WARNING: SO MANY SPOILERS
Not so much horrible as in “badly told”, like, say Love Never Dies or Batman vs. Superman. More like, this is horrendous, why would someone write a musical about this? Take, for instance, the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein. You’ve got The Sound of Music,, an uplifting story about an Austrian family escaping Nazi Occupation. And then you have the musicals R&H based on 20th century plays like Green Grow the Lilacs and Liliom.
That’s Oklahoma and Carousel, you guys.
I grew up on these musicals. They both had the honor of having Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae as their stars, so my mother and I watched them constantly on the weekends. I didn’t really pay much attention to them as a child; they had great music.
Enter adulthood (I was probably in my early twenties), and my first time watching Carousel since I was eleven or twelve.
I have since watched it several times, and I just can’t get over the fact that this is a show I’ve watched since birth. I can only say the only reason my mother let me watch a movie about an abusive asshole of a man who fell on his own knife (TUCKED INTO THE FRONT OF HIS PANTS! Billy Bigelow is not very smart) while trying to get money for his unborn child (his heart was in the right place, I guess?) was the music. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is probably her favorite song, ever, so take the good with the bad, huh?
I don’t know what to say about Oklahoma. The music is catchy, I guess, but it might have just been force of habit. The love story is cute, and the ballet is beautiful. Until it’s destroyed by the dark imagery of Jud Fry. The sexual predator. No, seriously. Even if what was left in the 1955 movie was more of a Rebel Without A Cause-style misunderstood antihero, Jud Fry was intent upon committing sexual violence. Rod Steiger might not have been able to pull it off, but here’s the song they cut, performed fantastically by Shuler Hensley:
Yeah. It’s probably best I didn’t grow up listening to that song. Though learning “I Caint Say No” as a child was probably not the best thing for my development, but you know.
Lest you believe I am prejudiced solely against good ole R&H, let’s talk Fiddler on the Roof.
I turned this movie on just a few hours ago during the denouement. The townspeople had already been informed that the Tsar has evicted them. They have already sung “Anatevka.” Tevye and his family are packing things up to leave. He has already said “Maybe that’s why we always wear our hats.” All of the happy times have ended. The Russian Jews are leaving the Ukraine. They are moving west, some to Palestine, some to Europe, some to America. Their children may suffer persecution and prejudice to an even further extent than they might have ever seen in the Ukraine. We don’t know. Hope is gone, all is lost. The wandering people must wander again.
THIS IS HOW THIS MUSICAL ENDS.
At the beginning, Tevye and his family are happy. Poor, but happy. Based on Sholem Aleichem’s Yiddish stories (which I have not read…bought twice, but never picked up), Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye, Golde, and their three eldest daughters, each finding romance in their own way. Each romance takes a little more out of Tevye, until he just can’t take it. Beyond even this, the period is a rocky time for Jewish communities in what is now the Ukraine. The wedding celebration of the eldest daughter is interrupted by a needless (though thankfully bloodless) pogrom. While revolution sparks in other parts of the kingdom, military-sanctioned violence towards Jews becomes more of a thing. And, well, I’ve already told you where that leads.
The difference between Fiddler and the R&H gems of the forties, of course, is that the shit that sucks is shown to suck. Oklahoma and Carousel are both these cheery movies (both involving deaths! Caused by the main characters! Nobody dies in Fiddler!) that end happily, with themes that nobody should ever want instilled in their children. Mrs. Bigelow apparently can’t be happy for the fifteen years after her husband dies, until a ghost whispers into her ear. And Curly and Mrs. Curly are “Soon to be livin’ in a brand new state”, after a citizens’ court decides that Curly is not guilty of killing a man who “fell on his knife” because he’s supposed to get married and the judge is too far away. Or something.
It takes a village to hide a murder, you guys.
These are just the three that I have been thinking of, out of many many awful stories featuring beautiful music, mainly because I watched Carousel on a whim a week or so ago and had that same visceral reaction that I always forget about. But I always come back to it, mainly for this:
I could listen to that a million times, no matter how misogynist it is.
Sigh. Musicals, man.