Everyone loves music and everyone loves a good dramatic story so when the two are fashioned together to tell a tale the results are extraordinary. When a great tune emphasizes a tragic event somehow, as the audience, we surrender to the emotions that fill out souls in empathy for the characters. With this in mind, we would like to take a look at a few musical dramas that have had the ability to tug at our heart strings.
All That Jazz
This movie, released in 1979, was directed by Bob Fosse with a screenplay by Robert Alan Aurthur along with Fosse. It is based loosely on Fosse’s own experiences as a dancer, director and choreographer as he was attempting to work on his movie Lenny while also producing the 1975 musical Chicago on Broadway. This is where he got the title, from the song of the same name in the musical.
Joe Gideon is the main character, a director of musical theater that is manically trying to work on two projects simultaneously. One is a Hollywood movie and the other is a Broadway musical. Gideon smokes one cigarette after another while listening to Vivaldi, chokes down Dexedrine, and attempts to hold it all together.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend, ex-wife and daughter try to help him but find that they are just a tad too late. Gideon is in need of open heart surgery due to all the stress and the backers of the movie are ready to let him go. This is a sad tale of how taking on too much can take what is most important to you.
The Red Shoes
This musical drama is centered around the world of the ballet. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who are known as The Archers, this story revolves around a ballerina who has just joined a prestigious ballet company and is immediately given the lead role in a new ballet titled The Red Shoes. The Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale by the same name is the inspiration for the work.
WE meet Vicky, a young dancer, who meets Boris Lermontov, the domineering impresario of his own ballet company. Lermontov convinces Vicky to travel with his company and he even puts her in the lead of his new production The Red Shoes.
Composer of this new ballet, Julian Craster, is brought to the ballet company the same time as Vicky. They butt heads and then fall in love. Yet, Lermontov loves Vicky too and when he realizes it Lermontov deliberately tries to sabotage Julian’s career. All that leads to is his best dancer and composer running off together.
The couple marries and it seems that all is well, but when Vicky runs into Lermontov she realizes her need to dance is too strong and this puts a wedge into her relationship with Julian.
This next dramatic musical was released on film in 2002 and it surrounds the story of Roxie Hart who is enthralled with a local jazz singer Velma Kelly. Roxie, a married woman, has an affair with Fred Casely who claims to know the manager of the Chicago venue she saw Velma sing. Meanwhile, Velma is placed under arrest for the murder of her husband and sister who were found together in a compromising position.
When Casely admits he has no way of getting her into a club to perform Roxie kills him and convinces her husband to take the blame saying the man was a robber and she was just defending herself. Yet, when the affair is revealed by a detective the husband takes back his statement and Roxie is arrested.
Still, from prison, Roxie is able to concoct a tale that she had an affair with Casely because he husband is always working but when Casely found out about her husband, Roxie was the victim of his violent rage and she was forced to kill him. This story brings her public attention and adoration, which skyrockets her singing career.
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A Star is Born
Even though this is a remake of the original from 1954, this version is especially tragic and sad. We meet hopeful singer Esther Hoffman, played by Barbara Streisand. While recording a commercial with her backup singers Esther meets rock star John Norman Howard. Howard, who is used to women falling all over him, is unimpressed, which garners his attention.
Howard pursues Esther fervently and they eventually fall in love. He also helps her into the spotlight with strange antics likes forcing her to sing to his sold out show. The result is that Esther is a huge sensation and her career leaves his in the dust. Mostly because he is continually drunk and causing trouble, more so than he is writing songs or advancing his career.
Still, the two lovers try to hold their relationship together even when Esther catches John Norman in bed with another woman. Yet, drugs, drinking, and a high profile life proves to be too much for John Norman to handle and eventually his bad decisions get the best of him.
This musical is dramatic in many ways. We have a Supremes-like female singing group, The Dreamettes, reminiscent of the sound that came out of Motown in the 1960s. They are competing in a talent contest in Detroit where they meet Curtis Taylor, Jr., a car salesman who tells them he can take them all the way to the top. At the time Effie is the lead singer of the group while Deena and Lorrell sing backup. Taylor starts his own record label and the girls take off but Taylor has other ideas in mind for who should be singing lead.
Once Effie gets pushed to the back and Deena is set to take place up front Effie cannot control her jealousy. They rebrand the girls image to be more appealing to white audiences and eventually the newly named act, The Dreams, start producing chart toppers. Of course, Effie is not happy with the new arrangement and makes her dislike well known to the others.
Besides that, Effie has been having an affair with Curtis and becomes pregnant by him. He still chooses to drop her from the act when her outbursts become too much of a problem and Effie is replaced. Curtis learns about the baby but does not step forward to help. Effie is left to fend for herself and her child.
My Fair Lady
While this film is a mixture of comedy and music as well, it is undeniable that some of the themes touched on in this story are dramatic. For instance, Eliza’s financial status is of a serious and dramatic nature. She is a poor girl who sells flowers to try and put food on her table. Also, her father is a drunk and uses her to get money whenever he can.
Eliza is taken in by Professor Henry Higgins after he and his friend Colonel Pickering make a bet on whether or not Higgins could take a person who has a ghastly cockney accent and teach them to speak well enough to pass off as royalty. Of course, Eliza is the subject to be trained.
The training proves to be rough for everyone but mostly for Eliza, who is pushed and treated badly and made to believe she is worthless. She is seen by Higgins as a toy, or pawn to do with what he will. Higgins is not only conceited he is misogynistic as well. Even when Eliza does announce with the perfect pitch that “the rain in Spain will stay mainly in the plain” Higgins and Pickering dance around and congratulate each other on their success, not once acknowledging Eliza’s part in any of the success.
Eliza is passed off as upper class and everyone is happy with her transformation. Yet, the most tragic part of this story is that when she has the opportunity to be with a nice young gentleman who would treat her well, Eliza Doolittle turns down his marriage proposal and stays on with Higgins because she loves him. Although we can’t for the life of us figure out why.
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Our last film on the list of musical dramas is another that involves rock stars and drug addiction. It is said that the story is loosely based around the life and career of Janis Joplin, but there is no evidence to prove that. The plot surrounds Mary Rose Foster, played by Bette Midler, a rock star known simply as The Rose. She is tired and overworked and wants a break from it all, but her manager keeps pushing her to work. To deal with the stress Rose turns to alcohol to numb her pain and loneliness.
Rose acts out by hooking up with a limo driver, to her manager’s dismay, and he tries to convince her that her new boyfriend is only using her. Rose insists they are in love but her self-destructive lifestyle not only breaks up the relationship, it eventually costs her everything in the end.
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