It’s no secret that I love Disneyland. Growing up, it was the Holy Grail for my generation (all pre-Walt Disney World). We all grew up glued to the set watching the Mickey Mouse Club (we all had Mouse-Ka-Ears, they were available at every dimestore and Grannie could usually be counted on to come through with stuff like that, whereas Mother was a tougher sell).
Of course, Sunday night, the whole family settled in (at 6:00 or 6:30, earlier than usual “prime time”) to watch “Walt Disney Presents The Wonderful World of Color”. NOW, having researched, I know that Walt wanted to make a deal to broaden the appeal of Disneyland and prep the world for Walt Disney World and especially EPCOT (not the theme park we now know, but Walt’s “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”, Walt’s grand attempt at urban planning, which was scrapped after his death). Walt wanted a better TV deal, and David Sarnoff was looking for ways to sell his RCA color TV sets, so Walt Disney presented the “Wonderful World of Color”. It was a great show; we all loved it.
So Disneyland was a symbol for my generation, and a powerful one at that. Even Mother and Dad had grown up watching the exploits of Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck (my personal favorite—as the current Disney stuff calls him, “The Original Angry Bird”).
On my last trip to Disneyland, I was doing my usual thing of wandering aimlessly (Fastpasses secured? Yep. Food? Yep.). I don’t like to get TOO planned; yes, you have your Fastpass times, and yes, I do tend to ride Soarin’ Over California multiple times at a sitting—but otherwise, I like to drift. I’ll plan the major ones, but in between I like the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion and, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean.
So I was drifting down Main Street, USA, and of course the music was playing in the background. A tune played, and played again as the loop repeated; I wound up hearing it multiple times in the course of one day.
It stuck with me. I knew I knew it; it was from a movie, and one specific to the 1890’s, the era of Main Street, USA. Which movie? Couldn’t place it. Hummed it to myself on the plane home. Couldn’t get it out of my brain.
I turned to my standby expert on all things Disney, Nathan. Sure enough, he came up with it on a Youtube video of “Main Street USA music loop” (the song in question starts at 5:25).
And there in the comments was the explanation: “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly! Hello, Dolly!, of course, was set in the 1890’s, and it was made into a movie, so yes, I had that part right.
Today, being lazy and bored, I decided to check and see if the movie version of Hello, Dolly! was available to watch. It is, Amazon Prime, free.
The last time I saw that movie was in the theater with my Mother and Dad (I think that is the last time we ever went to a movie together, the whole family).
Despite the all-star cast (Gene Kelly directed! La Streisand, then the hottest "mainstream" singer in the US and commanding huge salaries for movies, starred; Walter Matthau (?!) in a movie musical! The incomparable Louis Armstrong playing “Louis”, the bandleader at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant!), and the 7 (seven!) Academy Award nominations, the movie was a big flop.
First, the era of the "Grand American Musical" was just about over. The "Studio System" which had produced them had broken up. Vietnam was raging, rock music was "in", "...the times, they are a-changin'" sang Bob Dylan. The grand downtown movie palaces were closing or showing porn. The suburban movie theaters (maybe like the "General Cinema 1 and 2”, featuring a large theater and a small one) (General Cinema logos I grew up with) were being cut up into "Behind the Mall Cinema 16", a la Hot Springs, with tiny shoebox theaters and an aisle down the middle. NOBODY wanted to go to the movies any more and they declined.
Second, the musical moviegoing public had literally grown up with Carol Channing in the role of Dolly Levi; the casting of Streisand was just so sacrilegious that America stayed away in droves. It flopped.
Watching it today, (and it really wasn’t all that great, not compared with My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music or Singin in the Rain or many others), of course I was delighted with the “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” number.
THEN I got to trying to figure out who the young actor playing the part of Cornelius Hackl (who sang “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” along with an ensemble including Streisand). I knew I’d seen him in something else? What. Was. It. ?
The young actor was a typical struggling actor; British; made enough off Hello, Dolly! to survive—until he lost all the money in bad investments. He and his wife worked as upholsterers at one point, then he landed a role on a British soap opera that made his acting career “ok”. He went on to moderately good success on stage and the occasional screen role.
He had a vocal coach, and continued with his lessons. One of the coach’s other students was a Bright young star in her own light, and had a famous husband, who was a real cool Cat. They arrived early for one of her lessons and heard the no-longer-young singer’s voice lesson.
The husband was casting for his latest stage-production/musical. He was coming off an impressive string of smash hits. He had seen the actor before in various productions and immediately cast him.
And that’s how the young actor/singer who sang, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” in Hello, Dolly!, Michael Crawford, came to be cast in and originate the role of “The Phantom” in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, a role he reprised on Broadway (where I saw him) and Los Angeles.