BWW Album Review: How Wonderful Life Is Now ROCKETMAN Is in the World
As any Broadway theater-goer knows, jukebox bio-musicals are surprisingly difficult to pull off well. Stringing together hit songs in a way that serves a story, while also dealing with all the real-life egos involved, often involves sacrificing musical or dramatic integrity. It's even more surprising, then, that one of the best recent bio-musicals isn't even a Broadway show: it's Rocketman, the musical movie about the early life and career of Sir Elton John. By giving itself permission to be a musical first, the movie's soundtrack manages to capture the iconic musician's sound without giving up on a satisfying dramatic arc.
The movie's tagline reads "based on a true fantasy," which is the first indicator that this isn't your straightforward, faithful-and-sanitized biopic. The second indicator? That would be the delightful juxtaposition of the lyrics of opening number "The Bitch Is Back" with the youthful voice of Sebastian Rich as child-Elton. It's gleefully tongue-in-cheek, embracing its cheesiness with open arms.
From the soundtrack, it's clear early on that the movie intends to structure itself, at least a little bit, as a true musical. That means there's an "I Want" song early on, which is the unfortunately on-the-nose quartet "I Want Love" (which is, incidentally, the most recent Elton John/Bernie Taupin song on the soundtrack). It does, however, provide a through-line to keep track of throughout the rest of the story.
But it's the next track that really kicks things off. Kit Connor, playing a young teenaged Elton, starts off "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" with a surprising amount of grit and growl before it segues into a fantastically energetic "production number" with star Taron Egerton on lead vocals. The arrangements on this album truly are top-notch, tweaking all the classic songs to perfectly suit the story moment - something not enough jukebox musicals figure out consistently.
Enough good things can't be said about Egerton on this soundtrack. He's masterful, nailing many of John's particulars of phrasing and timbre, but without sounding like he's trying to simply do an Elton John impersonation. If there are any doubts at all as he gamely goes through a few of the lesser-known songs, they should be all gone by the time "Your Song" rolls around. It's pure, straightforward, and heartfelt; even if you're just listening to the soundtrack without having seen the movie, you can hear in Egerton's performance what a heart-filling, game-changing moment this is.
Egerton proves himself a surprisingly and remarkably versatile vocalist, tearing through the high energy of "Crocodile Rock," the rockstar-spiral of "Pinball Wizard" and "Bennie and the Jets," and the bitter emotion of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." It's a good thing Rocketman isn't a stage musical, because Egerton, as John, is present on nearly every single track, and his vocal performance is as magnetic and well-acted as you could hope for. By the time you get to "I'm Still Standing" - an entirely appropriate finale that celebrates not a victory, but survival and hope - he's completely vanished into the performance.
This is, ultimately, Egerton's film, so most of the supporting cast only appear on one or two tracks. Rachel Muldoon has a giddy, charming turn on "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" as Kiki Dee, and stage actress Celine Schoenmaker's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" duet with Egerton is surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. As John's manager/boyfriend John Reid, Richard Madden does fairly well on the snazzy "Honky Cat," but the best one-song wonder on the soundtrack is Jamie Bell, whose Bernie Taupin is probably the weakest vocalist of the bunch but by far the most expressive, on the eleven-o-clock duet with Egerton "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Truly, there could be no other song for that "eleven o'clock" story spot other than this bittersweet ballad, packed with so much grief and, finally, the triumph of not triumphing, but trying.
The best duet, though, comes at the very end of the album as the credits "bonus track": a duet of "I'm Gonna Love Me Again" between Egerton and Elton John himself. Packed with pure joy, it's the perfect way to end the album on an uplifting note. Smartly arranged and joyfully performed, the Rocketman soundtrack is definitely one of the best jukebox musicals we've had in a while.