Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why I dislike Thoroughly Modern Millie

Dear Muse,

It's been a while since I've heard a musical as cheesy - or as schmaltzy - as 2002's Thoroughly Modern Millie. It's a soppy show that I would be glad never to see in a theater or on the big screen. What's the problem, you may ask? I'll tell you what the problem is: the protagonist, Millie Dillmount.

From the get-go, Millie Dillmount reminds me of Carrie Meeber from Sister Carrie. Sister Carrie is a novel by Theodore Dreiser, about a waif who searches for happiness in big cities around the turn of the 20th century. The "virtuous," "innocent" waif (Carrie Meeber) acts on her desires to acquire social status, fame, friendship, romance and wealth, and gets them all by the end of the novel. But here's the thing: I loathe Carrie Meeber. I hate, hate, hate her. She makes me angry.

Hatred for literary characters aside, what resemblance do I see between Carrie and Millie? Well, both girls start by escaping small hometowns for the glamour of a big city (Millie for New York City; Carrie for Chicago - and later, New York City). Both heroines cut their families out of their lives the moment they step off the train. ("Not For the Life of Me" seems to emphasize this in Thoroughly Modern Millie.)  Both want to be stylish ("Thoroughly Modern Millie" illustrates this for Millie). Finally, both are primarily focused on wealth, and are prepared to use men to get it (Millie plans to seduce and marry a rich boss who'll provide for her; Carrie drains cash out of playboy Charles Drouet, dumps him, and latches onto George Hurstwood until he's too poor to support her).

So, after reading all these comparisons, you probably think I dislike Carrie and Millie for the same reasons, right? Actually, while I do dislike them for all the things they have in common, I dislike them also for different reasons. That's because they are fundamentally different characters.

I abhor Carrie because she is staked out as "virtuous," but treats those around her as a means to an end. She seduces, manipulates and prostitutes herself to men so that she'll have money to buy herself pretty things. She uses people to feed her ever-burning desire, considering them only insofar as how they help her mount the social ladder.

Moreover, Carrie's never satisfied. Even after she becomes famous, rich, and flocked by admirers, at the end of the book she's still dreaming of "such happiness as [she] may never feel" (Sister Carrie 418. Ed. Claude Simpson. The Riverside Press: Cambridge, 1959. Print). And we're supposed to feel sorry for this broad?!? Go jump in a lake, you ungrateful wench!!

                                                                                                                   Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Millie isn't as bad as Carrie in terms of her desire. Unlike Carrie, she does learn to be grateful for something; she does learn to be satisfied with poverty. Near the end of Thoroughly Modern Millie,  she makes a big transition when she decides that love is more important than wealth (although her budding romance with Jimmy is not without its touch of greed, as the song "Gimme Gimme" suggests). On the whole, Millie is superior to Carrie because she is influenced by morality, and is capable of selflessness and love. Carrie is capable of neither.

But while I respect Millie more for her capacity to love and make sacrifices, I have a great amount of contempt for her. She's mostly wishy-washy, ditzy, and irritating. She's also as flat as a fairy-tale heroine, so her moral epiphany is completely expected and thus completely boring. If Millie struggled more with morality, or went through enough hardships to earn her happy ending, I might feel more invested in her story.

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

To make things worse, her lesson in humility - that is, her decision to marry a poor, "green-glass love" -  becomes pointless when it turns out that Jimmy is rich after all. (You could see this twist ending coming a mile away.) The one time Millie seemed remotely sympathetic was when she appeared ready to accept a humble life. But she ends up getting EVERYTHING she wants, so there's no need for a character transition. How disgustingly anticlimactic.

See, this is why I dislike Millie so much. If it weren't for her wielding The Power of Love, she'd be just as bad as Carrie.

Whether you share my feelings on Millie and Carrie, or whether you have more sympathy in your hearts for either heroine, I leave up to you. Read Dreiser's book and listen to some of Thoroughly Modern Millie (Youtube videos below), and then let me know how much you agree/disagree with my thoughts.


P.S. Even though I can't stand Millie, I greatly admire Sutton Foster. She does a stupendous job playing the character, and she's a real belter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Art of Hey Ocean! (part 2)

Dear Muse,

Hey! It's time for more Hey Ocean songs!

