Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s

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Full-page newspaper ads announced the date. Reserved seats went on sale at premium prices. Audience members dressed up and arrived early to peruse the program during the overture that preceded the curtain's rise. And when the show began, it was–a rather disappointing film musical.

In Roadshow!, film historian Matthew Kennedy tells the fascinating story of the downfall of the big-screen musical in the late 1960s. It is a tale of revolutionary cultural change, business transformation, and artistic missteps, all of which led to the obsolescence of the roadshow, a marketing extravaganza designed to make a movie opening in a regional city seem like a Broadway premier. Ironically, the Hollywood musical suffered from unexpected success. Facing doom after its bygone heyday, it suddenly broke box-office records with three rapid-fire successes in 1964 and 1965: Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music. Studios rushed to catch the wave, but everything went wrong. Kennedy takes readers inside the making of such movies as Hello, Dolly! and Man of La Mancha, showing how corporate management imposed financial pressures that led to poor artistic decisions-for example, the casting of established stars regardless of vocal or dancing talent (such as Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon). And Kennedy explores the impact of profound social, political, and cultural change. The traditional-sounding Camelot and Doctor Dolittle were released in the same year as Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, representing a vast gulf in taste. The artifice of musicals seemed outdated to baby boomers who grew up with the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, race riots, and the Vietnam War.

From Julie Andrews to Barbra Streisand, from Fred Astaire to Rock Hudson, Roadshow! offers a brilliant, gripping history of film musicals and their changing place in our culture.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 2, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199925674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199925674
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.2 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds

Customer Reviews

Runaway expenses, foolish casting, and the collapse of the studio system produced white elephant musicals between 1965 and 1972

 on March 7, 2017
By Stephen O. Murray
I originally planned to read only about a few of the roadshow musicals Matthew Kennedy discusses in” Roadshow: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s,” but, after reading a few, went to the beginning and read the book straight through. I learned a lot, even if I was just fine with much of that.

Raindrops on Roses — by the megaton

One person found this helpful.
 on November 13, 2015
By Snookie Handsome
You might not think the collapse of the mammoth Hollywood musical would have the makings of a rich & rewarding book, but “Roadshow!” Is itself a blockbuster, at least in terms of solid entertainment value if not in terms of tickets (or copies) sold. This show is a tour de force e, however, for an author who may have a scholar’s credentials but zero scholarly stuffiness. Mr Kennedy proves an insightful and sprightly eulogizer as he traces the collapse of the Big Fat Musical (marked by portentous presentation that in turn was marked, perhaps pock-marked, by inflated budgets and, usually, reserved-seat tickets at near-Broadway prices. Yes you purchased tickets days or weeks in advance and “dressed up” for the performance you attended, even tho the actors had long since deposited their pay checks and gone home. It was an attempt at turning a movie into an automatic event, and sometimes — as with that definitive blockbuster “The Sound of Music” — it worked smashingly to the satisfaction of audience and filmgoer alike. Sadly, the subgenre blew itself out, as producers attempted the transformation of musical after musical from pleasantly diversionary escapist lark into vulgar, bombastic, overreaching nuclear device. “Sound of Music” became the most imitated film of its time, even though the ingredients that made it a hit were very unlikely to be duplicated; how many movies can winningly mingle Nazis, nunneries, marionettes, ersatz-Viennese schmaltz, adorably trilling toddlers, stiff-upper-lip-locked romance and sweeping spectacle? Oh and one more novelty item: force-of-nature and superGoody Two-shoes, Julie Andrews? Kennedy makes his account of this definitive and epochal Hollywood folly not a lachrymose lament but a wisely witty funereal romp; he masterfully delineates each and every lesson that should have been learned but which, in wacky Hollywood style, wasn’t. This book is one of the new century’s most unlikely delights, and even though it’s been gracing bookshelves for several years now, it’s as freshly freaky as a crushed carnation. And funny. Very very funny.

Seeking the next box office pot of gold

One person found this helpful.
 on April 17, 2015
By The Movie Man
This book deals with an area of film history previously untapped — the rise and dramatic decline of Hollywood’s massive road show musicals. A “road show” was a motion picture released on limited screens at premium prices. These films were accompanied by a huge marketing campaign. The idea was to build demand for must-see movies, thus insuring additional dollars at the box office when they went into general release.

Behind the Scenes of Those Big, Splashy1960’s Movie Musicals!

One person found this helpful.
 on March 26, 2015
I devoured this book!

How the "Sound of Music" Success Almost Destroyed Hollywood

3 people found this helpful.
 on August 13, 2014
By Joel Canfield
This was an interesting idea for a book. Growing up in the 60’s, as the author did, I watched in amazement as one huge, lumbering movie musical after another opened and tanked – it almost made me hate musicals, until I discovered the MGM 1950’s classics. It was fascinating for me as a movie buff to trace how this happened, how the individual films were developed and the disastrous creative decisions by executives that ultimately doomed them. It’s nice to have one book put all this together. The author has done his homework and it shows.

Entertaining! Informative! Punctuated!!

8 people found this helpful.
 on March 30, 2014
By D. W. O’Dell
Roadshow! amusingly documents a largely forgotten phenomenon, movie production of musicals in the 1960’s when the genre grew bloated and oversized until, like the dinosaurs, it neared extinction. Author Matthew Kennedy accurately points out that these movies aren’t considered bad, they are not remembered at all. I was actually surprised to find Netflix even carried DVDs of Star!, Half a Sixpence, and The Happiest Millionaire.

Those Creaky Embarrassing Movie Musicals of the Sixties

3 people found this helpful.
 on May 18, 2014
By Thomas S. Peel
Everything changed in the sixties, but Hollywood was slow in adopting to the times. This is an excellent look at how studios kept making big budget musicals in a time of drugs, changing sexual values, antiwar fever and race riots. Elderly movie moguls would see Broadway musicals and think they had to be filmed, usually with incompetent directors and Julie Andrews. Author has combined studio archives and present-day interviews into a very readable account.

Highly Detailed Examination of Road Show Musicals and Their Failure

2 people found this helpful.
 on November 23, 2014
By Larry Gevirtz
Despite a few factual errors, and some questionable judgments, this is a well-written and well-researched examination of the decline of road show musical films. It goes into great detail in showing how Hollywood dropped the ball after the success of The Sound of Music, and will be greatly appreciated by fans of cinema.

Great read!

2 people found this helpful.
 on January 8, 2015
By Far2Go
First rate account of a fascinating time in the movie industry and the popular culture. As a lifelong worker in the feature film industry I appreciate the depth and detail of Mr. Kennedy’s research and his clear passion for the topic. Great read!

Read this Book!

4 people found this helpful.
 on March 3, 2014
By Gisela Schoenbach
Thorough research and very well written. Great contribution to the literature of film history. I really enjoyed reading this wonderful book and highly recommend it to everybody who likes musicals!

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