Astaire and Garland are Just Swell
"Easter Parade" is the sort of musical which I like and dislike, which may sound like a contradiction but it is not alone as there are many musicals which I like and also dislike. From a musical perspective what is there not to like when you have Fred Astaire and Judy Garland singing and dancing to an Irving Berlin soundtrack. But then you have the dislike and that comes from "Easter Parade" being a musical about a trio of performers and so whilst the actual storyline with an obvious romantic element is entertaining you end up getting musical numbers which are not part of the story but part of a character performing. It is a niggle which often spoils my enjoyment of a musical because you get songs which have no relevance to the story and no matter how well performed they are they often end up dragging things out.
When Nadine Hall (Ann Miller) decides to split from her dance partner Don Hewes (Fred Astaire - Holiday Inn) and strike out on her own he proclaims that he will find another dancer and maker her a greater star. That dancer and new partner comes in the form of Hannah Brown (Judy Garland - Meet Me in St. Louis) who Don spots dancing in a bar and sets about turning her into a star. And after a misfire or two it works as Hewes and Brown become major successes leading to them getting a call to sing and dance in a Ziegfield show. But their partnership becomes more as Hannah and Don fall for each other but she wonders whether he truly loves her or has feelings for Nadine, especially when he ends up in an impromptu dance with his former partner.
There is a lot to like about "Easter Parade" and to be honest one of those things is the storyline. It is a storyline which is very familiar as Don Hewes whilst attempting to turn Hannah Brown into both his new partner and a star ends up falling for her. It is shall we say a familiar premice which has featured in various musicals and romantic comedies over the years and so is the complications which come from his previous partner being still on the scene. As such there are very few surprises when it comes to the final outcome but is an enjoyable journey from start to finish as it takes us through a series of familiar issues.
And what makes it an enjoyable journey is that between the singing and dancing of Astaire and Garland along with the Irving Berlin score it is never dull. The opening series of scenes which culminates with a fantastic dance routine in a toy shop as Astaire dances and sings whilst playing a series of drums is simply brilliant, stunning in the sheer energy of it. And that is not the only memorable scene as renditions of "Steppin' Out with My Baby" and "Easter Parade" are just as good although the show stopper for me is the comically genius "A Couple of Swells".
But the problem for me and a problem which spoils lots of musicals is that with "Easter Parade" is a musical about performers we get various songs which feel irrelevant to the story. Whilst watching Ann Miller sing and dance through "Shakin' the Blues Away" is a wonderful experience it adds nothing to the actual story, it's just her character performing on stage and ends up almost feeling like padding. Maybe it's just me because there is not a single duff song or dance in the whole of "Easter Parade" but I just prefer my musical numbers to aid in telling the story rather than just thrown in to showcase a stars talent which is too often the case here.
Despite this it is impossible not to like a musical which features Fred Astaire and Judy Garland with both not only delivering fantastic musical scenes but also do a solid job of the story. Okay so as a romance it's hard to really feel any romantic spark between them but you do get the sense of fondness and fun which makes up for it. Just in the scene where they sing "A Couple of Swells" there is not only a sense of respect for each others talents but also a sense that they were having fun.
And to be honest whilst Astaire and Garland are the stars they are aided by some good performances from Ann Miller who stars as Nadine Hale and Peter Lawford as Jonathan Harrow although both often mug to the camera a little too often for my liking. Then there is Jules Munshin who has a very small part as Head waiter François, a part which for the most is inconsequential except for a funny scene where he describes the preparation of his very special salad. It is a very funny scene, a scene which to be honest is padding and has no importance but will make you laugh.
What this all boils down to is that "Easter Parade" is the perfect example of what I like and dislike about musicals. It is impossible not to like the singing and dancing of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland and it is equally as impossible not to like the Irving Berlin score. But then with this being a musical about performers there are various musical scenes which have nothing to do with the story but are there to showcase a stars talents and no matter how enjoyable they are they cause the story to stall.