A FINE ROMANCE
by Darcie Denkert
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Darcie Denkert's tribute to the relationship between Broadway and Hollywood, A Fine Romance, is much more than a look at the various musicals which have been turned into films and vice versa. Denkert looks at the differences between the musicals and the films made based on them as well as the process involved in translating the works from one medium to another, and the background of the men and women responsible for the various projects.
While the hey day of turning Broadway musicals into Hollywood films was in the fifties and sixties, Denkert traces the relationship of the two coasts back to the silent age, when Hollywood would would raid Broadway for both ideas and stars, through to the modern era where Hollywood still raids Broadway for ideas and stars, although now Broadway seems to have no compunction about returning the favor.
The meat of Denkert's book, however, is the discussion and comparison of shows which opened on Broadway before making their way to the silver screen. Although each of Denkert's chapters in theory cover only one or two shows, in fact, most of the chaptersinclude information about the stage and film show mentioned in the title as well as other works by the the actors, directors and so forth. For instance, the chapter of "Gypsy" discusses Ethel Merman's other roles around the time the play appeared, in part to explain why she wasn't cast in the film.
Denkert's well researched and readable text surrounds, and is surrounded by, magnificent photos from both the stage shows and the films she discusses. These date back to 1927, when she includes photos of "Show Boat" (Broadway) and "The Jazz Singer" (Hollywood). Subsequently, the pictures she has selected are a mixture of stage and screen productions of the same work, frequently, as with the pictures from "My Fair Lady" (pp.82-83) of the same scene from stage and screen.
The text and the photos, make it clear the different strengths the two different media. Hollywood is able to bring more realism to the musicals, although, as Denkert demonstrates with "West Side Story," the very nature of a musical requires a certain suspension of disbelief. The realism of a film can undermine the suspension of disbelief required to make a musical work.
From the earliest days of sound films, Denkert's work covers musicals through their glory years and through famine years. The book ends with a look at such recent films as "Chicago" and plays including "The Producers" and "Hairspray" which have reversed the trend by taking a non-musical Hollywood film and turning it into a musical.
A beautiful coffee table book, the text of A Fine Romance is as much a draw as the photographs. The size of the books, however (10½ x 13) does not make the book conducive to quickly browsing through or serious reading. Instead, this is a book to enjoy at leisure, with a nice table to rest the book on, possibly while watching a musical on DVD or putting a soundtrack into the CD player.
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