A few months back, I accidentally happened on an absolutely wonderful video of Nathan Lane singing a big production number of "There's No Business Like Show Business." I had no idea what movie it was from, until I read further and found out it was, of all things, Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. It turns out that this was a modern-day (1940s, actually...) adaptation by Kenneth Branagh that he directed as a musical.
I admit to only having the vaguest recollection of the film, which was released in 2000. And even less memory of it being done as a modern-day musical. (It doesn't have original songs, but uses numbers by people like George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern.) So, I finally got around to renting it the other day.
It's an odd film. Wonderfully and vibrantly produced, and sort of fun, and admirable at the attempt, though it doesn't especially work well enough. It's very Shakespeare-lite, as you can imagine, but the movie only runs 94 minutes with credits, and that includes seven or eight musical numbers. So, you probably only have about 70 minutes of Shakespeare. That's probably a good thing, because it's not one of Shakespeare's Great Plays (though enjoyable), and the musical productions are easily the best part of the movie. And impressively, they're fairly well-integrated into the plot.
All except this one, though in fairness the scene is a big entertainment that's being put on for the king and visiting princess. But this is that aforementioned, "There's No Business Like Show Business."
It starts with Nathan Lane alone, and then some of the supporting cast joins him, most notably Timothy Spall, British comic great Richard Briers, and Geraldine McEwan, who some of you may remember starring in a remake of the Miss Marple "Mystery!" series (which I hated and gave up on), Then the main stars join in, including Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Emily Mortimer (of HBO's The Newsroom), Natascha McElhone (from Showtime's Californication, and Jim Carrey's dream girl in The Truman Show), and Adrian Lester (star of the BBC America series, Hustle). Making this particularly fun is that, other than Nathan Lane -- who's terrific here -- none of these people are trained dancers and singers. And it's an elaborate production.
But it's more impressive than even that, because if you pay attention you'll note that Branagh does something he likes and has done in some of his other mothers-- the first 2-1/2 minutes are all in one take. That's hard enough for trained dancers doing something intricate, but it must have been pure terror for all those non-dancers, desperately not wanting to screw up.
(In a featurette on the DVD, Branagh says he doesn't think he couldn't have made the movie if he hadn't been in it, but had only directed. He says it was important to put himself through the same difficulty as the other non-dancers, so they could know he understood what they were going through, rather than just barking out orders. He actually does a very respectable job singing and dancing.)
By the way, other than Lane, it's difficult to make out most of the others on a small screen, especially the men all in black tuxedos. If you want a partial scorecard to keep track, though -- Alicia Silverstone is in the red dress, Emily Mortimer is in orange, and Natascha McElhone is wearing blue. Timothy Spall is the first actor in. Geraldine McEwan is the elderly lady soon after, and Richard Briers is the older man to her right. And at the 3-minute mark, you'll be able to clearly see Kenneth Branagh on the far left of the screen.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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