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Two More Unique Hey Ocean! Songs

1. "Islands" (IS)

The tone and setting of this video makes me think of the novel My Side of the Mountain, or Into the Wild Don't you agree that this is exactly the type of wilderness Sam Gribley or Christopher McCandless would try to live in?

Then again, it also reminds me of a past trip to Ash Island, Maine: the gray fog, the steely waves, the forest and brush, the strip of beach, and the cold. Since the video is set in Canada, the environment is similar enough.

2. "I Am a Heart" (IS)

I love the creative, witty heart symbolism....except for the singing nipple. That's just bizarre.

                                                                              Next time: another showtunes review!


Monday, January 28, 2013

The Art of Hey Ocean! (part 1)

Dear Muse,

First of all, I want to make a few things clear about my newfound appreciation for the Canadian indie pop band Hey Ocean!

  • No, my interest doesn't stem from a My Little Pony infatuation. 
  • Yes, I'm aware that the band's lead singer, Ashleigh Ball, voices Rainbow Dash and Applejack in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I don't care. I admire her because she's an awesome vocalist and flutist, not because she's a great voice actress. 
  • I have no plans to ever see the show (and learning that the trope has spawned several web-cyclopedias of internet memes makes me want to see it even less).

                                                                                                                                   Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Now that that's explained, let me tell you why I do love the band. Simply put: I think it's cute, and its songs are poetic in a Joni Mitchell kind of way.

Granted, I don't feel this way about the songs on all of their albums. Their first album (Stop Sounding Like Music) was forgettable, and I only liked two songs from their second album (It's Easier to Be Somebody Else). But I like almost everything about their newest album, IS (especially "Big Blue Wave").

Sing until you have no voice.
Sing because you have no choice.
Sing until you float away.
Our love is like a big blue wave.
             - "Big Blue Wave" 

Another striking thing about Hey Ocean! is its music videos. They can be artsy or surreal, atmospheric or just plain weird. I've picked four videos that will show you what I mean. However, I'm going to spread them across two days so that I don't overwhelm you. The first two songs are attached below.

A note about the songs:

The Youtube videos that I'm sharing with you aren't necessarily my favorite Hey Ocean! songs. 
They're just the most memorable ones.  

Two Unique Hey Ocean! Songs

1. "Fish" (It's Easier to Be Somebody Else)

This song isn't one of the two I liked from the album, but I admire the filmwork. It almost looks like a nice reel for some commercial, doesn't it?

Watch out for the fish pun. 

2. "Too Soon" (It's Easier to Be Somebody Else)

Speaking of curious - or, "curiouser and curiouser" - the video for "Too Soon" is kind of like a dream Alice in Wonderland would have as an adult. Or like fantastic flashes in and out of the narrator's mind. The A part is pretty enough (if you don't mind glaring sunlight), but I like the B part best. 

                                                                     Ride the wave into tomorrow!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Three Sundays

Dear Muse,

Have you ever heard of the Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George? It's a very impressionistic musical (pardon the pun, haha) about the significance of art - namely, Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" - in 1884 and 1984. Two Georges - the aforementioned artist (Act I) and his great-grandson George (Act II) - feature in this show, and each act touches on their relationship with Dot, Seurat's mistress. But however impressionistic Sunday in the Park with George is, I was only impressed by two songs: "Sunday" and "Sunday (reprise)."

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest                                                                                                                                            
Although I have little to say about the musical as a whole, I love "Sunday" for several reasons.


Reasons To Enjoy "Sunday" 

  1. Look at this Youtube video of the show's final number, "Sunday (reprise)" (preferably after reading the synopsis). Then tell me: is it not beautifully choreographed?

2. I think that Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters are their best in "Sunday" and "Sunday (reprise)," respectively. (...OK, they're good in "Color and Light" too. But I don't really like that song.)

                                                                                                                           Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

3. Did you know that "Sunday" is parodied in the musical Tick, Tick...Boom!, by Rent creator Jonathan Larson? Apparently, Larson was a huge fan of Sondheim. So, he decided to pay tribute to his idol by writing his own version of "Sunday" in his first hit show. According to the Jonathan Larson wikipedia article, he turned it from "a manifesto about art into a [humorous] waiter's lament." If you want to hear Jonathan Larson himself singing "Sunday" (it's pretty funny), click on this link. If you want to hear the Tick, Tick...Boom! cast recording, I've attached a Youtube video at the bottom of this post.

