Stephen Frears, the rather gritty naturalist British director, is finishing his first musical, Mrs. Henderson Presents, which tells the story of a London burlesque-like theatre during the Blitz.
I get cheered up when I hear stories of people who didn’t want to make a musical making a musical, and in the NY Times, James Ulmer’s October visit to the set reveals a bit of how Frears did it. One key was taking a page, literally, from Hollywood:
[Frears said] “Alan Parker once told me you can wing a movie, but you can’t wing a musical. So yes, I did feel trapped.”
Until, that is, he and his team discovered a book and saw a documentary on the world of Arthur Freed. From the 1940’s to the early 1970’s, Freed’s ability to lure top actors, directors, choreographers and composers to work cheek-by-jowl in his MGM production offices delivered such classic musicals as Singin’ in the Rain, Meet Me In St. Louis and Gigi. The Freed Unit created Hollywood’s first and greatest musical repertory company, and counted Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly and Busby Berkeley in its fold. That model gave Mr. Frears the key he had been searching for.
“Freed had figured out that you must have all these creative people working together in the same room,” the director said. “You can’t do it right unless they’re all present and thinking the same way. So I got everybody into the same place – the writer, composer, musical director and choreographer – and worked it all out. Thank God we read that book.”
That book, I’m guessing, is Hugh Fordin’s expert M-G-M’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit and the documentary is probably Musicals Great Musicals by David Thompson, a global public tv-style puff piece which is not as informative, but is still pretty and entertaining.
We just caught the end of Signin’ In The Rain on TCM, so my Freed awe factor is running kinda high right now. [Musicals Great Musicals is included in the Singin’ In The Rain 2-Disc DVD, by the way.]
A Pile of Rubble Topped by Nudes. Now That’s a Musical! [NYT]