The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs From Movies and Musicals…Song #8/250: As Time Goes By from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Casablanca.

Casablanca was released in 1942. It starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. It is universally regarded as being one of the top films ever produced in Hollywood. The song “As Time Goes By” was recently ranked by the American Film Institute as being the second most memorable movie song of all time (just behind “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz). Casablanca went on to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. To say that this movie made major stars of Bogart and Bergman is an understatement. Their on-screen chemistry and movie storyline of star-crossed lovers helped make Casablanca one of Hollywood’s first great romantic blockbusters. But, truth be told, Casablanca is a war movie. It was made during war time for a very specific reason and made under certain absolute restrictions. Making movies during wartime was (and still is) different than doing so during times of peace. As this post will show, the old saw about “life imitating art” was very true in 1942.

World War II officially broke out in 1939. For the first half of the war, the Allied countries were back on their heels as Germany swiftly conquered country after country in Europe. One of the biggest prizes for Germany was when France surrendered and German forces occupied Paris and the surrounding French countryside. The only thing that stood between German control of all of western Europe was England. But there is a truism that seems to exist regardless of where in the world wars are fought. It is that although a country may be defeated in battle, it is never truly beaten as long as there are enough people to form an army of resistance. Resistance fighters may be small in number but their constant harassment of an invading army does wonders for the morale of the vanquished citizens and serves to remind them that their country lives on despite the colour of the flag flying atop important buildings nearby. So, by the time Casablanca was filmed and released in 1942, much of Europe was under Nazi occupation. Organized resistance movements existed in France, Poland, Holland and Czechoslovakia. But, at the same time, the organizational operations of conquered cities needed to continue so the German government installed puppet regimes in all conquered countries. The people who agreed to cooperate with the Germans became known as collaborators. Many collaborators were seen as traitors by ordinary citizens, as well as by resistance fighters. However, for those who opted to cooperate, they viewed their decision as being a pragmatic one that offered them the best chance of surviving the war intact. So it was into this nuanced context that the movie Casablanca was written, filmed and released to the world.

In the movie, Humphrey Bogart’s character owns a nightclub called Rick’s Café Americain. This club is a transit hub for all sorts of characters such as actual Nazi officers, French collaborators, resistance fighters, as well as ordinary citizens all trying to keep their heads above water. One of the things that Casablanca did that helped elevate it to the top of movies set during wartime was in how it showed the intricate web of politics that was constantly at play all throughout the war. Many war-themed movies seemed fixated on battles and soldiers and sacrifice and valour on the battlefield. Hollywood studios were actually tasked by the government to produce movies that helped with war time recruitment by creating heroic characters who defeated tyranny against all odds. Many of these movies were made under the auspices of the American Armed Forces and starred actors who had enlisted such as Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Rod Taylor, Jimmy Stewart and so on. These “morale” movies were also created to help ensure that public opinion tipped in favour of government policies when it came to the United States’ initial neutrality, and then their entrance into the war as a combatant. The final role that many of these movies played was in the creation of villains. As many have noted, perhaps none more forcefully than George Orwell in 1984, the creation of an “enemy” supplies much of the fuel to any nation’s war machine, and so there were many movies created and released during WWII that demonized German and Japanese soldiers as being heartless and evil. But, Casablanca seemed to present a more subtle view of the many moving pieces involved in the on-going conflict in Europe, and for that reason, it seemed to resonate more with many viewers. That having been said, Casablanca was released just as Allied forces were set to invade North Africa in an attempt to liberate Morocco (where Casablanca is located) from Nazi rule so, timing also played a huge part in the success of this movie.

Ingrid Bergman and Dooley Wilson. “As Time Goes By”.

The plotline of Casablanca revolves around the somewhat shady character of Rick, as played by Humphrey Bogart. He is the owner of the club but he is also someone who trades in a form of currency called secrets. Rick knows who the players all are and moves among them all like a chameleon, being who each needs him to appear to be. The story moves forward once Rick becomes in possession of two “travel documents” which allow the bearers to travel freely throughout the occupied territories. These documents are priceless to those seeking to flee from the Nazis: especially, for people who are Jewish. Consequently, whoever controls these documents can name their price, whether that price is in terms of money, jewels, property or sexual favours. Rick’s world is unfolding as usual until one day when a woman and man walk into the club. The woman is Ingrid Bergman. The man is her husband, Lazlo, who is a Czech resistance fighter. The two are happily married. However, as she enters the club, she sees Rick and immediately is taken back to a time when she knew Rick previously. Her reaction to seeing him again is to approach the piano player, Sam (as played by Dooley Wilson) and ask for a special song to be sung. That song is “As Time Goes By”. The playing of this song serves an important purpose in the movie. It acts much the same way the old Greek Chorus used to in the early days of drama. Back then, the Chorus was a group of characters whose role was to add commentary to help the audience understand what was transpiring on stage. In Casablanca, “As Time Goes By” serves to help the audience understand that Bergman and Bogart’s characters were not, in fact, meeting for the first time. Furthermore, in a previous place and time, they were very much in love. Suddenly, with the playing of one simple song, a complex love triangle erupts amid all of the political maneuverings that were already afoot in Rick’s Café Americain.