(Ironically, I heard the parody long before I heard the original "Sunday." For me, listening to Sondheim's "Sunday" for the first time was like listening to a reverse parody of Larson's Tick, Tick...Boom! number.)

Music videos to both "Sundays" are below. Enjoy!!

                                                                              'Till next time,

Friday, January 25, 2013

Merrily We Roll Along: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Dear Muse,

My first reaction to Sondheim's 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along (when I listened to it a few weeks ago) went something like this:

The same weekend I listened to Sondheim's later show Sunday in the Park With George, and at the time I thought both music and story were infinitely better. (I'll write more about that in the next post.) But now that I've listened to Merrily We Roll Along again, I'll admit that it does have some good songs, and catchier numbers than those in Sunday in the Park With George

For starters, let's examine Merrily We Roll Along's premise. Based on the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, it's a story about three friends - Frank Shepard, Mary Flynn, and Charley Kringas - who drift apart and become very unpleasant people. The story goes backwards (kind of like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), starting in the "present day" of 1976 and gradually working back to 1957. We start by seeing the three at their worst, and end by seeing them before the corruption, lies, betrayal, disillusionment and separation; at the peak of idealistic youth. 
And here's where the problem lies. The first songs reflect how embittered and empty Frank, Charley and Mary's lives have become by the present day, so the first songs sound discordant and ugly. They get better as the story ticks backward toward more idyllic days, but halfway through you're so sick and tired of the jarring numbers that you can't appreciate the nicer melodies.

(I'm guessing that most people who heard it in 1981 felt exactly the same - that's why it only ran for 16 performances.) 

Despite my initial disgust with the musical, I decided to give it a second chance. This time, I knew better than to sit through the whole thing: I listened to the last pieces first. And you know what? I enjoyed Merrily We Roll Along much more. 

The first really pleasant song in the show (in my personal opinion) is "Good Thing Going." Then "Not a Day Goes By (reprise)," "Opening Doors," and the penultimate number, "Our Time." (I would count "Now You Know," but I prefer the cover version from Sondheim on Sondheim to the original version in Merrily.)

  • "Not a Day Goes By (reprise)" sounds kind of like something out of Sondheim's earlier Follies, but Mary's part sounds like something Katy Perry would sing in her music video "The One That Got Away." Very poignant; very sad. 

  • "Opening Doors": here's a song that college grads/ young adults in the job market can familiarize with! (But the fast-paced and jumbled verses echo those from "A Weekend in the Country" in Sondheim's A Little Night Music...)

  • "Our Time" is the sweetest song in the entire musical. Picture if you can: the three young protagonists (just out of college, full of big dreams and shining optimism) holding hands, looking up at Sputnik arcing through the sky, while they sing this...

Fortunately, people eventually recognized the beautiful music in Merrily We Roll Along, buried beneath layers of "scraping-fingernails-on-the-blackboard" rot. I encourage you to compare Frank Rich's damning original 1981 musical review to Charles Spencer's review or Ben Brantley's review from last year, before you sign off. 
                                                                                                                                                   Source: via Ariel on Pinterest


                                                                      Tomorrow: another Sondheim post!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

WWII Week! (part 7)

Dear Muse,

Just as songs ushered in the Second World War, so songs ushered it out, with much celebration for a long struggle that was finally over. Two songs I think are perfect to end this week's reminiscence of World War II: "Comin' In On a Wing and a Prayer" and "Long Ago (And Far Away)."

Memorable World War II Songs, part 7

Returning Home

1. "Comin' In On a Wing and a Prayer" - The Song Spinners, Songs That Got Us Through WWII

This triumphant song is a good reflection of general Allied sentiment at the end of the war. Personally, I like the version by Anne Shelton better, but the Song Spinners suggest more of a communal spirit of celebration.

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

2. "Long Ago (And Far Away)" - Jo Stafford, Songs That Got Us Through WWII

A nice tune for those soldiers finally come home - and for their overjoyed women welcoming them back. 

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest                                                      Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

I hope you enjoyed listening to these songs! Now that WWII Week is over, it will be a puzzle deciding what to talk about next. But don't worry - I'll try to make my next post just as interesting. Wait and see!

