Sunday, September 25, 2011

Top 5: Favourite Musical Scenes (of this moment)

Tonight, I'll tell you about my current top five musical theatre scenes. They'll chance tomorrow, I'm sure, but here's today's top five.
I know it's a really broad range to choose from. By saying "scenes", I can feature just about whatever: solos, duets, counterpoints, dance, dialogue... I may do specified lists later on (if you've an interesting top five list in mind, do comment and I shall consider!), but let's start with simply scenes. I'm going to be purely feeling-based and, instead of featuring stuff that's grand or looks stunning, feature moments I always enjoy watching.

#5: A Weekend in the Country from A Little Night Music

What can I even say about this?
A Little Night Music is, in my opinion, an excellent musical, as those who read my review some months back might remember. And this scene has it all. I love counterpoint, so I'm pretty much quaranteed to like the song just because of that... And, acting-wise, it has moments for every actor to show their chops. It's a good song and a hilarious scene, all in one.
I don't have much more to say, actually, besides repeating that I adore this moment. One of the greatest first-act finales of all time, leaving the audience really excited to see the events unfold in the second half.

#4: Le Val d'Amour from Notre Dame de Paris

 You probably don't want to watch this one with your boss/parents/little kids around - it's nothing too graphic, but blunt enough to get uncomfortable.

I'd like to open this explanation by confessing something.
I don't like watching the Notre Dame de Paris DVD performance one bit.
I know the performers are talented. I know the story is amazing, I think the book by Victor Hugo is really touching. I know the music is beautiful, I simply love the CD! But I can't get into the DVD. It, quite simply, bores me. I sometimes watch it for the music, but I always have a sketchpad and some pencils at hand because I can't help dozing off when trying to concentrate on the show itself. I can't understand why I can't like it!

The notable exception is this scene.
I don't like it because of the risque dance moves, and even the song, even though it's really good, is not the best of the show. But I think this scene the best showcases the biggest reason I think the DVD is worth checking out: Bruno Pelletier as Gringoire.
Gringoire, as you may know, is a bit of a creep in the novel. He's an unlucky, moneyless poet who, at first, is into Esmeralda like every other guy in the book - so far, so good. But as the story progresses, he loses his interest towards her and instead starts obsessing about her goat instead, to the point where he can't decide whether Esmeralda or the animal is more worth rescuing. If I recall correctly, he chooses the goat and leaves the young lady in the hands of a potential murderer-rapist. Um. Yeah.
But the musical's Gringoire is something else. He has style. I think a Youtube commentor has it down pretty nicely: "I love this guy too-Bruno -the voice, the attitude, the looks, the movements, the presence, the artistic.... WOW!!!!!"

Take a look and see for yourself.

#3: Tonight Quintet from West Side Story

This song has an example of every aspect of musical music I adore the most. Let's count... A big group number. Counterpoint. Fast tempo. Male choirs. Getting bigger and bigger towards the end. Intense emotions. Fun to belt along. Yep, this has it all. This is the moment I look forward to whenever seeing West Side Story, it's all downhill from here...
As with A Weekend in the Country, I've a hard time expanding my opinion much further, it's too feeling-based. This scene is so good it doesn't much need explaining. It works exactly as it should in the context of the show, and - when done right! I don't think I'll ever understand why the production of WSS I last saw had cut the male choirs to only Riff and Bernardo! - it looks and sounds nothing short of pure awesome.

#2: Hot Honey Rag from Chicago

Start at around 4:00!

Besides being my second favourite musical scene, this moment is the reason I'm unable of forgiving the current Finnish production of Chicago its minor mistakes. I don't mind messing with the script a bit, but removing Hot Honey Rag is quite unexcusable to me...
In all seriousness, though, I've always had a bit of a hard time understanding dancing as an art form. I don't mean I don't appreciate it - I took jazz dance lessons for years as a kid (though I always was the clumsiest student in the class), so I've some faint firsthand experience about how hard a thing to master dancing really must be...
But still, I often feel a little awkward when seeing dance numbers. I don't know why. I think I just need training to learn to really "see" the things the dance tries to convey to me. Before that realisation, expect me to keep staring at dancers with an adoring but yet confused look on my face.

That being said, Hot Honey Rag is a dance scene, and a great one at that.
First of all, I love the piece of music that goes along with it. It's just full of joy and lust for life, and, currently, it's the number one most played song in my iTunes. I can't get enough of it.
And then, of course, there's the dance itself, and for once I don't feel I'm not understanding something. With talented performers, it's simply a joy to watch. Like the song, it's amazing, really fun and energetic, so I don't think I'll get bored of the choreography anytime soon. You really believe the whole Chicago would rush to see these ladies perform!

And my number one favourite musical scene is...
#1: The Audition Scene/Haben Sie Gehört Das Deutche Band? from The Producers

Now, this is a silly one.
I've never seen The Producers live. I kind of faintly wish to, and there's going to be a production about 250 kilometers from where I live, but I'm not sure at all if the trip is worth the trouble. While I do like the original movie the musical is based on, I don't enjoy the movie of the musical. Well, sure, some parts are good, but, in general, it's quite unpleasant. The music isn't catchy in the least, and, for the most part, it's simply not that funny.
Maybe seeing it live would chance my mind, but as far as musical movies go, The Producers isn't among my favourites.

The one expection is the Audition Scene.
It's simply the most hilarious scene I've ever seen. In a musical full of pretty bored jokes and bland tunes, it's got both real, laugh-out-loud good comedy and a really, really catchy tune. It showcases everything that's good and funny about The Producers in five minutes, with a clever joke after another. It's yet to fail to make me laugh.

The first performance I've chosen to feature, up there, is from a high school production. Not a trace of the awkwardness that too often, understandably, characterises high school shows - this performance by Summit High School in New Jersey is much better than the many versions by professional actors I've seen in Youtube. Amazing energy.

And what's the last amazing thing with this scene is how it allows different, hilarious interpretations. Again, many productions do what the movie did, and so does the featured performance, to some extent... But there are non-replica jewels here and there. Just check out the following version of the No No Nietzsche guy!


  1. I saw the stage production of The Producers before the new film, and they are very similar and IMO equally bad, especially when it comes to humour and music. I do have a very different taste in musicals than you, but if you didn't like the movie, you probably won't like the stage performance, either. It's like the movie but stupid jokes are stretched for another hour. :P

  2. I actually loved the live performance of The Producers, its much better than the new film (but you really can't beat the original film. Gene Wilder is hilarious).

    I really need to see West Side Story live at some point soon. The Tonight Quintet is one of my favorite parts as well.