I won’t spoil the movie by saying any more in case there are readers who haven’t watched Casablanca and may wish to do so. However, I will comment on one final aspect of making this movie during wartime in 1942. I do not think it is breaking the “spoiler alert” code by stating that movies made during WWII in the US were not permitted to have overly sympathetic German characters. That is true of Casablanca, too. The US needed to have enemies for political reasons, so, as much as the screenwriters tried to create slightly more nuanced characters, it is not hard to watch this movie and know who to root for. But, in addition to adhering to guidelines regarding the characterization of Germans, the folks who wrote the screenplay also had to navigate around rules that existed regarding morality. For that reason, as much as it may have been obvious that Bogart and Bergman’s characters had been sexually intimate in their previous encounters, no mention of them being lovers was permitted because she was a married woman in the movie. Even in the song, “As Time Goes By”, the line, “and when two lovers woo” is quickly followed by, “they still say I love you” because it gave the appearance that the song was about a married couple, as opposed to two singles hooking up for an illicit encounter. If you have watched the movie or if you intend to, the manner in which the writers twist themselves into pretzels to maintain the integrity of a female character who was, obviously, a lover to two different men, is something to behold and very indicative of the times in which the movie was made.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Casablanca is a war movie like no other. The politics of living in wartime are laid bare for all to see. As well, the nature of the term personal sacrifice, which usually refers to soldiers on the battlefield in most war movies, is presented in a very humanistic manner here. Audiences became invested in the resolution of the love triangle amid the dangerous atmosphere of war. Lives definitely change as a result of everyone coming together in Rick’s Café Americain during the German occupation. Because, even in wartime, “you must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by”.

The link to the video for the song “As Time Goes By” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Casablanca can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Casablanca can be found here.

**As always, all original content of this post remains the property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs from Movies and Musicals…Song #7/250: Seasons of Love from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the Musical, Rent.

In 1896, opera lovers gathered at the Paris Opera House for the debut of an opera that was destined to become one of the most popular and performed operas of all time. That opera was La Bohème. It was composed by Giacomo Puccini. La Bohème was set in Paris and followed the exploits of several characters who were judged to have been living bohemian lifestyles. The lives these characters were leading were fraught with difficulties and dangers, but their love for life lent an air of purity to their pursuit of happiness and self-actualization. At the time, much of Europe was under threat from a disease called tuberculosis. In La Bohème, tuberculosis would cast a pall over the lives of those being enacted on stage. La Bohème was well received by Parisans and is regarded as one of Puccini’s greatest works. Since its debut, his opera has been performed all over the world and watched by hundreds of thousands of adoring fans. One of those fans was an American playwright named Billy Aronson who watched La Bohème in 1988. As he sat watching the story of carefree twenty-somethings in Paris living freely but struggling to pay their rent and avoid catching TB, Aronson was struck with how similar those times were to the ones he and his friends were living in now in New York City during the AIDS crisis. So, Aronson left the performance of La Bohème determined to create a modern adaptation of it. He approached his friend, Jonathan Larson, who was a songwriter and pitched the idea to him. Larson climbed on board immediately. Larson, who lived in Greenwich Village near the epi-center of AIDS outbreaks in the 1980s, agreed that there was definitely a story waiting to be told. After a period of collaboration that created a skeletal outline of a play, Larson asked Aronson if he could take the developmental lead because he had an idea to turn La Bohème into a rock opera. Aronson agreed in return for a percentage of future profits and formal recognition of his foundational role in the project. From there, Larson composed dozens and dozens of songs; eventually whittling it down to a suitable number, and just like that, a modern day version of the centuries old opera La Bohème emerged in the form of a musical called Rent.

Jonathan Larson.

Rent will forever be remembered as much for the circumstances of its debut as it ever has for the quality of its performances and that is really saying something because Rent has gone on to be one of the most highly recognized Broadway shows of all time. It took several years for Larson to complete his musical score, finalize the script and raise the necessary financing in order to mount his production. However, by late 1995, everything had seemingly fallen into place and pre-production began. The show was scheduled to make its off-Broadway debut in January of 1996. The date of that scheduled opening was deliberate because it would have been almost a full century, to the very day, that La Bohème had made its debut in Paris. But unbeknownst to everyone involved in the project, including Larson himself, tragedy was waiting silently for Larson in the wings. On the very eve of the debut of Rent in New York City, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm. Apparently, he had been carrying a non-AIDS-related disease called Marfan Syndrome which makes the blood vessels near the heart susceptible to leakage and/or rupture. Needless to say, the news of Larson’s death on the eve of what would become his greatest artistic triumph, was a devastating tragedy. Although those involved in Rent were shocked by the death of Larson, the musical’s champion, they followed the old adage that the show must still go on. However, instead of performing the musical as was intended, the cast gathered on stage and engaged in a sing-along with the audience in Larson’s memory. The song that touched people the most that night was called “Seasons of Love”.

The Rent cast sing “Seasons of Love”.

In a typical performance of Rent, “Seasons of Love” opens Act II. By this time in the musical, the audience will have met all of the characters and know of their struggles and their dreams. They will also know of the spectre of the AIDS virus which looms over the entire play like its own evil character. “Seasons of Love” serves to remind the audience of what has happened and then to prepare them for what is to follow. The song starts out by describing how to measure time in units of one year. It then poses the question as to how one would make use of that time if that time was all that you had left to live. How does one measure the worth of one year in a situation such as those who have contracted AIDS? Well, according to the song, you measure that year in units of Love. I have always firmly believed that Love is the very best aspect of Life and that it is the most powerful force in our world. Larson seems to have felt the same way. Rent resonates so strongly with so many people because his core idea embedded all throughout the musical is one that highlights the importance and power of hearts filled with Love. It is not surprising that “Seasons of Love” has become the official anthem of World AIDS Day.

Andrew Garfield discusses the nature of Grief with Stephen Colbert.

