Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Dance Party: Karl Sings! Roz Sings! Nat Sings! Film flops.

In light of the recent death of Karl Malden, I thought a look at his sole musical performance might suit this week's Dance Party.

Gypsy holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of Musical Theatre Geeks, and it is often pointed out as the perfect example of the Book Musical (as opposed to the "Concept Musical" or the "Sung-Through Musical"), where all elements of music, story, character, and dance come together. I admire Gypsy greatly, but would not place it on a list of shows I must see over and over again. In fact, I have enjoyed three of the four productions of the show I have seen (I have purposefully avoided any amateur production of the piece over the years, as I just can't imagine a housewife from the suburbs doing the play justice). The TV version starring Bette Midler was enjoyable enough, but the best production of the show I have seen would have to be the first major revival, starring Angela Lansbury. I wrote about seeing the show here. I also saw the Tyne Daly revival back in the 90s, which I mentioned here.

But the first time I ever encountered Gypsy was when I was bored to tears by the film version. Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, and Karl Malden were all fine performers, but they did not mesh well in this musical. Russell's singing voice was augmented with Lisa Kirk's dubbing; in fact, the only portions of Mama Rose's songs which belong to Russell were the patter which sometimes interrupted the numbers. Wood did her own singing in this film, as opposed to her earlier appearance in West Side Story, in which all her songs were Marni Nixoned. As for Karl Malden, well, the role of Herbie was never meant to be a strong singer (the originator of the part, Jack Klugman, was so insecure about his singing that plans for a solo number for his character were dropped). Malden isn't too bad in the film, and neither is Roz Russell, if you can forgive the songs. I am a fan of Russell's, so I wish the movie had worked out better, but I also wish that Ethel Merman had been given the opportunity to recreate what everyone claims was her finest hour.

But then, I wish Carol Channing had filmed Hello, Dolly, Zero Mostel had filmed Fiddler on the Roof, and Julie Andrews had filmed My Fair Lady. These were all reported to be iconic performances which are now lost to us. Ah, well...

Here's a song from the film flop Gypsy, which was cut from the final release. Perhaps it was to trim the running time, but I have a hunch it was also because it's a pretty dreadful piece of staging. The number was cut early enough that dubber Lisa Kirk was not required to do her stuff, so Rosalind Russell is croaking her own vocals in this clip: