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The Most Passionate Broadway Musical of All Time

Filichia gets passionate about the American Film Institute's latest top 100 list. logo

West Side Story is tops on AFI's list of passionate
love stories, but Filichia begs to differ
Did you see the American Film Institute's list of the 100 most passionate American films? I found interesting how many Broadway titles were the inspiration for--or were inspired by--the 100 movies.

Seven of the films were made from Broadway musicals: West Side Story (ranked number 3 by AFI), My Fair Lady (12), The Sound of Music (27), The King and I (31), Funny Girl (41), Porgy and Bess (92), and Grease (97). Five were fashioned from Broadway plays: On Golden Pond (22), A Streetcar Named Desire (67), Roxanne (72; I count that as an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (89), and Barefoot in the Park (96)--which I think should be ranked much higher.

Sixteen films were later made into musicals: Gone With the Wind (2), It's a Wonderful Life (8), Wuthering Heights (15), Singin' in the Rain (16), The Shop Around the Corner (28), Beauty and the Beast (34), Gigi (35), Ninotchka (40), Anna Karenina (42), The Philadelphia Story (44), Picnic (59), Breakfast at Tiffany's (61), The Apartment (62), Woman of the Year (74), The Quiet Man (76), and The Goodbye Girl (81).

Eleven have been made into musicals that were written and announced but didn't get produced (though some still might): Casablanca (1), Roman Holiday (4), Doctor Zhivago (7), Moonstruck (17), Swing Time (30), An American in Paris (39), A Star Is Born (43), The Graduate (52), Sabrina (54), Marty (64), and Dirty Dancing (93).

I was surprised by some of the selections. I can't argue that West Side Story and Funny Girl aren't passionate, but each does involve the hoariest of clichés: Love at First Sight. That's what also happened to Sarah and Sky in Guys and Dolls, Babe and Sid in The Pajama Game, and everyone who ever appeared in an operetta. Maybe you can believe the passion in an old show (or even a new one!) where two people fall in love singing "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," but I cannot. For Love at First Sight didn't mean much in the case of Fanny and Nick, and, at the risk of heresy, I've often wondered how Tony and Maria would have fared if the lad had lived. I see a peck of problems facing them, including some intense in-law issues.

But the key word here is "passionate," so both West Side Story and Funny Girl pass muster. And while I agree that love occurred between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, Anna and the King of Siam, and Maria and the Captain, I wouldn't call any of these relationships "passionate" as portrayed in the films. Porgy and Bess qualifies, but Grease was first and foremost a spoof.

Isn't it interesting that of the 16 films later made into produced musicals--inherently a passionate form--comparatively few were successful? Only Beauty and the Beast and The Apartment (Promises, Promises) were bona-fide smashes. Ninotchka, as Silk Stockings, met with modest success; so did Woman of the Year. The Shop Around the Corner became She Loves Me, a certain masterpiece but one that's never found commercial success.

The other eight--an even half of the list--were outright flops: Singin' in the Rain, Gigi, Anna Karenina, The Philadelphia Story (High Society), Picnic (Hot September), Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Quiet Man (Donnybrook!), and The Goodbye Girl. And three--Gone With the Wind, It's a Wonderful Life, and Wuthering Heights--never made it to Broadway.

I started thinking about what the Most Romantic/Passionate Musical is. Passion came immediately to mind, of course, but it's a one-way passion virtually all night long. Carousel? I'd like it more if Billy didn't slap Julie. Carnival? I'd like it more if Paul didn't slap Lili. (Even George doesn't do that to Martha in Virginia Woolf.) South Pacific? "Some Enchanted Evening" is the quintessential passionate song, but I wish Emile's passion didn't preclude his telling Nellie that he's got two kids from a former liaison and that she'll be an instant mother by marrying him. Beau and Mame are a pretty passionate couple, but their relationship only takes up about a quarter of Mame and isn't the main thrust of the story.

Have you noticed that we haven't had much romantic passion in musicals in recent years? There's been Coalhouse and Sarah in Ragtime, and Leo and Lucille, who come to love each other, in Parade. But most musicals of the last decade--Assassins, The Will Rogers Follies, Rent, The Lion King, Floyd Collins, Noise/Funk, Jekyll & Hyde, A New Brain, The Producers--have other passions on their minds.

So, what's the most passionate Broadway musical of all time? I'd like to go to bat for Me and My Girl. What impresses me about this musical is that the Love at First Sight convention is nowhere to be found. When we first meet Bill and Sally, both have been in love for a while and are planning to be married. But then Bill finds that he's suddenly and surprisingly an heir to a large fortune--if he can be deemed a fit and proper person by the two executors of the will. They insist that he dump the low-class Sally.

Many a man would do it in a heartbeat just to get the loot, and would look forward to the trophy wife he could then have. But Bill won't hear of it, even as he's vamped by the much more physically alluring Lady Jacqueline. Sally, though, insists on not standing in Bill's way: To show him that she's not right for him any more, she arrives at a high-class party purposely looking gaudy-godawful so that Bill will see the light and have to break with her. But he still won't. He'd rather lose the title, fortune, and easy life because he so loves his girl. Sally, still wanting what's best for him, decides to leave town so that he won't have to sacrifice for her. But he'll find her. And so it goes, as both of them show real, passionate love in the best possible way: Each places the other's interests first. We could all learn a lot from them.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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