In the links below, I will obviously include a performance of “Seasons of Love” by the Broadway cast, along with a link to the website for Rent. But, I will also include a link to an interview that aired a year or so ago on the Stephen Colbert TV show at the height of the COVID pandemic. The video will show an interview that Colbert conducted with an actor named Andrew Garfield. At the time, Garfield was starring in a Netflix production called Tick, Tick, Boom! This production was one of many that Jonathan Larson had a hand in developing. Before Rent came to be realized, Larson worked as a waiter in order to make ends meet. In between shifts, he wrote hundreds and hundreds of songs that have ended up becoming parts of many other projects over the years, with Rent and Tick, Tick, Boom! being the most well known. In this interview, Garfield retells the story of Jonathan Larson and then concludes with a similar story from his own life. It is as poignant and intelligent an interview as one gets to bear witness to in this day and age. I highly recommend to each of you who read this post that you set aside a few minutes and watch Garfield and Colbert talk about the fragility of Life and the importance of Love. It will fill your heart; I guarantee it.

The link to the video for the song “Seasons of Love” from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the Musical Rent can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical Rent can be found here.

The link to the official website for World AIDS Day can be found here.

The link to the video for the interview between Andrew Garfield and Stephen Colbert can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this blog post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Songs From Our Favourite Movies and Musicals…Song #6/250: Falling Slowly from the Original Soundtrack to the Film, Once.

Once starring Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard.

You may be forgiven if you have never heard of the movie Once. It was an independent movie made in Ireland in 2007. It was filmed for approximately 100,000 Euros, which is an insanely small budget for a full length movie. The two lead characters were not actors, but instead, musicians: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The onscreen names of the two lead characters are never mentioned in the film. Instead, Hansard is simply called “Guy”, and Irglova is simply called “Girl”. The producer did not obtain permits for any of the scenes shot in public places, and because those scenes were filmed with a telescopic lens, none of the citizens shown in those scenes were aware that they were being filmed and simply went about their business in markets and on crowded streets. Upon its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, critics hailed Once as being the best movie about music of its generation, even though it is not a musical. Once ended the year on 37 different movie critics’ Top Ten lists of the best movies of year for 2007. It ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture. That song was “Falling Slowly”. Their win was noteworthy because of what happened during their acceptance speech. Hansard is twice as old as Irglova, an extroverted presence that contrasts with Irglova’s quieter, softer presence. Not surprisingly, Hansard strode to the microphone and thanked those who needed to be thanked while Irglova stood quietly beside him. When Hansard finished, the orchestra started to play and the television producers went to commercial. Unbeknownst to them all, Irglova had stepped in front of the microphone and unexpectedly started to speak but was cut off on live tv. Upon returning from the commercial break, host Jon Stewart interrupted the show, publicly apologized to Irglova and gave her the chance to say her piece and to speak for herself. As should have happened in the first place.

Guy and Girl sing “Falling Slowly” together for the first time.

The plotline of Once is very simple, yet very original at the same time. It is a non-musical movie that uses music to drive the action forward. Glen Hansard stars as a street busker who plays an acoustic guitar on the streets of Ireland and survives on the coins that are thrown into his open guitar case. One day while busking, Guy (Hansard) sees Girl (Irglova) as she walks down the street selling flowers to passers by. Guy is immediately drawn to Girl’s innocent look (Hansard was 37 at the time of filming and Irglova 19). The rest of the movie involves how Guy and Girl slowly fall in love and realize that they have met their soulmate. Because the storyline is simplistic, it leaves room for twists and turns that add nuance to the story of Guy and Girl. How the movie ends was talked about and discussed as much as, if not more than, how the romance itself played out. Once takes place on street corners while Guy busks with his guitar, in music stores as the two characters reveal their inner feelings and/or bits of their personalities and past lives through songs they play for one another and through the shared, intimate acts of vulnerability that come when you trust someone enough to share your creative process with them. It is a beautiful, tiny gem of a movie and was the favourite of the critics for a reason. If you want to watch a movie with a story that will touch your heart all the while telling you a great story that is more complex than you might realize, then Once is the movie for you. I highly recommend it.

If you need any more convincing as to the economy of exquisite detail employed in making this movie then, here are the only two facts you need to know: first of all, the song “Falling Slowly” is about two people falling in love. It was sung as a duet, as it should be. In the movie, they sing together at a piano in a music shop where the owner allows her to play (because she cannot afraid a piano of her own). They sing together a song written by Guy about a Girl. Not this Girl but a long lost Girl that still occupies a space in the mind of Guy. They sing this song slowly, at first and in perfect harmony by the end. They sing acoustically, without the adornment of electronic instruments…just guitar strings, piano strings and, I suppose, heart strings, too. It is falling in love as shown through the act of singing a song. “Falling Slowly” started as being about one couple but ends with it being about them. The song and the scene are altogether lovely. Secondly, the title of the movie is actually the answer to the question, “How many times in life do you find your soulmate?”

As Marketa is eventually given time to say in her Academy Award winning acceptance speech….and I am paraphrasing….through Art there is Hope and it is Hope that connects us all.

The link to the video for the song “Falling Slowly” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Once can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Once can be found here.

The link to the acceptance speech that went awry at the Academy Awards can be found here.

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs from Musicals and the Movies…Song # 5/250: Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Interstellar

I read that those involved in the making of the 2014 movie, Interstellar believed they were making a movie worthy of being thought of as this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interstellar is certainly a sweeping epic that involves weighty topics such as time travel, the origins of life on new planets and the ties that bind families together over the course of many generations. It stars an A-list cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and Timothee Chalamet. In addition to those fine people, the movie soundtrack is scored by none other than the current king of movie composers, Hans Zimmer. *(A previous post was written about Hans Zimmer. It can be read here). So, the table is set for a sumptuous cinematic feast. Let’s dig in and find out how good it actually tastes.

