April in Glenwood: Gaga over ‘La La Land’
January 12, 2017
“La La Land” is showing locally at Movieland (1/13-1/16 at 12:10, 3:15, 6:15 and 9:10 p.m.; 1/7-1/19 at 12:50, 3:40, 6:30 and 9:20 p.m.).
I remember my first musical. I was around 4 years old, and it was “The Wizard of Oz.” I watched it on broadcast television with my grandmother on the old box-style set in her living room.
I was as scared as I was delighted.
That infamous scene, in black and white, when the mean neighbor Miss Gulch comes to take Toto the dog away in the basket of her bicycle to have him euthanized, really stuck with me. She’s diligent to crush Dorothy’s dreams in her tall hat and mean face. But, alas, Toto jumps out of the basket and America’s sweetheart and her best friend are reunited. There’s a tornado, and a house crushes a witch with striped socks and pointy shoes. Then there’s another witch, this one green-faced and spiteful, who looks suspiciously like Miss Gulch. Plus those frightening monkeys in weird coats.
All those creepy little flying primates.
These are the elements of the 1939 fantasy film, adapted from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” that create suspense and conflict. And just a few of the reasons I still remember watching my first musical as a 4-year-old. Of course it’s the sparkly ruby red slippers and fabulous yellow brick road, which came alive through Technicolor, that made me forget all about the scary witches, flying monkeys and handsy apple trees in the forest. I mostly thought about how, when I grew up, I wanted to be Dorothy, the innocent farm-girl heroine with the cute pigtails toting her pet dog in a basket. I daydreamed of singing and dancing to “We’re Off to See the Wizard” with my band of unlikely friends — a lion, tin man and scarecrow — in a quest to find the mystical land of Oz. I later played the not-so glamorous role of the straw-stuffed scarecrow in my first tap dance recital. Imagine my delight.
I still feel like I should have been Dorothy.
The music and the dancing are exactly why I wanted to watch “The Wizard of Oz” when it came on TV every year for as long as I can remember. That was such a beloved annual tradition for families like mine, the Library of Congress named it the most-viewed motion picture on television syndication. For good reason. I could look past the flying monkeys because I knew there would be friendly munchkins singing on behalf of the Lollipop Guild.
And a horse that repeatedly changed colors in Emerald City.
There was so much magic in that musical, even the creepy parts where I hid my eyes under a blanket didn’t deter me from coming back to it every year. Sure, I always knew what was coming in the plot and ending. But it’s that charm and allure of old Hollywood productions that has kept “The Wizard of Oz” so close to my heart. I feel the same about other musicals from my childhood.
Especially “Annie,” “Grease” and “Mary Poppins.” Those films shined the spotlight on what audiences still to this day love about Broadway stage productions — the choreography, musicality and artistry — exposing millions over the years to this specialized genre of art. That’s why I couldn’t wait to see “La La Land” recently before it left local theaters. For the unfamiliar, this 2016 romantic musical comedy-drama starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling follows the romance of an aspiring actress and jazz pianist who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles.
Their story is told through song and dance, my favorite form of entertainment.
This year, “La La Land” was nominated for seven Golden Globes, sweeping every category last weekend at the annual awards show. Luckily I saw the movie with my girlfriends a few hours before the stars hit the red carpet at the Globes. So I had some perspective on all the hype. As a fan of the musical, I thought it lived up to it.
The opening scene really is great.
During the film, I laughed. I cried. I connected with Emma Stone’s character, Mia, who keeps her dreams of acting in Hollywood alive by auditioning and being rejected, repeatedly. She writes her own one-woman show, which I once accomplished. I can’t really sing, though, unless karaoke counts. And in my head I can tap dance way better than I actually can. More lessons wouldn’t hurt. I’m not in LA or New York, and I’m not as young as I used to be, but I’m still a dreamer about comedy and acting. I’ve auditioned for plays and commercials and been rejected, more than a few times. I’ve been embarrassed, and I’ve laughed at myself along the way. I still try because I remember watching my first musical, sitting in my grandma’s living room. I was as scared as I was delighted.
And that can be about the best feeling in the world.
April E. Allford wonders if she could still learn to play the piano. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.