                                                                                   'Till next time,

Saturday, January 19, 2013

WWII Week! (part 6)

Dear Muse,

Despite being busy in the factories and elsewhere on the home front, the ladies left behind couldn't help but pine for their men overseas, wondering when and if they would come home, and wistfully anticipating the day they could hold their loved ones in their arms again. I think you can appreciate this sentiment by listening to the following songs.

Memorable World War II Songs, part 6

Pining For Her Other Half

(Or, Romantic Wartime Songs)

1. "That Soldier Of Mine" - Helen Forest, Swing Out to Victory!

Lovely song about parting.


Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

2. "Wonder When My Baby's Coming Home" - Dorothy Dunn with Kay Kyser & his orchestra, Swing Out to Victory!

I bet this was on every woman's mind during WWII.

3. "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings" - Jerry Wald & his orchestra, Swing Out to Victory! (don't know who the singer is)

Very sweet, and a bit brighter than the other two songs.

Tomorrow: the final chapter in Memorable World War II Songs.

Friday, January 18, 2013

WWII Week! (part 5)

Dear Muse,

While sweating it out on the home front, the Allied civilians had to keep their hopes up as well. What do you think they listened to to stay optimistic? A few of these tunes might give you a clue.

Memorable World War II Songs, part 5

Looking Towards a New Tomorrow

1. "We Did It Before" - The Murphy Sisters with Carl Huff & his orchestra, Swing Out to Victory! 

I first became acquainted with this ditty as a kid, when constantly watching the cartoons my dad had recorded on numerous videotapes. It's featured in the Merrie Melodies cartoon "The Fifth-Column Mouse," a clip of which I'm attaching below. I never realized how propagandist and anti-Axis Powers the cartoon was until now. (It also includes a snippet of Harold Arlen's "Blues in the Night," but that's a song to be discussed at a later date.) To hear a full version of the song, look at the bottom of this post. To hear other versions of the song, revisit the link that I introduced in Wednesday's post

2. "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" - Vera Lynn, V-E Day 50th Anniversary Musical Memories

Do you remember how I said (in my first WWII post) that Gracie Fields sang "Wish Me Luck (As You Wave Me Goodbye)" better than Vera Lynn? Personally, I'm kind of meh when it comes to Vera Lynn songs in general, but I think a few of hers are really good. "The White Cliffs of Dover" is one of them. It's a sweet, soft message of hope and optimism advocated by the Allies near the end of WWII. But it's also kind of romantic.... no wonder it's a classic.

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest                                                                   Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Thursday, January 17, 2013

WWII Week! (part 4)

Dear Muse,

We now have some sort of idea of what the fighting forces were listening to in Europe, Africa, Asia or elsewhere during WWII. But what about those on the home front? Two of the songs I like illustrate factory life for women and men in the workforce.

Memorable World War II Songs, part 4

Life in the Workforce

1. "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet" - Ella Mae Morse, Swing Out to Victory!

How many other milkman songs do you know of?

                                                                                                                       Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Then again, it's a pretty succinct analysis of women in the workforce.

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

                       Source: via Ariel on Pinterest                                                           Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

2. "Five O'Clock Whistle" - Dillagene with Woody Herman & his orchestra, Hits of '41

More of an ambiguous song, since it could be sung either in wartime or out, but it seems applied to men in the workforce. And it's up to you to decide whether the dad's working overtime is an innocent accident or....something else. 

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

More to come tomorrow! Look forward to it!! 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WWII Week! (part 3)

Dear Muse,

Have you ever heard of George Formby? He's one of the great British musical comedians of the century, complete with ukelele! Two songs he performed during WWII are two of my favorites from his collection - and I'm going to share them with you!

Memorable World War II Songs, part 3

George Formby

1. "Imagine Me in the Maginot Line" - George Formby: The War and Postwar Years

A cute bit of wordplay there - as well as cheekiness. That probably cheered the other soldiers up quite a lot! 

2. "Mr. Wu's an Air Raid Warden Now" - George Formby: The War and Postwar Years

Seems to echo Formby's earlier "Mr. Wu's a Window Cleaner Now" - and is it me, or do some of the lyrics seem racist?

"He goes round every night to make the black-out sure
So if you've got a chink in your window, you'll have another one at your door"

Whether it's racist or not, I enjoy humming it to myself every so often. It's a very wry (and sometimes lewd) tune. And hey, my tendencies towards semi-racist music could be worse - I could be humming "Goodbye Mama, I'm Off to Yokohama" (Teddy Powell, 1941) instead. Or, even worse: "We're Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap" (Carson Robison, 1941) and "There'll Be a Little Smokio in Tokio" (Don Baker, 1942).