The plotline of Interstellar is that our time on Earth is coming to an end. The planet has dried out because of climate change. Drinking water is becoming scarce. Dust storms are becoming more frequent. So, a team of astronauts is tasked with searching for signs of habitable planets in other solar systems. Interstellar space travel is made possible because of the discovery of a black hole beside Saturn. Exploratory missions have determined that it is possible to travel safely through this black hole, and not only that, but return again to Earth through it as well. As much as this all sounds like science fiction, the science behind Interstellar was based upon work conducted by one of the world’s pre-eminent authorities on black holes…an astrophysicist named Dr. Kip Thorne. Because of Dr. Thorne’s involvement, many of the fantastical space scenarios shown in the movie are, in fact, rooted in real science, and may end up turning from science fiction to science fact in the not-too-distant future in real life.

But the movie Interstellar is more than just a space movie. At its core, Interstellar is a treatise on the nature of family as the foundation of our society. On Earth, Matthew McConaughey’s family anchors the emotional aspect of the movie. He plays an astronaut who has left the space programme and is raising his two children on a farm. All is good until the climate starts to deteriorate, and the family starts finding what they believe to be coded messages left in the dust that collects in the daughter’s bedroom after each dust storm. The dust appears to be in binary code. The journey to crack this code leads McConaughey to return to space headquarters to volunteer to go on the mission to find new, habitable planets through the black hole by Saturn. His decision to go is based on his heartfelt need to discover a way to protect the future so his children will survive. His children, on the other hand, feel abandoned by him. The emotions at play fuel the decisions of McConaughey, his young daughter (played by Mackenzie Foy), and his son (played by Timothee Chalamet) for the rest of the movie. The added twist that helps to raise Interstellar beyond that of a typical family drama yarn is time travel. When McConaughey and his fellow astronauts travel through the black hole and begin exploring new planets, they age at a slower rate than they would have if they had remained on Earth. In the video that accompanies this post, you will note that McConaughey stays at relatively the same age all throughout the video whereas his daughter changes from a child (Foy) to an adult woman (Chastain) and then, to an elderly lady on her deathbed in a hospital (Ellen Burstyn). So, McConaughey wrestles with the fact that he may have saved the future of Earth, but in doing so, he missed out on his children’s entire lives. There is more to the story than this, but I have probably said too much already for anyone who may wish to watch this movie as a result of this post, so I’ll be quiet now.

The score for the movie was composed by Hans Zimmer specifically for an organ. By organ, I mean a grand, cathedral-esque organ with massive pipes. When Zimmer was tasked with scoring the movie for an organ, he was told that an organ produces a sound that is deep and that resonates in cavernous spaces, but most of all because an organ relies on air for its existence, just like humans do. So, as you watch the video of Zimmer conducting his orchestra, note the presence of the organ and the huge pipes. The video also shows how the score ties into the themes of the movie by displaying the notes on screen as dots and dashes. As these images flow by, you can start to distinguish between them all and match them with the notes you are hearing from the various musical instruments that are playing at any one time. The dashes that are located higher up on screen are for higher-pitched notes and those lower down on the screen are for lower-pitched notes. As well, some dashes are longer than others, which will indicate that a particular note is being held longer while other, shorter dashes/notes weave in and around it. It is fascinating to watch. In addition to the musical construction of the Interstellar Suite, segments from the movie are shown. The scenes from outer space seem to me to work particularly well with Zimmer’s Suite. All in all, I find this video entitled Interstellar Suite to be mesmerizing at times, and I find myself being emotionally invested in the story that is unfolding. You should know that Interstellar Suite is fourteen minutes long, but in my estimation, it doesn’t seem long enough. Between Zimmer’s score and the movie’s scope, this video keeps me coming back for more.

So, is Interstellar this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey? I don’t think so. But it is still a terrific movie that raises questions about the nature of Love and of how deep our commitment goes to those we call family. Interstellar is a good movie. I think it is fine to stand on its own without having its worth measured by being compared to any other movie. The science of Interstellar is sound. The emotional themes being explored will draw you in and keep you there. The action will have you on the edge of your seat. Zimmer’s musical score is excellent, as usual. So, by all means, check out Interstellar if you feel like watching a good movie. You won’t be disappointed.

If you have seen the movie I would be interested to know what you thought of it. Please feel free to leave your comments below. As well, if you have any other outer space-themed movies that you wish to recommend, feel free to do so below.

The link to the video for the composition Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Interstellar can be found here.

The link to a much more thorough and weighty dissection of Interstellar’s plot, the science behind it and the philosophy behind it all can be found here. Please note: this article goes into great detail about what happens in the movie, so obviously, SPOILER ALERT!!! Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this article, so do with that information what you will.

***As always, this is a reminder to all that all original content contained within this post is the sole property of the author. This post cannot be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 Tommacinneswriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Most memorable Songs from Broadway, the West End and from Hollywood…Song # 4/250: memory from Cats

T.S. Eliot.

