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SOUND OFF Summer Round-Up: Four From Disney, All On Broadway

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Today we are taking a look at four sparkling new Blu-ray editions of well-regarded films from the Disney vault by focusing on three titles that are also actually currently running on Broadway in screen-to-stage adaptations at this very moment - EVITA, NEWSIES and SISTER ACT. The current all-too ubiquitous trend of adapting hit films into musicals for the stage has sporadically proven that some stage adaptations can even be more entertaining and satisfying onstage, while some recent movie musicals have one-upped their stage roots in a way even few Golden Age film adaptations of stage pieces managed to do. Such is the case with EVITA, NEWSIES, SISTER ACT and SISTER ACT 2 (the latter two both acting as inspiration for the Broadway SISTER ACT musical) - all available for the first time on Blu-ray and each certainly justifying consideration for inclusion in your library if only because each is regarded as a modern-day classic - of sorts - in its own unique and special way as a film, and, now, the Broadway versions have made their own stamp on the brands. And, anyway, without these films, we would never have the current versions of the shows now running on Broadway based upon them (even in the case of a classic like EVITA, whose stage version may have come first, but, as seen and heard in the hit Elena Roger/Ricky Martin/Michael Cerveris revival, now includes the film addition, "You Must Love Me"). Heck, even this year's Best Musical was based on a very recent movie musical - 2006's ONCE. Whatever the season, whatever the weather, whatever the medium - all of these winning entities offer an entertaining way to beat the heat and celebrate the start of summer in some serious style; with some tunes, old and new, you are not soon to forget.

EVITA - 15th Anniversary Edition

SOUND OFF Summer Round-Up: Four From Disney, All On BroadwayAndrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's EVITA won 7 Tony Awards in 1980, including Best Musical and Best Actress for Patti LuPone, which itself is no small feat, yet the 1996 feature film version is almost absolutely the ideal realization of the source material rendered filmatic. Sure, Madonna can't belt to the rafters like LuPone and original UK Eva, vocal powerhouse diva Elaine Paige, but she embodies so much of the real-life celebrity sensationalism that was essential to Eva's rise to power with Juan Peron in South America and uncannily looks so much like the actual Eva as to almost win us over through sheer force before she even utters a line or note - and, by the time that comes, we realize that she gives a credible performance, too. Damn credible - and pretty damn good; particularly considering the movie musicals and performances in them that have come since (EVITA was an anomaly in the movie musical barren 90s, after all). Madonna will never be Meryl Streep - a singing star who was actually considered for the title role when Oliver Stone was at the helm (note his contract-mandated co-screenwriting credit on even Parker's finished film version, which itself bares little resemblance to Stone's envisioning of the piece) - but the pop icon uses her assets to mostly their best effects and creates a nuanced and ultimately more than merely affecting and effective portrait of the legendary first lady of Argentina. While the Criterion Collection released a much more thorough laserdisc following the film's original release, this sensational new fifteenth anniversary Blu-ray at least affords us a thorough Making Of documentary taken from that release, as well as the music video for the Oscar-winning new composition penned by erstwhile songwriting team Lloyd Webber and Rice, "You Must Love Me" - a song so fitting in the score that it is now utilized in stage productions such as the currently-running Broadway revival directed by Michael Grandage. Fifteen years on, Parker's visual filmatic scrapbook take on the material - soft, sepia-hewed lenses and striking off-kilter framings included - seems even more inspired than perhaps it did initially when the film was met with general indifference. Furthermore, better and bigger and more boisterous than ever, the DTS-HD surround soundtrack is positively pristine - just perfect. I'd even wager that in the bigger musical moments - particularly as presented by career-best Antonio Banderas as Che; such as in the heavy hitting hard rock "The Lady's Got Potential", the rollicking and amusing "Peron's Latest Flame" as well as in the instant earworm "The Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)", without even mentioning the sweeping and epic opening sequence - are among the best-sounding of any current movie musical on Blu-ray. Yes, EVITA has finally arrived in style, fully decked out to the nines on Blu-ray - a true must-own.

