By Megan Bianco
With the huge box-office, critical and fan success of the brand new adaptation of A Star is Born, it looks like the story is not only certifiably timeless—but so are musical films. As most know by now, A Star is Born is the fifth version of a classic Hollywood rise-and-fall love story dating all the way back to 1932 with What Price Hollywood?
The black and white film plus the second 1937 version in technicolor, now titled A Star is Born, are dramas about movie stars (portrayed on screen by Constance Bennett and Janet Gaynor). The 1954 remake turned the story into a musical vehicle for superstar Judy Garland, as did the 1976 remake with Barbra Streisand, though this time our leads are rock musicians.
Now Lady Gaga carries the torch as a singer-songwriter turned pop star’s rise to stardom. The new film directed by Bradley Cooper enters a string of recent movie musicals to hit theaters right behind La La Land (2016), The Greatest Showman (2017) and Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (2018). This is a big fortune for movie musical fans who’ve had to accept that the genre took a dive in the mid-1960s. But it also may even be a return of the ‘triple threat’ star?
Back in the old Hollywood days, when musicals were a norm, a lot of stars were equally trained in acting, singing and dancing. Judy Garland herself has to be the best example of this, with her career revolving around movie musicals. Same would be the case Judy’s daughter Liza Minnelli, Julie Andrews, Bette Midler and of course, Barbra Streisand.
But as actress Beverly D’Angelo discussed in her 2003 appearance on “Dinner for Five,” by the 1970s, you had to choose between acting or singing as a career even if you were trained in both. Even pop stars like Cher and Madonna made movies that are mostly dramas or comedies. D’Angelo ended up becoming primarily a screen actress despite her musical theatre background, though we fortunately did get to hear her pipes in Hair (1979) and Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980).
Similarly 30 years later, screen starlets like Anne Hathaway and Zooey Deschanel are trained in musicals, but don’t have many options on film to show off both their acting and singing skills. Deschanel did eventually coin her own indie music duo, She & Him, with guitarist M. Ward, and Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress for the musical Les miserables in 2012. TV star Kristen Bell also began her career on Broadway before reminding everyone of her vocal skills in the animated Disney princess musical Frozen (2013).
Interestingly enough, musicals have maintained a steady relevancy on Broadway and other stage ventures throughout the decades. But with the past half-decade’s worth of boosts in movie musical, maybe Hathaway, Bell and Gaga can help resurrect the “triple threat” of musical movie stars.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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