T. S. Eliot was one of the greatest poets of the last century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Upon the occasion of his death, he was interred in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey in London alongside the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. His poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is considered to be one of the foundational poems of the Modernist poetry movement. And yet, there are some who would argue that T. S. Eliot’s greatest contribution to the world of art and literature was a book of nonsensical lyrical poetry called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is considered to be a form of poetry called light verse, meaning short poems that were meant to be humorous and read for pleasure. In this collection of poems, T. S. Eliot created short poems about a series of cats. Each featured cat possessed a certain personality trait such as vanity, cruelty, boastfulness and so on. The poems were written in a lyrical style, possessing a rhyming scheme that made the poems easy to read aloud. In 1954, a composer named Alan Rawsthorne viewed these poems as possessing a musical quality, and so he set about taking six of them and composing a score to accompany each so that they could be performed aloud as a set. A decade or so later, one of the people who took in a recital of Rawsthorne’s musical poems was a young boy who would grow up to become one of the most important and influential people in the history of musical theatre…that young boy was Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not only did Webber enjoy Rawthorne’s production, but he also enjoyed reading Eliot’s complete Book of Practical Cats. Andrew Lloyd Webber agreed with Rawthorne that the poems lent themselves to being presented as songs, but he also thought that the characters presented in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats acted as a form of social commentary on the nature of the composition of the society in which he was living. Even though he was still young, Andrew Lloyd Webber viewed this all as a play. As he grew into adulthood, he developed his idea into one that ended up becoming one of the most respected and revered musical plays of all time…Cats!

Cats premiered in London in 1981. It has gone on to be one of the longest-running and most successful musicals ever in the West End with almost 9,000 performances to date. While many people have heard of Cats, not everyone is familiar with the plotline of the play. The musical centers around a tribe of cats called Jellicles. Each year, all members of the tribe gather at an event called The Jellicle Ball. At this ball one of the cats is chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer (which is a form of Heaven). To the cats, being chosen is an honour and represents an opportunity to experience a form of rebirth and renewal. In order to warrant being chosen, each cat must appear before the assembled gathering and state their case as to why they should be considered the chosen one. When they state their case, the cats do so by singing the poem that T. S. Eliot wrote about their character in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Interwoven amid the individual speeches of the candidate cats is the politics of moment…the currying of favours, the process of lending support to a cat who appears to have a chance to be selected, the splintering of the gathering into competing factions, the petty jealousies and much more.

Elaine Paige as Grizabella.

In theatre circles, there is a term known as an eleven o’ clock song. Traditionally, evening performances ended not long after eleven o’clock so, the big, emotionally-driven grand finale song that wrapped up the storyline of the musical was usually placed near the end of the play and would be performed just before closing time. When Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote Cats, he decided that none of T. S. Eliot’s poems had sufficient dramatic impact to serve as his play’s eleven o’clock song. So, he asked his friends to each submit a song of their own creation. Award-winning director Trevor Nunn submitted a song entitled Memory. This song was meant to be sung by a character named Grizabella who was a cat, who in her day, was quite glamorous, but who had fallen onto hard times and was a mere shell of her former self. When Andrew Lloyd Webber heard Nunn’s song of redemption and compassion, he knew he had found his eleven o’clock song and that his musical was now complete. Memory was first performed on stage by an actress called Elaine Paige. Her rendition of the song was given the Ivor Novello Award for Best Lyrical Composition in 1981. Even though Memory has been sung to great effect by singers such as Barbra Streisand, it is Elaine Paige’s rendition that is held up as the standard by which all others are compared. Not only that, but Memory is generally considered to be one of the most memorable songs in the entire history of staged musical productions anywhere in the world.

So, it is with great pleasure that I present the enormously talented Elaine Paige singing the hit song Memory from the musical Cats. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song Memory as sung by Elaine Paige from the musical Cats can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical Cats can be found here.

The link to the official website for Andrew Lloyd Webber can be found here.

***As always, this is a reminder that all original content of this post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 Tommacinneswriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Greatest Songs in Broadway and Hollywood History…Song # 3/250: Gonna Fly Now from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Rocky

There is a strong case to be made that Muhammad Ali was the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Furthermore, it is more than wishful nostalgia to declare that the history of his career coincided with a time in boxing that deserves to be known as the Golden Age of the sport. In his heyday, there was no boxer faster on his feet, more skilled with his jabs, nor more eloquent with his mouth. Muhammad Ali was the original G.O.A.T.

FILE — Referee Zack Clayton counts out George Foreman as Muhammed Ali looks on in the 8th round of their title bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, in this Oct. 30, 1974 photo. (AP Photo/Jim Boudier, File)

There has always been a certain blood lust associated with the sport of boxing. In fact, it is fair to say that race plays a big part in a business that often puts Black and Hispanic fighters in harm’s way for the viewing pleasure of white audiences and the profitability of white promoters. All throughout the history of Muhammad Ali’s multiple reigns atop the heavyweight division, his most storied fights were against other Black men….Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and, most famously, George Foreman. At the time Ali came to face Foreman in a fight billed as The Rumble in the Jungle, George Foreman had battered his way through the entire heavyweight division with unbridled ferocity. The only person standing between him and the heavyweight title was Ali. At the time, Muhammad Ali was considered to be the underdog. But Ali trained hard, and employed a unique strategy of willingly absorbing punishment for multiple rounds to begin the fight. His Rope-a-Dope technique worked perfectly. As Ali stood against the ropes, Foreman punched and punched and punched with all of his might. Ali, leaning back against ropes, took most punches against his raised forearms. As Round #5 came to an end, George Foreman’s mouth began to stay open as he sucked in as much oxygen as he could. His own arms were growing weary from overuse. It was the sign that Muhammad Ali had been waiting for. George Foreman…more a monster than a man…had begun to punch himself out. Foreman was tired. Ali was not. In the 6th round, Ali began to counterpunch. Foreman, too tired to adequately defend himself, was rocked by an Ali right hand and down he went. The most famous boxing match in history was over and Ali had won!

