Fri, 22 Sep 2000

Seven musicals on offer at Teater Utan Kayu at weekend

JAKARTA (JP): In the past few years we have seen Woody Allen's Everyone Says I love You, Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labor's Lost and our own Riri Riza's phenomenal success Petualangan Sherina. All musicals.

So what exactly is the fascination with film musicals? Is it the form, the music, the choreography, or the unrealistic convention of a character bursting into song at the slightest dramatic provocation? Perhaps the primary positive quality associated with musical performances is its spontaneous emergence out of a joyous and responsive attitude toward life that seems only natural to be expressed in song and dance. Realistic? No! Entertaining? A resounding yes!

The Hollywood musical, which became a popular genre in the 50's, had reached an exquisitely high point of sophistication and color under the auspices of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) producer Arthur Freed. A large percentage of the early musicals took for their subjects the world of entertainment: Broadway, vaudeville, nightclubs, and sometimes mass entertainment media in the form of radio or Hollywood itself.

This usually involved characters getting together and putting on a show. The musical numbers would often be in the form of backstage rehearsals of the show that was about to be performed. This was probably because the audience felt more comfortable viewing musical numbers within the context of a show rather than seeing screen characters suddenly feel a song coming on and proceed into a dance routine.

There is no denying that the concept of entertainment is manipulative and full of trickery -- a myth fashioned by the creators and willingly suffered by us, the audience. To borrow film critique Jane Feuer's theory, the myth of entertainment comes under a few categories when it comes to musicals.

In brief, the myth of spontaneity pertains to the impulsive self-expression through song and dance. The myth of integration blurs the barrier between what happens on the stage (during a musical number) and what happens in the performers' personal life (within the film) -- usually, success on the stage is accompanied by success off the stage.

Finally, the myth of the audience is the perception that the performer is sensitive to the needs of the audience (stage audience within the film, as well as the screen audience), giving them a sense of participation in the performance.

This weekend (Sept. 22 - Sept. 24), Teater Utan Kayu (TUK) is offering seven musicals that cover all three of Jane Feuer's myth theories. Vincente Minnelli's endearing Gigi (Friday, Sept. 22, at 4:30 p.m.) and George Cukor's witty My Fair Lady (Friday, Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m.) are examples of films in which the musical numbers are mostly spontaneous and characters burst into song quite effortlessly.

Both were stunningly successful at the 1959 and 1964 Academy Awards ceremonies, including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Music. With similar stories about a young woman's transformation (from a tomboy child to an elegant woman in Gigi and from a common flower girl to a sophisticated lady in My Fair Lady), the form of spontaneous self-expression (song) differs in each film.

The song numbers in Gigi are mostly "thinking aloud" sequences where we, the screen audience, are given the opportunity to peer into the characters thoughts (Gaston's Soliloquy and She Is Not Thinking of Me). All other characters are oblivious to these thoughts, even though they are belting out their lungs in song.

In My Fair Lady, however, many of the sequences are either, extensions of dialogue (I'm an Ordinary Man) or dreamy meditations (Wouldn't it be Loverly and I Could Have Danced All Night). In this case, all the other characters can hear the thoughts and they sometimes participate.

Carol Reed's Oliver! (Saturday, Sept. 23, 2:00 p.m.), Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's Singin' In The Rain (Saturday, Sept. 23, 4:30 p.m.) and Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof (Saturday, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m.), fall under the myth of the audience.

The elaborate choreography performed by the ensemble cast of Oliver! (Consider Yourself, I'd Do Anything or You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two) confirms its status as a successful stage play adapted to the screen. The song and dance routines are laid out in such a way that it is comparable to watching the performance on a stage. Similarly, in Singin' In The Rain, the characters are conscious that they are performing before an audience. The screen becomes a stage, and the camera becomes the audience (Make Em' Laugh and Good Morning).

Fiddler on the Roof, a tale of a Jewish milkman in Czarist Russia who has private conversations with God and has five unmarried daughters, is subtler in its approach. The only decorative dance composition in this film is in the form of celebrations (To Life! and during the wedding scene). Even though they are performing for an audience, it is not us; it is the audience within the film.

Arthur Freed, being a professional lyricist himself, believed that musical production numbers should be integrated with the film's dialogue and plot, rather than stand alone as intermezzos. This idea became increasingly difficult to achieve due to the changing times, and as a result, the musical genre had to adjust itself in a form more appropriate to the 70's. Successful efforts required increased realism, serious subject matter, and segregation of musical numbers and plot.

Initially, in both, Milos Forman's Hair (Sunday, Sept. 24, 2:00 p.m.) and Bob Fosse's Cabaret (Sunday, Sept. 24, 4:30 p.m.), the musical numbers seem to be mere interludes. The songs in Forman's work are incorporated into the rhythm of the film as running commentaries on political issues such as racism, war, homosexuality, and class consciousness.

Set in 1931 Berlin, Fosse's film about life inside and outside the KitKat Klub, manages to bridge the gap between the artifice of the theater and the naturalism of the film by having all musical numbers technically occurring on the stage. However, the theory of integration is put into place by having the stage routines provide a sharp counterpoint to the real life drama happening in the movie. Each musical number on stage parallels what happens outside the club.

Jane Feuer's theory of the myth of entertainment states that entertainment is shown as having greater value than it actually does. But who, after watching Singin' In The Rain, wouldn't love to splash away in a puddle of rain (especially during these last few steamy days) and explain in song to a police officer: "I'm just singin' and dancin' in the rain". A myth? Maybe. Delightful? Most definitely!