Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Dance Party: Second Anniversary

This week marks the second anniversary of the Friday Dance Party in these pages. I started this segment two years ago, stealing the idea from my buddy from Wayside Theatre, Larry Dalke. He abandoned his blog many moons ago, in favor of, you know, real life, but I remain poised at my computer, ready to drone on about whatever pops into my head.

And on Fridays, for the past two years, that has meant some sort of musical clip. In reviewing the past 52 Dance Parties (yikes!), I noticed a trend: whenever possible (and appropriate), I tried to link the Dance Party to one of the overwritten obits I offer for people of interest who have recently bit the dust. Just last week, for example, the Dance Party paid tribute to both Tom Bosley and Composer Jerry Bock.

Many of this year's clips followed that pattern. When soap star James Mitchell died, we watched his performance as Dream Curly in the film Oklahoma; when Lionel Jeffries died, we visited his hilariously waterlogged solo in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Tony Curtis was not known as a musical performer, nor was Rue McClanahan, but that did not stop me from including clips from Sugar and Nunsense in their honor. Nobody had even heard of Shirley Rich, who was a casting director of note who died this year, but she was central in placing Yul Brynner in his signature role.

When character actor Glenn Shadix died, I dug up a musical clip from his biggest film, Beetlejuice, and when retired mime Lorene Yarnell went to that invisible shrinking box in the sky, we took a peek at her work with her partner Bobby Shields. And when the last surviving Ziegfeld Girl took her last kick, attention had to be paid.

Speaking of Ziegfeld girls, Streisand (she doesn't need a first name in these pages) showed up in a fun clip from Funny Girl, proving that you don't have to be dead to be in the Dance Party (but it helps). Emma Thompson did some smooth hoofing with her then-husband Kenneth Branagh, and Diana Rigg got her own montage. Teri Garr teetered precariously on top of a motorcycle, and Neil Patrick Harris proved that he is the modern Song-and-Dance Man.

Lesley Ann Warren appeared twice on the Dance Party this year: in her Oscar nominated role in Victor/Victoria, and in one of her early Disney successes, The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band (that one featured a terrific dance-off opposite Goldie Hawn, only a year before Hawn would become a TV star on Laugh-In). Warren is not commonly remembered as a musical performer these days, but she coincidentally appeared in a well-regarded remake of the TV musical Cinderella, which had originally starred Julie Andrews (Andrews and Fred Astaire both appeared in these pages 3 times in the past year, making them co-champs. They are the Betty Whites of the Friday Dance Party.)

A couple of Gleeks showed up: Matthew Morrison huffed and puffed at the Tony Awards, and Jane Lynch huffed and puffed in that track suit.

There were some oddities this year, including a creepy song by Bert Parks which somehow made it onto the Miss America telecast, and I never understood anything out of Bollywood. Dr. Seuss showed up with his only live action feature film, but the creepiest moment this year had to be the pre-teens who grinded their hips to Beyonce's "Single Ladies." That clip became so controversial, it was yanked from YouTube, and the parents involved with the presentation appeared on the Today show to try to explain why their daughters should not be taken away from them and placed in foster care, where they may get better role models. (Not all young girls were bumping and grinding, though; a young dynamo celebrating Sondheim's birthday stopped the concert cold with her rendition of one of his Dick Tracy songs).

Speaking of dynamos, Sutton Foster, who would be a household name if Broadway stars became the celebrities they deserve to be these days, reminded me how much I love Thoroughly Modern Millie. She tapped her feet off in a clip from the Tony awards, and the film version of her show appeared twice more on the Dance Party: Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore cranked up the tap shoes in an elevator, and then Andrews broke a bunch of traditions by singing at a Jewish wedding. That wedding clip from ...Millie generated some discussion among the gang with whom I recently worked, on A Modest Suggestion, but that was nothing compared to the controversy which erupted in January, when one of those Facebook phenomenons took flight. To bring more attention to breast cancer, many many women on Facebook spent a week posting the color of their bra; their intentions were honorable, but there was a strong negative reaction from some women who had lost their breast to the disease, and who felt their tragic disfigurement was being mocked. Thankfully, I was there to moderate a truce by posting this goofy song by Bette Midler from her melodrama, Beaches.

As you can see, sometimes current events influenced the Dance Party. As the Prop 8 decision continued to be reviewed, I posted this clip from the current revival of La Cage Aux Folles, which concerns a same-sex couple in a long-term relationship. I almost couldn't believe the hypocrisy of Bristol Palin's appearance on Dancing With the Stars, and when last winter's snow became too much, we all played Beach Blanket Bingo.

My own personal favoritism was apparent all over the past year, and why not? These are my pages, after all. When Ringo turned 70, I recalled seeing The Beatles in concert as a kid. Cass Elliot was always one of my favorites, so this clip showed up, from the touching indie film Beautiful Thing, in which her music plays a large part. I am a sucker for a Christmas song, so during last year's holidays, we celebrated with the Muppets, the King Family, and the eye candy from an old TV series, Here Come the Brides.

Several of my favorite Broadway divas made appearances, including the great Dorothy Loudon in Annie, the great Joanna Gleason in Into The Woods, and the great Bea Arthur singing two comic songs: from I Love My Wife (with Rock Hudson) and from Wonderful Town. Damn Yankees is also one of my favorites, and I had the hubris to include this clip from a production of that chestnut in Glendale in 1992. Yes, that's me as star of the Dance Party.

After reviewing all this year's clips, I have to conclude that the clips from yesteryear remain my favorites. Gene Kelly's solo dance from Summer Stock, the Nicholas Brothers from Stormy Weather, and Sammy Davis, Jr., (only recently out of diapers) are fantastic. Fred Astaire appeared in three Dance Party clips this year, once with Leslie Caron, and twice with Ginger Rogers. This one, from Swingtime, is certainly one of my top two favorite clips of the past 52 weeks. The other favorite starred uber-tapper Eleanor Powell, whose partner in her dance clip stole the show.

You can reach all 104 of the Dance Parties, in reverse chronological order, by going here. But please don't tell me you did so. It might rattle me a bit to think some readers are that deranged.

Just about everyone who appears in my Dance Party segment is famous, but that was not the original intention. The very first clip I presented, two years ago, is a sweet dance recital with two kids who clearly love to dance. A year later, I presented another couple of kids who loved to dance. I suppose this is now a tradition, so, for the first Dance Party of the third year of this project (that would be clip #105), please enjoy. And happy anniversary!