Twin Musicals to End the Year

We ended the year on a Hollywood Musical note, but perhaps not the traditional sort...

First, over the weekend we made it up to our local Krikorian branch to see the Tim Burton treatment of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Then on New Year's Eve, we watched John Travolta carry off Divine's role on the "Shake and Shimmy" DVD edition of this years film version of the stage musical made from John Waters' classic cult film Hairspray.

The short version of what follows is simply that both are quite entertaining and well worth pursuit on either disc or screen.

Sweeney Todd

First, I should say that I have never actually had the chance to see a production of the original musical, but I have known of it and the story for some time. Also, one of my favorite misuses of musical theatre in film occurs in the Kevin Smith film Jersey Girl, where the little girl Gertie (Raquel Castro) coerces her father (Ben Affleck), grandfather (George Carlin), and his blue-collar work buddies into performing some of it as a grade school project. (Incidentally, the film is worth seeing for those scenes alone, even if it could have benefited from reducing the Jennifer Lopez role all the way down to a brief cameo and a photo on the mantelpiece.)

And, of course, I have been a fan of Tim Burton since tripping over his short animated film Vincent many years ago. Since then, his films have always proved to be nicely odd and edgy, and generally among my favorites.

This film is no exception. It is the highest class and highest budget slasher film I have seen, bar none. The supporting cast is as strong as the lead roles, but never draws attention completely away from the strong horror film plot. And there is enough blood around to satisfy just about any fan of the genre. At the same time it is also a Shakespearean tragedy, as well as a light romantic comedy.

Without seeing the original staging, it is hard to be too critical of the musical choices that were made. However, all of the main characters hold up the musical ends of their roles quite satisfactorily.

All in all, we were thoroughly entertained by this one, and look forward to adding a DVD to the collection.


The original film is probably the most mainstream of all of the John Waters cult films, and certainly of those films that Divine was involved in, but it still has the Waters touch in spades. I wouldn't call it his best work ever (I'd favor Polyester or Pink Flamingoes of the ones I've seen ahead of it) but it is worth watching even if only for the ensemble cast.

Then they made a Broadway Musical out of it, which just seemed like a nutty idea at the time... but it apparently worked. I haven't had the chance to see the a production of it, but it did well and won awards.

Since other musicals have been doing well when moved (back) to film, it then made sense to try doing that to Hairspray.

One key feature that makes the 2007 adaptation work is the choice of John Travolta to replace Divine. I don't know who else could have brought as strong a voice to that role without being overshadowed by Divine himself or the makeup job required for the part.

With the cast anchored by Travolta as Edna, the rest of the ensemble is suprisingly strong, including new discovery Nikki Blonsky as Traci, and Christopher Walken as her father Wilbur. Travolta and Walken really do play well off each other although there are a couple of moments where one wishes the scene had cut a moment or two sooner... The rest of the cast is just as strong, the song and dance sequences are well structured, all the cast can sing, and there are even some nice cameos by original cast members to watch for.

I doubt I'll benefit personally from the song lyric subtitle track or the detailed dance instruction sequences that were included as extras on the DVD, but some of the alternate versions and dropped musical numbers were also nice to see.

This is one DVD that would really benefit from a quality sound system...