After the bout, Muhammad Ali returned to America. His promoters were puzzled as to how they would follow up such a huge match. Ali had already fought all of the main contenders for the title so, re-matches with any of them came off as uninspiring choices for Ali’s next match. Then, someone came up with the idea of giving Ali an easy payday by signing him up to fight an outsider…a nobody, in terms of pedigree. The idea for the match was to hype it as The Champ giving a bum a once in a lifetime opportunity to fight for the title. The person Ali’s camp selected for this fight was a man from Bayonne, New Jersey, named Chuck Wepner. Wepner had some skills as a boxer. He had been in the Marines, and had won an amateur title in his younger days. But, he was best known for losing to the man Muhammad Ali had beat to launch his career, Sonny Liston. In the Liston fight, Wepner was cut open for 72 stitches and became known forevermore as The Bayonne Bleeder. Even though Wepner was ranked in the top ten of the heavyweight division, it was more because of his skin colour than his boxing skills. You see, the final angle being promoted by Muhammad Ali’s promoters was that Wepner was actually that rarest of heavyweight boxers known as The Great White Hope. At that time in Boxing history, there hadn’t been a white heavyweight champ for several decades, so the pride of Jersey, Chuck Wepner, suddenly became billed as the pride of White America. It was White vs. Black. It was an ex-Marine vs the most famous conscientious objector ever. It was an unknown tomato can vs the People’s Champ. The odds were set at 20-1, and even at those odds, most observers gave Wepner even less of a chance than that. Truth be told, even Wepner believed he had no chance against Ali. In the end, as he told his wife on the eve of the fight, all he wanted to do was go the distance and not embarrass himself. If he survived the fight, Wepner told himself, that would be victory enough.

Wepner drops Ali.

The fight took place in Richfield, Ohio. For Wepner, there was to be no Hollywood ending. He lost the fight by referee stoppage in the 11th round. Ali dominated the fight, as many had anticipated. Wepner’s one shining moment happened in the 9th round when he punched Ali in the chest just as Ali was turning away and backing up. The off-balanced nature of Ali’s body, in combination with Wepner’s punch, sent Ali to the canvas for one of the very few times in his entire career. Ali got back up…more embarrassed and angry than hurt. He proceeded to up his tempo and quickly finished Wepner off in the next few minutes of action. Despite the fact that Ali had won and had remained as Champion, those who grew up in the New York/New Jersey area and had followed Wepner’s career up until this point were thrilled that he had gone eleven rounds with Ali, and that he had even knocked Ali down once. To the locals, Wepner had done well, and they were all very proud of him. A few days after the fight, one man tracked Wepner down in order to congratulate him and to discuss a business idea he had. That man was a young actor from Flatbush, New York, named Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone had appeared in one Hollywood movie at that point, called The Lords of Flatbush. That movie didn’t do very well nationally, but in the New York/New Jersey area, it was lauded as a masterpiece. As such, even though he was a relatively unknown actor, Sylvester Stallone had carved out a local reputation for himself. So, when he approached Wepner with an idea for a movie inspired by Wepner’s fight with Muhammad Ali, Stallone was warmly received. The movie idea that Stallone pitched turned out to be the script for the original version of the Rocky franchise. In that movie, Stallone created a role for himself as an underdog boxer. In fact, one of the legendary aspects of the original Rocky movie is that, because Stallone was a relatively unknown actor, Hollywood executives wanted to cast more established stars in the lead role. For example, the role of Rocky was offered to the likes of James Caan and Jon Voight first. However, in true underdog fashion, Stallone refused to sell the rights to his screenplay unless it came with the guarantee that he would get to play the lead. Eventually, Stallone found a buyer who would agree to his terms. But, in return, the studio hedged its bets by only giving Stallone a shoe-string budget to work with. So, for less than one million dollars, Rocky was made. It earned numerous Academy Awards that year, including the award for Best Picture. It reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales, making Rocky one of the best movie-making investments of all time.

Rocky…arms raised in a “V”.

In the course of making this movie, Stallone employed many script elements that were, in fact, directly taken from Chuck Wepner’s life. The now iconic scenes of Stallone training for the fight by punching sides of beef came straight out of Wepner’s own training routine. As well, the famous scene in which Rocky’s trainer, played by veteran actor Burgess Meredith, implores Rocky to abstain from sex during the lead up to the fight, because “women weaken legs” is a direct reference to Wepner’s penchant for being distracted in-fight by the scantily clad ring card girls who walk the perimeter of the boxing ring between rounds. The final and most iconic scene from Rocky is when he runs up the steps to the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, raising his arms in victory as he reaches the top steps. Those steps have now become known as the Rocky Steps and there was a statue created and placed there that reproduced the moment when Stallone, as Rocky, raised his arms in the air. Part of what made that moment in the movie so memorable was the rousing musical score that accompanied the scene. Composer Bill Conti wrote a piece of music that most people mistakenly call Rocky’s Theme. In fact, the actual name of the song is Gonna Fly Now, which is the chorus of the song. The entire music budget for the film was less than $25,000.

Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Wepner.

