Monday, April 30, 2012

Musical Mondays - Katharine Hepburn in "Coco"

I have always admired the work of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. She was the first designer to truly liberate women and single-handedly shaped the look of the 1920s. So many of the things we consider "staples" in our wardrobes came from her. She was an amazing designer and an amazing woman to boot.

If ever a woman gave fewer f@%*s, I don't know of her.
I have also always enjoyed discovering new and obscure musicals and plays.

Look up the Broadway cast on Youtube. You will love it.
What I enjoy more than both of those things is finding a way to combine two things that I enjoy. Clearly, what I'm getting at is a combination of an obscure musical and Coco Chanel, right? Right.

"What's that, you say? The person writing this article
must be some sort of huge gay nerd, you say?"
The story itself isn't phenomenal. It's a largely fictionalized take on Chanel's comeback in 1953, as Chanel gets involved in the love life of one of her young workers and inevitably flashbacks on her own love life (again, largely fictionalized)... Basically if you took the Lifetime Chanel movie and "Coco Before Chanel" and added music, you'd have this. Normally I wouldn't even be bothered to look up something with a plot that mediocre, but there was the tiny detail of Katharine Hepburn playing the title character.

Both Katharine and I were ambivalent about the idea. The part had originally been imagined for Rosalind Russell, who is most famously known for *ahem* squawk-blocking Ethel Merman out of a part in the movie version.

Pictured: mixed feelings.
I say "squawk" because that's about all Russell could do, especially compared to a voice such as Ethel Merman's, but a bout of arthritis made it impossible for Russell to continue, so the producers went with yet another actress who is not known for her signing, Katharine Hepburn. It was a fair choice and she does a marvelous job, but what really struck audiences was the production design: A complex reproduction of Chanel's mirrored staircase, rotating backdrops and hidden entrances. The show won the Tony for Costume Design but not much else.

Really though, if you don't at least get a nomination you'd
 have to question your abilities as a costume designer.
All of this rigmarole is really just an excuse to show you a bunch of pretty dresses. Remember that Tony I mentioned? Well, the finale of the show is a lengthy lament by the designer about forsaking love for her work (groan) but the number features a procession of Chanel repros from 1918-1959. Check it out - you can always skip to 4:20 to get right to the dresses:

Impressive, eh? What do you think of the whole thing? Should they have gone with a different actress for the lead role? Tell me in the comments below.

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