Sunday, June 04, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Learning because of blogging

The thing about blogging is that to do a halfway decent job, it’s impossible to NOT learn new things. That could come as the result of wanting to know more about a topic, because of fact-checking oneself, or sort of accidentally while working on a post. All of them have happened to me many times, but today I learned something more or less by accident.

The title of my previous post, about where I think I might live if I ever returned to the USA, was a reference to a line in the song "Bali Ha'i" from the musical South Pacific. I wanted to fact-check that song, both for the spelling and to make sure that the line was actually in the song (I’ve learned from experience that these days I should trust but verify my memory).

I could have just looked up the lyrics, but instead I watched a couple YouTube videos of the scene from the 1958 film of the musical, and that’s when I learned something new.

The film—and scene—starred African American actress Juanita Hall reprising her Broadway role as Bloody Mary, which she’d performed some 900 times. However, apparently by the time the film was made, Hall’s voice had changed and she had trouble hitting the high notes. So, her singing was dubbed, replacing her vocal with Muriel Smith, who played Bloody Mary in the London production of the play. If I was into trivia about films or musicals, I might have known all that, but I’m not, so I didn’t.

The video up top is of the scene where Bloody Mary (Hall) performs the song, but the singing is actually Hall’s own (presumably taken from a Broadway cast recording). The YouTube Channel the video is from has other movie scenes with the actual actress’ voice instead of whoever was dubbed in.

Compare the version above with the original film version, using Smith’s voice:

Probably none of this is important—both actresses are long gone, after all—but I think it’s interesting, and even more so to hear what it might have sounded like if it wasn’t dubbed.

On a side note, when I was younger, I looked down on the old “warhorse” musicals like South Pacific, until I saw a stage production and realised it was really about racism, prejudice, and bigotry (I hadn’t yet seen the movie at that point). Showboat (1927), widely credited as the first modern play in Broadway musical theatre for taking on serious subjects, similarly dealt with racism and prejudice. It was actually because of being willing to look at those old shows with an open mind that I began to appreciate musical theatre in general.

But today I learned a new thing about the movie version of a Broadway show I’ve now seen produced several times, and it was all because I was writing a post about something entirely different and unrelated, really, and I needed to check a couple things.

This is a good thing about blogging, I think.

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