Since Rocky arrived in theatres, that character has become the de facto role model for all underdog characters on screen as well as in real life. The song Gonna Fly Now has also become iconic and is used in sporting arenas all over the world as a hype song for the home team. Sylvester Stallone parlayed his success with Rocky into further projects, and went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest names. Over the course of his career, Stallone has achieved movie sales of over one billion dollars, making him a multi-millionaire several times over. As for Chuck Wepner…the original inspiration for the character of Rocky Balboa…according to Wepner, he never received a dime from Stallone nor from ticket or merchandise sales from any of the Rocky movies (there were six, in total). Wepner netted only $60,000 from his original fight with Muhammad Ali, so he was not a wealthy man by any stretch, and could have used the extra dollars he deserved as a result of his role in helping Sylvester Stallone realize his dream of creating the Rocky movie. In his later years, Wepner was convinced to launch a lawsuit against Stallone. Apparently, there was an undisclosed settlement reached. Even after that, Wepner has stated that he has no regrets with how things turned out. He says that, just as lasting eleven rounds with a great boxer like Muhammad Ali was victory enough, so is having people know that he is the original Rocky. When you have been an underdog your whole life, sometimes the victories tend to be moral ones. So they are with the Bayonne Bleeder, Chuck Wepner…the greatest underdog of all time!

The link to the video for the song Gonna Fly Now by Bill Conti for the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Rocky can be found here.

The link to the video for the movie Rocky can be found here.

The link to the official website for Chuck Wepner can be found here.

The link to the official website for Muhamad Ali can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sylvester Stallone can be found here.

Much of the information about Chuck Wepner’s fight with Muhammad Ali comes from a great book called Facing Ali by sportswriter Stephen Brunt. A link to purchase that book can be found here.

***As always, here is a reminder that all original content found in this post is the sole property of the author. There is no reblogging, copying or sharing of the content of this post without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 TomMacInnesWriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs from Broadway Musicals and Hollywood Movies…

Footloose was a movie that debuted in 1984. It starred Kevin Bacon as a young teenage boy from Chicago who ends up moving to a small midwest town. Once there, he learns that his big city upbringing doesn’t translate well to this small community that functions under the authority of a local pastor played by John Lithgow. As many of you know by now, the movie’s plot line comes to a head when Bacon convinces some of his new high school friends that dancing is fun and that they have the right to hold a Prom, just like any other high school in America. Lithgow, who preaches that dancing to rock n’ roll music is akin to worshiping the Devil, unleashes his fury upon Bacon and attempts to paint him as an evil outsider coming to turn their peaceful town upside down. Eventually, Lithgow’s own daughter chooses to side with Bacon and Lithgow is forced to choose between his love for her or his rigid ideology. In the end, there is music and dance and a grudging respect shown between Bacon and Lithgow. The end.

Sometimes a movie is merely an entertaining tale told on screen. But, sometimes a movie is more than that. That Footloose was released in 1984 was no fluke. In fact, it was part of a carefully-crafted business plan developed by a man named Dean Pitchford, who had earned a lot of Hollywood credibility from writing the music and script for the film, Fame, a few years earlier. The early 1980s saw the rise of video music channel MTV, and the proliferation of a promotional tool known as music videos. In order to capitalize on that emerging trend, Pitchford wrote a nine-song soundtrack and pitched that soundtrack as a movie idea. Pitchford’s idea was to create a story that was told through nine very different, stand-alone songs. He said that he wasn’t writing a musical in the truest sense of the word but, instead, he was writing a film whose story was being told through music. The soundtrack that eventually ended up forming the backbone of the film, Footloose, spawned numerous #1 hit songs such as the title track (sung by Kenny Loggins), Let’s Hear It For The Boy (sung by Denice Williams), Holding Out For a Hero (by Bonnie Tyler), Almost Paradise (by Ann Wilson, from Heart and Mike Reno from Loverboy) and several others, as well. The soundtrack album went to #1, knocking Michael Jackson’s Thriller from the top spot on the charts. Furthermore, the songs were written and recorded before any filming took place which was advantageous for the actors because it meant that they were dancing on screen to the actual songs from the soundtrack, as opposed to dancing to pre-designed choreography and then having the music adapted to the film later in post-production.

The song, Footloose, was written by Pitchford, along with help from Kenny Loggins. The story behind their collaboration was that “Hollywood” would not approve the budget to begin filming the movie until Pitchford had acquired the services of Loggins to sing the title track. A meeting was scheduled between them and all looked good until news came out that Kenny Loggins had fallen off of a stage during a concert and broken his ribs. Because of the timing of the injury…with Hollywood executives breathing down his neck and a world tour in the offing for Loggins, Pitchford asked Loggins if they could meet on the weekend that Loggins was scheduled to get married. Loggins agreed. However, when that weekend came, Pitchford developed strep throat and required medication in order to protect Loggins’ throat from becoming infected on the eve of a world tour. Loggins, on his end, was taking painkillers for his injured ribs and could not play sitting down. Somehow, the pair managed to flesh out the chorus and main ideas for each verse and Loggins was able to record a sample-type version on a tape recorder in Pitchford’s hotel room. That cassette tape contained enough proof of Loggins’ commitment to the project that the movie budget was approved and the project was given the go-ahead. This collaboration proved so successful that Pitchford and Loggins teamed up again a couple of years later for the song Danger Zone, from the soundtrack of a little film called Top Gun. This was another movie in which the soundtrack came first and formed the core of the movie pitch, before a single word of the script was written.

