Dance and the world dances with you. Don’t and the you do so alone. Or so the old adage does not go. it should mind. Dorling Kindersley book on Musicals, labelled ‘The Definitive Illustrated Story’, is attempting to document how we have become enamoured with the body movement and sing along on the big screen. I often marvel at how presumptive a work can be by suggesting that it is ‘Definitive’ but hey that’s just me. Anyway, opening up the book, I was met by the introduction and a link to classic musical theatre and the early musicals. We then find films are dated according to the musical release and less the film. This section is titled The Modern Musical to 1939. At this point I liked how the focus diverts from the usual course (ie THE JAZZ SINGER). This would have been a dull but obviously relevant historical route. We are instead lead via SHOWBOAT, into early uptake of musicals. Now the change to introduce the Gershwins and then Busby Berkeley and his masterpiece GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. All are well researched, given body via a cast list, synopsis and related films that could (if you are so inclined) review and see how they coalesce.  Obscure films are featured here at this point. JUMBO for instance, THE CRADLE WILL ROCK and HELLZAPOPPIN’.

Now we enter the golden age from 1940 – 1969 (We end on THE WIZARD OF OZ by the way). This voyage is more obvious, less revolutionary. I would probably protest that it is logical. Most of us and many not here, will know of these films featured. OKLAHOMA!, ON THE TOWN, MEET ME IN ST LOUIS and many more. The bits that are less expected are an average bio of composer Richard Rodgers, that adds little texture and the excellent coverage of composer Irving Berlin that fits everything in, with room to spare. As it continues to flow, you get some great films covered and covered well. MY FAIR LADY, GIGI and WEST SIDE STORY (which includes a time line of the film that details the arc’s and character drive.)

By this point the book has navigated its journey with a well trodden but still invested course. Singing and dancing us along a journey until we get to the final two date ranges. Up to 1999 we get a section on new inventions.  TOMMY introduction warmed my heart! I loved Russell rampant rock masterpiece. CHICAGO also pops up (from 1971 and not 2002). Bob Fosse, Harold Prince and Sondheim all get standing ovations (and good pieces on each). In all this is the best section of the book and tops a very good guide to all things musically minded. MAMMA MIA surfaces late. Is washed over and sent back to the depths. Thankfully saving any late blushes.

The final part is titled Musical Revival. It talks new and newer but lacks the historical width to be compelling enough. I couldn’t end without mentioning HAIRSPRAY.  Which is the best modern musical of the last twenty years (though written far before). So to the book. Its well written, exhaustive. Uses a clear and engaging tone. But does it shed a light on musicals, otherwise missed? Maybe. Sparse new ground is covered but it does enough to be worth the pennys.

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