“Theater is a stylized medium. We know that the guys up there fighting with swords are not going to draw real blood, and we don’t flinch when purportedly real people burst spontaneously into song. The great musicals from the glory days of Hollywood-- the Fred and Ginger movies, the Arthur Freed classics from MGM--likewise offered up frothier visions of contemporary life. They emerged during an era when movies gussied up reality for purposes of enhancing their escapist appeal.
“But since the 1960s film’s ability to capture the sights and sounds of the world more or less as they meet the eye and ear has been its signature aesthetic, at least for mainstream fare. The conventions of musical theater tend to assume a ludicrous aspect in this context; in life as we know it people do not communicate in song, trailed by a personal orchestra. (Those superhero movies are obviously pure fantasy, but they achieve their intense appeal by seeming to take place in a version of the real world.)
“Theater is at the same time an intimate art form, allowing actors to make a direct connection to the audience and send complex messages. Watching the stage version of 'Mamma Mia!' you often got a sense that the actors were in on the gag, fully aware of how patently ludicrous it was for their characters suddenly to bust out a flimsy but catchy 25-year-old pop song.
“That sense of complicity in a collective joke can’t make it easily past the impersonal barrier of the movie screen. Winking at the camera is not really allowed. (Although I’m told there is collective audience participation at some screenings of the movie: When Pierce Brosnan first breaks into 'S.O.S.,' his big number with Ms. Streep, viewers explode in mirth.)”
-- Christopher Isherwood, “Singing! Dancing! Adapting! Stumbling!”
PLUS: “Class”--a number cut from the movie version of the musical Chicago, and issued as an extra only in the movie's DVD release. A blogger once lamented the general erosion of breeding and manners by citing this number's lyrics (written by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander). Which is just rich, because the two characters singing this song--a money-fleecing prison warden and a murderess--are in fact snickering at social graces in delight at their own unrepentant crookedness. A delicious number, with bracingly adult language (at least for a musical) vivifying a tart ironic subtext, plus two great-looking, silky-sounding performers in Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah. Attitood!