For the longest time, all Yul Brynner was to me was the imposing pharaoh Rameses in The Ten Commandments. He who inspired Holy Week fear.
That is, until I saw The King and I last weekend during a thon sponsored by my geek friends in an effort to educate me in the ways of classic musicals.
See, it started like this. Last December, Dante gave me an assignment to cover Feel Harmonic Encore at the Powerplant Mall for Playboy magazine. It was a Yuletide-themed mini-concert featuring veteran theater performers Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Michael Williams, among others. I agreed to cover the event mainly because the cast of 9 Works Theatrical's Rent was also going to be there.
Since I already knew that I wasn't gonna be familiar with some of the songs they were gonna sing (there are tons of musicals out there after all), I set my phone to record audio. The plan was to transcribe the lyrics and google them later so I can name the performances for my article.
In the course of that process, I discovered that the reason why I'm not familiar with some of the songs they performed was because they were from popular classic musicals and that I HAVEN'T SEEN THEM! If I have seen them before, it's must've been a way, way back because both time and memory are fleeting.
We're talking songs like Something Good from The Sound of Music and We Kiss in Shadow from The King and I. I realized then that apart from these two productions, I also haven't haven't seen West Side Story, among other classics.
I mean, I grew up listening to the Disney soundtracks and doing straight plays and musicals in grade school and high school, but I was never exposed to these productions. I also did a few musical revues and workshops back in the day, but I never really knew where the songs came from. I admit my active promotion and following of musical theater is only a few years old.
Realizing these things became the angle to which I anchored my eventual article (please get your copy of last April's Playboy 2nd anniversary issue). A few friends sought to remedy this by organizing the thon.
We screened three movies last weekend: A Sound of Music, The King and I and West Side Story.
My general impression of the movies is that music, lyrics and dance back then are what CGI is now: padding. They serve to bloat up the movie and give audiences a spectacular experience seemingly without moving the narrative forward. All the dancing in West Side Story became unnecessary and distracting after a time.
I realize it was the norm at the time, but the movies tend to get really dragging. I don't know if I can bring myself to sit through three hours of each again. However, The King and I made it bearable because it had humor (Yul Brynner FTW) and it was more spectacular than the other two. The movie felt more like a theatrical performance (hello, soundstage!)
The songs were not as memorable as the other two though.
Speaking of songs, I took a lot of heat for saying "I don't like Sondheim" after snoozing through Repertory Phils.' production of Sweeney Todd last year. The OST of Into the Woods bore me as well. I do find the West Side Story songs far more memorable though than Sound or King. This is probably because compared to Sound, King, even Todd and Woods, the West Side Story songs were more contemporary than classical.
This makes sense for me because my taste for musicals hinges on those infused with pop, soul and rock (In the Heights, Spring Awakening, Aida, Wicked, Once on this Island, Hairspray, RENT!). I even like the Broadway versions of The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, but Beauty and the Beast is just hard to swallow.
The thing is I need my songs to pull me in and not push me away, which I'm afraid to say is how certain classic musicals and even the Phantom of the Opera make me feel.
I guess that just makes me more Top 40 and less rhythm-and-blues.