the street where the pensionnat used to be, the street itself is also gone. On one building (you really have to figure out where to find it, luckily Mr Esther is good at that stuff) there is a plaque commemorating Charlotte and her sister Emily living there…

… and there are steps there that were also there in Charlotte’s time and that she most certainly must have walked on…

When we were at the museum an hour or so later, we saw this painting…

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It’s  the painting of a school children’s parade in Brussels, all these girls are schoolgirls! It was painted quite a few years after Charlotte and Emily left Brussels but I like to imagine that these girls could have been their pupils… or maybe the teacher walking next to these girls was!

We took the train out of Brussels again yesterday at the end of the afternoon and got off at Antwerp to have dinner there before heading home. While in Antwerp station (beautiful building inside!) we sat drinking coffee and chai tea latte while waiting for our next train. This was our view…

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… and yes, it immediately reminded me of one of my favourite flash mob videos ever, which was also the first one I ever saw, I think. A flash mob The Sound of Music ad was filmed in Antwerp station some years ago and still is awesome to watch…

Yep, we had a really wonderful time! It was over all too soon…

30 Day Movie Challenge – Day 13

Day 13 – A guilty pleasure

When I was a teenager I loved Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Italo-Pop but none of my friends did. So, watching their movies and listening to that music were my guilty (secret) pleasures. Nowadays I don’t care what anyone says anymore to what I like or don’t like. I like what I like, take it or leave it. So, I don’t think I really have a guilty pleasure when it comes to movies as I don’t feel guilty anymore about what I like… Except maybe the extent to which I indulge myself… I’ll illustrate with The Sound of Music.

There are certain camp or kitschy movies that I really love watching (and nowadays refuse to be apologetic about) like kitschy fairy tale musicals, Mamma Mia, I used to like watching the old German Sissi movies with Romy Schneider and I used to and still love watching The Sound of Music.

Now, I know a lot of people love this movie as well but I have watched it so many times, I think I can speak along with most of the dialogue! I know exactly what happens when, I can sing all the songs, I know the names of all the kids and still I love going back to it. And the worst part? I even went to a The Sound of Music movie sing-along once, where you sing along with the songs and react with the whole audience to whatever is happening on the screen! I used to organise movie nights for co-workers at my old job and was able to convince about 4 or 5 people to come along with me. We ‘dressed up’ in Austrian hunter’s hats and joined in with the singing, cheering Maria on, hissing at the baroness, saying “amen” every time we saw a nun on the screen, cheering when the captain and Maria kissed, etc. etc. And you know what? I so would do this again and am constantly on the look out to discover when a possible next sing-along will be! While everyone enjoyed themselves, I REALLY enjoyed myself…

So, my guilty pleasure? I tend to over-indulge in movies I love and actors I love and I never get enough. I can spend hours and hours on this when to someone else it can seem like a waste of time. I can completely lose myself in these stories and these people, seemingly forever. Over-indulging is my drug of choice, and yes, I sometimes feel guilty for not being able to tear myself away. Then again, I tell myself it beats drinking too much vodka or smoking, er, whatever…

 (30 Day Movie Challenge – the full list of questions)

Blog post 101

Apparently my post today about the Muse concert was my 100th blog post! So, I’ve decided that a year into blogging and after 100 posts it was time for a little blog facelift. I’d grown a bit tired of late of how my blog looked, it’s not really fun to look at the same image of yourself in the header over and over again… Also, I wanted something lighter than the dark blue. The 100th post milestone finally kicked me into action. So, I picked my The Crucible watercolour that my mother had painted for me for my birthday as a header image, picked a new layout theme and a different font and voilà, it all looks different! I’ve got to say that for now, I’m happy with how the blog looks. 🙂

The subtitle of my blog (“these are a few of my favorite things”) is taken from a song in “The Sound of Music”. This past spring was the 50th anniversary of that film, I only recently came across that fact. I also came across this  recent image of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer that I loved!

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Photo by Annie Leibowitz

I saw it in this sweet article. They are looking happy and energetic and beautiful and, might I add, a little naughty too! Great picture and a very pleasing way to celebrate my 101st blog post and the blog facelift.. 🙂

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! 🙂