For me, the lyrics of those songs are too insulting and too racist to hum. If you want to know what I'm talking about, just go to this webpage and take a listen. Then turn to George Formby to ease the tension.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

WWII Week! (part 2 & 1/2)

Dear Muse,

However irregular it is to do two posts in one day, I found another song that belongs in the category of "songs the fighting forces listened to during WWII." However, as it's the exact opposite of upbeat, I didn't think it quite fit into the previous post. This Youtube video presents "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," first sung by Judy Garland in 1944's Meet Me in St. Louis. Although the song isn't connected to WWII in the film (since the film takes place between 1903 and 1904), I believe it was interpreted at the time as an address to U.S. soldiers.

Memorable World War II Songs, part 2 & 1/2

1944: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

WWII Week! (part 2)

Dear Muse,

It's one thing to sing songs that encourage people to go to war (see previous post). It's another thing to keep their spirits up when they're in the middle of fighting. The following WWII songs were created, I think, for that purpose.

Memorable World War II Songs, part 2

Songs for the Fighting Forces

1. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" - The Andrews Sisters, Songs That Got Us Through WWII

One of the biggest hits the Andrews Sisters ever had - and for good reason. You just wanna DANCE when you hear it!

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

2. "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" - Kay Kyser, V-E Day 50th Anniversary Musical Memories

I think this song is funny: it combines the relatively peaceful idea of praising the Lord with the warlike notion of loading up to blast the enemy away. Actually, it hardly touches on God at all - the message is more about "continue to fight to achieve the ultimate goal of peace and liberty" (chipperly, I might add).

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

3. "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" - Irving Berlin, Broadway: The American Musical

This lighthearted criticism of life in the army has rather an interesting history. Irving Berlin actually wrote it long before WWII, as part of his 1918 show Yip, Yip, Yaphank. Having been drafted into the army that year, Berlin made the song his personal protest against "the indignities of Army routine"(see Wikipedia article).  He later adapted it for his 1942 play This Is the Army, a morale-booster for WWII combatants. In both the play and the Warner Bros. musical movie that came out a year later, he sang the song himself. If "Hate to Get Up in the Morning" could illustrate WWI and WWII Army life equally well, what does that say about Army morale overall?

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

To be continued!

Monday, January 14, 2013

WWII Week! (part 1)

Dear Muse,

Goodness, it's been a while since I talked about anything musical! My silence owes mainly to the fact that I was out of sorts for most of the past month - but that's not much of an excuse. Still, that's what brings me to today's topic.

While I was stewing in gloom a few weeks ago, around Christmas, I turned to music to try and lighten my spirits. On a whim, I decided to give myself a bit of historical education with World War II songs. I was surprised by how good some of these are (albeit propagandistic)!! But I won't shove them in your face all at once - just a few each day for a week.

By the bye, I finally discovered a way to attach music files to my blog posts - hoorah!! So, if you remember my post about "3 Songs That Poke Fun At Love," feel free to revisit it and finally listen to those songs that I wasn't able to attach to the post before.

 Memorable World War II Songs, Part 1

Heading Off to War

1. "Wish Me Luck (As You Wave Me Goodbye)" - Gracie Fields, The Original Hits, Vol. 4

This is the best version of the song that I know of. Vera Lynn sang it too, but Gracie Fields is much more lively and upbeat, so her song would be more uplifting for those women (and men) off to the war front. (It also features in the film The History Boys - check it out!)

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

2. "Captain of the Clouds" - Dick Powell, Swing Out To Victory!

This song certainly seems geared to send fighter pilots off with smiles on their faces! A real pick-me-up refrain, but it seems heavily propagandistic as well. I wonder what that peace-loving soul, Antoine De Saint-Exupery, would have thought of it?

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

When I was researching this song, I ran across something odd. According to a sidebar from a Dick Powell blog, Dick Powell recorded the song on Jan. 28, 1942. But a few weeks later, the James Cagney film Captains of the Clouds was released. Coincidence? Was the song recorded first to promote the film? I'll have to check out this movie and see...

                                                                              Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Anyway, you can listen to the songs in my attachments below! We'll continue this WWII thread tomorrow!