|Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly|
Frank Sinatra. Another building block is dance, which can express what can't be sung or articulated; everyone can thrill to the deeply romantic mating dance of Astaire and Rogers, or the explosion of joy Cagney so perfectly displays in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Musical comedy is so familiar to us today, such a part of our lives, that it simply seems like human nature just spontaneously developed it over the years. We yearn to communicate and to understand others -- naturally, we would use every expressive art available to us, wouldn't we?
Well, actually, musical comedy had to be invented. We owe these wonderful moments of human understanding to George M. Cohan.
Most people know George M. Cohan today only through the movie about his life, Yankee Doodle Dandy. There's nothing wrong with that; it's a wonderful movie, and most of the story is true. But what they don't tell you (because it's a movie, not a dissertation) is that Cohan's huge hit, Little Johnny Jones, which he wrote, starred in, directed, composed, orchestrated, and choreographed when he was twenty-six years old, was the first "book musical." The story was told not just through dialog but through song and
dance; the action didn't halt for the interpolation of a musical number -- the musical number moved the plot forward.
|James Cagney as George M. Cohan|
|Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers|