Tuesday, February 16, 2010

CASABLANCA Head-to-Head: 1942 Movie vs. 2009-10 Musical

A poster for Casablanca, featuring who else but Bogart and Bergman.

A chirashi, or flyer, for the Takarazuka Kagekidan / Cosmos Troupe musical adaptation of Casablanca, starring Oozora Yuuhi and Nono Sumika.

I guess it's a funny confession for me to make that I had never in my life seen what's acclaimed as one of the greatest movies of all time (no Kanye West jokes, please!) before 2009: that was when I finally bought a copy of the Casablanca movie. I watched it and I fell in love with most of the cast: from Captain Louis Renault to the central love triangle of Rick Blaine-Ilsa Lund-Victor Laszlo to, especially, the wonderful crew of Rick's Café Américain: Sam, Carl, Sascha, Emil, and Abdul.

As old as the movie was and as prevalent as its influence has been, I still responded to its scenes and its tropes: the shock of Ilsa's return to Rick's life, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine", the duel between "Die Wacht am Rhein" and "La Marseillaise", the final confrontations, and of course the one-two ending punch of "If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life" and "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".

And who can forget the songs? "It Had To Be You" and "As Time Goes By" of course are the standouts, but let's not forget "Knock on Wood" and the duel of the songs I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Casablanca is an acclaimed film, known and loved for many years, and so anyone who tries to adapt it will be given a lot of attention. No one wants to mess with the by-now-immortal movie.

So of course it was a bit of a shock when it was announced that the Takarazuka Kagekidan was creating a musical of the movie.

In the first place, of course, Casablanca is not a musical at all, and the same goes for its source material, the unproduced play, "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The movie is instead an actual drama with several iconic songs inserted.

The Takarazuka Kagekidan really IS a musical, with several new solos and crowd songs interspersed. Each of the major characters performs a solo, and of course Sam does "Knock on Wood", "It Had To Be You", and "As Time Goes By". The duel of the songs still takes place. But this version is really first and foremost a musical and, in the typical Takarazuka style, one that features a lot of story told through song and dance.

From the start of the denouement in the 1942 film.

Scenes from the climax of the 2009-10 musical.

Speaking of the story, there were a few additions and changes made too. The flashback sequence includes a depiction of Rick owning another bar, the La Belle Aurore; Rick is also depicted as being connected with the same resistance groups that Ilsa and Victor are part of. So in a way the story here is that the central love triangle's members all know of or have already heard of each other before the action of Casablanca takes place. The musical also brings to the forefront the fact that the staff at Rick's Café Américain are also in the resistance.

Also, the entire play is done in Japanese, including the memorable quotes and major portions of the songs. Hearing the Japanese idioms makes the viewing experience very different when you know how the movie dialogues run.

And now we come to the hard comparisons: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid vs. Oozora Yuuhi, Nono Sumika, and Ranju Tomu as the love triangle. Who plays the part better? How do they stack up? I think I'll just say, Bogart and Oozora both play strong and tormented Ricks; I actually think she plays it much more cynically than he does. Between Bergman and Nono, there's absolutely no contest at all; nobody can do Ilsa better than the original. And as for Henreid vs. Ranju, they're completely different: Henreid plays things stoic, Ranju with a lot of expression, particularly since she's handed a couple of dance numbers - and Ranju is an excellent dancer.

Overall, the movie is still, far and away, the premier experience of Casablanca - but the musical is worth watching because of how beautifully different it is.

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