Merman & Monroe's Musical Mission
To be blunt I didn't enjoy "There's No Business Like Show Business" or at least as not as much as I had hoped. And the simple reason is that it is a musical which is out of balance with far too many musical moments and so little story. It's a case of rather than the musical numbers embellishing the story it is the story which fills in the gaps between the musical numbers many of which feel like they have no relation to the story. This all comes from "There's No Business Like Show Business" being a musical about a showbiz family and so not only do we get the occasional musical scene which does tell the story we get plenty of musical scenes of the family performing in their shows and it is too much.
Molly & Terry Donahue (Ethel Merman & Dan Dailey) are vaudeville performers who over the years have grown from a double act into the 5 Donahue's as they have had children who having grown up become part of the act. But with them all now young adults they have their own dreams with Steven (Johnnie Ray) wanting to join the ministry and Katy (Mitzi Gaynor - South Pacific) finding herself dating a handsome young man. And then there is Tim (Donald O'Connor - Singin' in the Rain) who falls for Vicky (Marilyn Monroe - How to Marry a Millionaire) a promising young singer who he dotes on but ends up spoiling things through his drunken antics causing his parents stress and sleepless nights.
So as already mentioned "There's No Business Like Show Business" feels like a musical which is out of balance with a lot of musical numbers and very little storyline. In fact very little storyline is maybe being a bit generous because for the majority of the movie there isn't really a storyline with it only really coming to the fore during the final third. What storyline there is revolves around Tim Donahue falling for singer Vicky and going off the rails when things don't work out, getting drunk, causing trouble and disappearing. There are other storylines such as his sister Katy falling in love and his older brother Steve leaving show business to become a man of the cloth but the central storyline is about Tim and his love of Vicky.
Now in a way it is a shame because the set up of the Donahue's being a showbiz family has the potential to highlight the issues that the children of showbiz parents face. And in a way that is what it feels like it wants to do but never manages to dig beneath the surface of possible problems and conflicts. Even an early scene where Molly and Terry Donahue are called to the boarding school to deal with an issue is pretty much skimmed over. And as such what could have been an entertaining and insightful look at the life and troubles of a showbiz family ends up quite weak.
Part of that issue comes from there being an abundance of musical numbers with a few which are part of the story and then a lot more which come from the Donahue's performing on stage. It makes it a musical which is out of balance and a prime example of which is an early musical number where each of the Donahue family sing part of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" a musical scene which seems to go on and on and on. In many ways it is a shame as the Irving Berlin numbers are all extremely good and the big show stopping rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" by Ethel Merman as Molly Donahue is truly a musical triumph. But there are just too many and no matter how impressive each ones production is it makes it a very one sided musical which ends up being all about the song and dance and not the story.
Whilst there are too many musical numbers each of them are performed magnificently and on top of Ethel Merman's stunning rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" there is an enjoyable version of "Heat Wave" by Marilyn Monroe. In fact the whole cast give enjoyable performances be it in the musical numbers or in those few moments of actual drama. Both Johnnie Ray and Mitzi Gaynor are captivating with Ray grabbing every scene he is in with his unique almost awkward style of acting and singing.
But for me the real star of "There's No Business Like Show Business" is Donald O'Connor whose dancing and natural flare for comedy makes many a musical number come to life. Yet it is also one of the most generous performances you will see as a musical scene he shares with Mitzi Gaynor is brilliant because they both work together delivering brilliant dance moves all with a subtle touch of comedy.
What this all boils down to is that "There's No Business Like Show Business" is entertaining but sadly not the great musical I hoped it would be. It is lavish in production with some big musical numbers which in-between the Irving Berlin numbers and the singing and dancing especially of Donald O'Connor are entertaining. But it ends up feeling like an out of balance musical which is incredibly slim on storyline and too heavy on musical numbers. As such if all you want is lavish musical productions then it will entertain but if you want a musical where the story is central with the singing & dancing telling the story then like me you will be a bit disappointed.