NEWSIES - 20th Anniversary Edition

SOUND OFF Summer Round-Up: Four From Disney, All On BroadwayWhile NEWSIES may not have been the surefire smash Disney had hoped back when it premiered twenty years ago, the recent Broadway stage adaptation is a gigantic, unexpected hit and reveals the multitude of strengths inherent in Alan Menken and Jack Feldman's warmly ingratiating and excitingly pop-flecked score, musicalizing the New York City paper boy strike at the turn of two centuries ago, back in 1899. A young, ripely destined-for-stardom Christian Bale and movie musical royalty in the form of Ann-Margret make the original film version of NEWSIES a curiosity if only for their participation, and the spirited and inventively-rendered dance sequences by DIRTY DANCING choreographer Kenny Ortega still come alive, yet the overall film lacks the polish and precision - and plot - that the stage version now remedies particularly well as a result of Harvey Fierstein's always apt and intermittently ingenious dramatic inventions for the new book (not to mention the numerous new Menken/Feldman songs and the rewritten old ones; as well as an all-new character or two, too). The Blu-ray edition ports over many of the bonus features from the previous special edition DVD - including an interesting and informative commentary by director Kenny Ortega and others - but a splashy featurette on the new Broadway musical would have been more than welcome, though the existing behind-the-scenes documentaries do a good job of illuminating the somewhat troubled production of the original film and its less-than-stellar reception at the time (though it unquestionably has developed quite a cult following amongst Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers of a certain age). Indeed, some will always love the original film and want their Santa Fe this way and they now have a Blu-ray edition to treasure - but some of us may prefer to be the King of New York in New York and only there as far as comparing the stage and screen versions of this property goes. Always a bit of a diamond in the rough, the musical sequences and spunk of the performers in general Make Up For many dramatic and thematic deficiencies, though, to belabor the point, the musical seems to finally have gotten it all right. Perhaps a full-fledged movie remake is in order? Hey, why not?! Stranger things have happened, after all - on Broadway, in Hollywood and beyond; particularly since 1992. However you like your NEWSIES, you can now snap it up on Blu or check it out on Broadway - or, better yet, both - and seize the day in your very own way!

SISTER ACT - 2 Movie Collection (SISTER ACT/SISTER ACT 2: BACK IN THE HABIT)

SOUND OFF Summer Round-Up: Four From Disney, All On BroadwayWhile Whoopi Goldberg crafted an indelible lead performance in the original SISTER ACT, both films work together to magnificently display the complete range of her titanic abilities as an actress, a comedian, stage performer, solo star and, most of all, true blue modern cinematic icon. Yes, EGOT-winner and current VIEW co-host Goldberg has arguably never been better than she is in these two fluffy and repeat-worthy comedy forays, with some truly heartfelt sincerity and relatable character realities to go with the razzle dazzle and usual schtick we have come to expect from her - as we did even then, twenty years ago. Whoopi makes SISTER ACT shine - it seems impossible to even imagine the original actress envisioned for the role, Bette Midler, in it. In both SISTER ACT and SISTER ACT 2: BACK IN THE HABIT, Whoopi is the whole meal - cocktails to appetizer to main course to dessert and aperitif. Additionaly - and while speaking of the Divine Miss M - the fact that SISTER ACT director Emile Ardolino would go on to direct GYPSY with Bette Midler for TV shortly thereafter is clear evidence of his way with a musical number and all the musical numbers in both films (though he is only responsible for the first) land, though the spine-tingling and unexpected musical moments in the first film are very hard to top. Multiple-Grammy-Award-winner Lauryn Hill, in a very early career appearance, makes a major mark in SISTER ACT 2: BACK IN THE HABIT and the musical arrangements by Marc Shaiman in the sequel are just as enthralling if not even fresher and more ecstatic than in the solid first film, yet the first film still has a special allure for me all its own that the second comes close to matching, but falls a bit short of topping. Opinions may vary, but both films are surefire winners for any family looking to pass some hot summer nights indoors with an appreciably exceptional balance of crass and class, dirty and divine and heavenly and hellish to be enjoyed by all, again and again - yes, both films are very repeat-worthy, as cable channels have copiously proven over the last fifteen years or so since their releases. What may be most surprising of all - or at least what was to me - is how well these two films hold up (some fashion choices, slang and source music notwithstanding, of course), particularly considering how fresh and relatively hip they seemed to both be at the time (particularly the latter, which dates more readily as a result). Before we say amen, special mention unquestionably must also be made of Kathy Najimy and Maggie Smith, who both are brilliant in their roles in both iterations. To curb a phrase from another nun-themed musical entity, SISTER ACT is habit-forming and these new Blu-ray editions are the best way to experience this zany and zealous world rendered unforgettable by a star firing on all axels and showing the world what she does best.

So, what Disney Blu-ray release are you looking forward to checking out this summer most of all? Can you simply not wait to cry for Argentina once more, or do you feel compelled to seize the day and strike like it's 1899? Further still, do you want to join Deloris and the devout sisters for some Motown and Moses times two, too? With these four films on shelves, in stores and available at long, long last on Blu-ray time is sure to fly for the Disney-philes, Broadway babies and all-around entertainment enthusiasts among us this July. Plus, after sampling these four films for the first time or all over again, why not experience the Broadway versions as well and experience the characters and stories you love in a whole new way? A cherished memory, like a film, lasts forever.

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