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Super Sixties Musicals

March 30, 2012

by John Farr

John Farr considers three of the sixties’ superb musicals.


Mary Poppins (1964)

What It’s About:
Based on P.L. Travers’s books set in early twentieth century London, the story tells of the unruly Banks children, Michael and Jane (Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber). The mischievous pair have run through a succession of nannies, when who floats down but a heaven-sent caregiver named Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews). Though the Banks parents (David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns) are initially bewildered by Mary’s unconventional ways, the kids are blissful, as they embark with Mary and new friend Bert, a chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke) on a series of fantastic escapades. Over time, even stern Mr. Banks comes to recognize Mary’s value- and the important lesson she teaches everyone about how to live life to the fullest.

Why I Love It:
Disney’s triumph expertly blends live-action and animation, and boasts a delightful score by the Sherman Brothers, including “A Spoonful Of Sugar”, “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee”, and “Feed The Birds”. Veteran troupers Ed Wynn, Reginald Owen and Arthur Treacher lend colorful support, and Van Dyke is an appealing song and dance man, though his Cockney accent fails him. The real draw of course is the irresistible Andrews, who won the Oscar in her first starring role. Best for younger children, and young-at-heart parents.


Funny Girl (1968)

What It’s About:
William Wyler’s adaptation of the hit Broadway musical depicts the rise and reign of larger-than-life star Fanny Brice (Barbara Streisand), a popular stage comedienne and singer during the 1930s. Hardly considered a paragon of beauty and grace among the chorines she competed against, Brice worked her way to the top from Manhattan’s Lower East Side slums thanks to sheer talent and tenacity. At the height of her career, she was headlining the Ziegfeld Follies and performing to sold-out crowds. But she had less control over her tumultuous love life, particularly her passionate but doomed relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif).

Why I Love It:
This exuberant musical launched the screen career of Barbara Streisand, who’d originated the role onstage and who’d win an Oscar for her film debut here. Although brimming with splashy costumes and razzle-dazzle musical numbers, this is hardly a frivolous romp: Funny Girl is a surprisingly moving film that deals soberly with the pitfalls of celebrity and misguided romance. Forget that the film takes significant liberties with Brice’s real story, or that the Egyptian Sharif and Jewish Streisand don’t exactly seem like a match made in heaven; the story still holds you. That said, ultimately what makes this “Girl” triumph is Jule Styne’s fabulous score, and the young lady with the pipes who puts it over. Don’t rain on this parade!


Oliver! (1968)

What It’s About:
In this musicalization of Dickens’s classic, young orphan Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) escapes a hellacious workhouse in 19th Century London to become a street urchin in the employ of shady Fagin (Ron Moody) and his brutal partner Bill Sikes (Carol Reed). In his cramped, filthy, but warm dwelling, Fagin houses a band of young thieves, led by The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild). But fate has more in store for Oliver than to become a common pickpocket. But whatever good may happen, can Oliver put his past behind him?

Why I Love It:
The considerable talents of British director Carol Reed and composer/lyricist Lionel Bart combine to create an exuberant musical worthy of its revered source. The cast, both young and old, excel, and songs like “Consider Yourself” and “As Long As He Needs Me” stand the test of time. “Oliver” won six Oscars, including Best Picture, a rare feat for a musical. Watch this and you’ll say: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”


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