At the time of its release, Footloose was given only mixed reviews as far as the quality of the movie, itself, went. But, one of the most enduring elements of the film was its exploration of the old saying that “all politics are local”. Released in an era that saw the commercial potential of music videos exploding across the nation, Footloose explored the idea that there are more parts to the country than people may realize that are isolated and insulated from national trends. In these small communities, there can be individuals with powerful personalities who gain prominence by being elected as Mayor or Sheriff or as head of the local School Board or Church and, as such they come to wield an inordinate amount of influence over the lives of the citizens of that community. Such happenings are not just the work of Hollywood screenwriters. One has only to look to the most recent history of the US to see how the local politics of School Boards, Library Boards and so on, are where much of the momentum for book banning and the fight against sexual ideology are coming from. In an effort to reorient an entire nation, battles are being fought from the public squares and town halls of local communities…all occupied by zealots who believe in the purity of their cause and are willing to browbeat anyone who dares to think differently. When you think about it that way, that is the exact plot of Footloose in a nutshell. Kevin Bacon was vilified as an outsider who was trying to foist progressive views upon the citizens of a small town. The powers that be in that town fought back against him so as to preserve their traditional way of life. In the end, Bacon’s progressive views held the day but, will that be the case across America in real time today? The attack on so-called progressive values such as racial equality, social justice, freedom of sexual orientation, women’s reproductive rights, issues of gender and so on are all under threat in the US as you read this post. These are troubled times for many in America and I am not sure if dancing will be enough to save them and the causes that progressives champion. To paraphrase the Footloose soundtrack, many are holding out for a hero. But, who will that hero end up being?

The link to the video for the song, Footloose, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Footloose can be found here.

The link to the video for the movie trailer to the film Footloose can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories of the Greatest Songs from Musicals and Movies…Song #1/250: Do You Hear The People Sing? from Les Miserables.

The story of Les Miserables stands as one of the most important and popular ever told. Whether we are talking about the novel by Victor Hugo, the musical created in the early 1980s by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boubill and Jean-Marc Natel or the various film adaptations….the most recent being the Academy Award-winning film starring a whos-who of modern movie greats such as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham-Carter, Amanda Seyfried and Sacha Baron Cohen….Les Miserables has stood the test of time and is generally regarded as one of the best stories about the human condition and the power of faith and courage.

The original book is a work of historical fiction. It takes place in France in the two decades that preceded the June Rebellion in Paris that took place in 1832. Commenting on his book, author Victor Hugo took great pains to state that the issues addressed in Les Miserables were not unique to France nor were they unique to the characters he created and the real-life people many were based upon. To Hugo, the issue of how our individual moral compass directs us in times of great stress and hopelessness is universal in nature and, as such, his book could just as easily have been set during the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution or at any number of times throughout the course of British history.

If you have never read the book nor seen the musical or film, the short strokes of the story concern a man named Valjean. He was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and has now been released. But, he bears the mark of being an ex-convict and has limited future prospects, as a result. Throughout the story, he is hounded by a police officer named Javert. While there are many, many other things that happen in Les Miserables, the redemptive nature of how Valjean and Javert evolve over the course of the story is one of the most important reasons this story resonates so strongly on an emotional level. Intertwined with Valjean’s story arc, there are plotlines involving child labour, the role of women in society, the importance of family and of the bonds of Love that exist between family members, class distinctions and the politics of maintaining them and, of course, there is the growing organizational desire among the oppressed to overthrow the government and seek a fairer, more just way of living for all.

In the musical version of this story, there are several show-stopping songs. For example, there is I Dreamed a Dream, as sung by Fantine as she struggles to deal with the realities of her responsibilities to her child, Cossette, and the bleak future prospects they both have. Then we have the always entertaining, Master of the House, which showcases the complete lack of principles held by the Thenardiers, who own an inn and proceed to steal as much as they can from all who enter through their doors. The powerful song, One More Day, which ends Act #1, is sung from the individual points of view of many of the main characters as they stand at the eve of the rebellion. But, of all of the songs that helped to make Les Miserables such an enduring hit, none have had the global impact of the song, Do You Hear the People Sing?

Do You Hear The People Sing? is a song that is sung by those preparing to give their all for a cause they believe in. In the musical, those characters preparing to screw their courage and engage in an actual attempt to overthrow their government sang this song as they built their barricades and began to man them. There is a long tradition in warfare of hymns being sung prior to battle as a means of channeling nervous energy, as well as galvanizing the resolve of those prepared to give their lives for the cause they believe in. Do You Hear The People Sing? is a song of unity and common purpose and of Hope. It is sung in situations where the odds of victory are slim but the desire for freedom trumps the fear of defeat. All over the world there have been examples of this song being sung by real people fighting for freedom from tyranny and oppression. In fact, in the video links below, I will share with you two recent examples: one of which is by the people of Hong Kong, who sang the song as they sought to resist the threat to their autonomy posed by the Chinese government. The second example is a current one in which Ukrainian President Zelensky asked people around the world to use their voices to raise opposition to Russia’s war on his country. In response, many Broadway actors and local citizens gathered in New York to sing Do You Hear The People Sing? in order to let the Ukrainian people know that they weren’t alone in their time of struggle.

The history of human civilization is built on a fairly consistent cycle of oppression, rebellion, hopefulness and then, back into oppression again. The idea that justice and equality and freedom were worth believing in and fighting for is what inspired Victor Hugo to write his grand novel in the first place. I will close by quoting him as he speaks about the importance of Les Miserables in society and as a work of Art:

So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human frailty; so long as the three problems of the age – the degradation of Man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night- are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.” Victor Hugo.

Les Miserables is an extraordinary book but, for my money, it is even a better musical. To see Les Miz performed on stage by passionate actors who can really sing is one of the best theatrical experiences one can have. The story will rouse your emotions in a way that few plays do. So, without further delay, here is one of the most inspirational songs of all-time, Do You Hear The People Sing? from Les MIserables. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, Do You Hear The People Sing? can be found here.

The link to the official website for Les Miserables, the musical can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie adaptation of Les Miserables can be found here.

The link to the video of citizens of Hong Kong singing Do You Hear the People Sing? can be found here.

The link to the video of Broadway actors singing Do You Hear the People Sing? for the citizens of Ukraine can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com