The magic of movies

RBSO concert celebrates cinema's greatest musicals

'Music From Great Movie Musicals' will be under the baton of Vanich Potavanich. photo courtesy of Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra

The Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana has recently focused on a number of Russian classical works. For its concert at the Thailand Cultural Centre tomorrow, the RBSO moves firmly into the late 20th and early 21st centuries with a programme devoted to film soundtracks featuring the music from four classic movie musicals. Titled "Music From Great Movie Musicals", the concert under the baton of Vanich Potavanich is presented in honour of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Over the last century, musical theatre -- or as it is more commonly called, the "musical" -- has become one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Initially confined to the stage, once sound and colour were added to motion pictures, they quickly took over the silver screen.

Today's cinema audiences automatically associate the Walt Disney Studio with screen musicals. The list is seemingly endless, from The Lion King featuring Elton John's magical music, the original 1964 Mary Poppins and last year's revision Mary Poppins Returns, to the three High School Musical films and its very first one, Dumbo in 1941.

Yet musicals were not always a Disney staple and there were long periods of between eight and 10 years when the studio produced no musical features. In the 50 years after Dumbo was released, only 17 musicals were produced. Since 1991, though, output has increased and the public has seen no less than 38 Disney musicals.

The first in this second group was Beauty And The Beast in 1991. Although it used the unmatched resources of Disney's feature animation department, it was the first musical also to use the digital computer animation process developed for Disney by Pixar, the company founded by George Lucas of "Star Wars" fame and purchased in 1988 by Steve Jobs.

Music for Beauty And The Beast was penned by Alan Menken who had earlier worked on The Little Mermaid and would later work on Disney's Aladdin. Among the film's musical highlights being performed by the RBSO are the title song, the Oscar winning Beauty And The Beast, along with Be Our Guest and Belle.

"The Greatest Showman" was an accolade that the legendary P.T. Barnum particularly liked. A small-time New York businessman, he moved into the entertainment business at the age of 24. His first venture was a variety show titled Barnum's Grand Scientific And Musical Theater, although no one is quite sure what was scientific about it. He is best known today as the joint owner of the Barnum and Bailey's Circus that continued for more than 126 years after his death in 1891.

Many forget that Barnum also promoted an American tour by one of the greatest sopranos of her day, Jenny Lind. To obtain her services, he offered US$1,000 per night for a total of 150 nights, an unheard of amount for an opera singer back then.

The Oscar-winning Australian singer/actor Hugh Jackman had for long wanted to develop a musical based on P.T. Barnum. When The Greatest Showman finally came to the screen in 2017, initial reviews and audience response were mixed. That did not last long. As word spread, audiences flocked to the movie. It eventually grossed US$434 million worldwide making it the fifth highest grossing live-action musical of all time.

Audiences at the RBSO concert will hear the music of three of its most famous songs -- Rewrite The Stars, Never Enough and This Is Me!

Since his death in 1986, the novelist Christopher Isherwood is slowly fading from many people's memory. After university he found himself in the Berlin of the Weimar Republic, that brief period between the end of World War I and the rise to power of Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party.

Berlin then was effectively sin city. Isherwood jumped straight in, spending many of his evenings in the city's thriving and daring nightclubs.

In due course, Isherwood moved to live in California. Before doing so he published a collection of reminiscences titled The Berlin Stories. In 1950 a well-known playwright was given permission to adapt one of these for the theatre. John van Druten's play I Am A Camera was a critical success. In due course John Kander and Fred Ebb adapted it into a stage musical. This became even more successful under its new title Cabaret.

But it was the 1972 film version directed by the legendary Bob Fosse that made it a worldwide hit. At the Academy Awards the following year, Cabaret won a total of eight Oscars, the most ever won by any movie which did not also win the Best Movie accolade (that went to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather).

It is the music of Cabaret that makes it one of the great movie musicals. With the undercurrent of the rise of the Nazis, the music conveys an urgency and edginess in both its melodies and rhythms. Many of the songs have become classics in their own right, including Money, Money, Money whimsically sung by Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, Cabaret the theme song by Minnelli, and the opening Wilkommen (Welcome!).

Music from Australian director Baz Luhrmann's highly theatrical and colourful Moulin Rouge completes the line-up in the RBSO concert. The movie has several links to two other movies in this concert. Like Cabaret it is set in a nightclub, and like The Greatest Showman one of the key characters is a P.T. Barnum-like impresario.

The plot focuses on the love affair between Ewan McGregor as a young musical playwright and a dancer/courtesan in the club played by Nicole Kidman. For some of the songs Luhrmann used a then-revolutionary technique. Instead of recording all the songs in advance and then having the cast lip-sync to playback during filming, he had the actors sing "live" on set. Sometimes their voices would then be replaced through digital technology during the editing process. The RBSO will perform the music of four songs from Moulin Rouge, namely Come What May, One Day I'll Fly Away, Your Song and Lady Marmalade, among others.

"Music From Great Movie Musicals" will be held tomorrow at 8pm at the Main Hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre. For tickets, priced at 300, 700, 900, 1,200 and 1,500 baht, visit or call 02-262-3456.