For professional singer Cynthia Rhys, studying music from movie musicals over the last century is an anthropological exercise.
"We don't realize how much this art form has to do with us as an American culture," Rhys said in a phone interview this week from her home in Lenox, Mass. "What a powerful force of the American spirit music is for pulling people from all walks of life together."
Rhys, accompanied by her husband and Grammy Award-winning pianist Joel Revzen, will give a concert, "Award Winning Songs from the Silver Screen," at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 25, in the Treadwell Room at the Baranof Hotel. Tickets are $50 and the concert is part of a fund-raising event for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.
Rhys and Revzen were engaged by the Anchorage Concert Association to perform for an Academy Award gala. They are stopping in Juneau en route to Anchorage. Rhys and Revzen perform several times a year on exclusive high-end cruises, Rhys said. Revzen directs an opera company and conducts for the Metropolitan Opera. Rhys has performed in musicals and operas across the country.
As Rhys conducted research to develop a list of songs for the concert, she discovered many unexpected titles among the Oscar-winners, she said.
"Oftentimes the Academy Award-winning songs are not the ones we think of," she said. "Who knew that from 'Mary Poppins' 'Chim Chim Cher-ee' won?"
Rhys said she will sing a collection of songs that follows the decades and profiles the way the "cultural consciousness" is changing. She begins in the 1930s when the movie musical was born, singing among other selections, "Carioca" from the 1933 Fred Astaire classic "Flying Down to Rio."
During the 1940s, as America became involved in World War II, musicals had themes of unification, and entertainment served as a distraction from the grim news of the war, Rhys said. From that era, Rhys' selections illustrate this, including the cheery "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" from Disney's classic "Song of the South."
Her selections from the 1950s are "With a Song in My Heart, " "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," "Three Coins in a Fountain," and "Moon River."
"(In post-World War II films) there was a celebration of life and love and rebuilding the country," Rhys theorized. "With so many servicemen going abroad, there are also many scenes based in Europe."
In her presentation on the 1960s, Rhys said she plans to share some gossip about the behind-the-scenes goings-on with the films "My Fair Lady" and "The Sound of Music."
In the 1970s, nostalgia was common in films, Rhys found, using the example of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," a popular film of the period that looked back on the turn-of-the-century American West. In keeping with her nostalgia theme, one of her 1970s selections will be "The Way We Were," from a 1974 Academy Award-winning film of the same name with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.
Music from the 1980s and 1990s doesn't interest Rhys so much, except for the music from feature-length Disney animated movies that became very popular in those decades, such as "The Little Mermaid," which came out in 1989. Rhys attributes the popularity to the fact that many of the baby boomers had young children in that 20-year period.
Rhys is excited by what she sees as a renaissance of the musical in recent years with "Moulin Rouge!" and "Chicago." She theorized that similar to movies in the 1940s, this resurgence fills an American need for distraction in the face of turbulent political times.
"We seem as a culture to be interested in high production values, it almost feels to me like we are celebrating the extravaganza, with all of those costumes and people," she said.
Tickets for "Award Winning Songs from the Silver Screen" are $50 at Hearthside Books or Rainy Day Books and the ticket price includes hors d'oeuvres. There will be a no-host bar at the event.
Julia O'Malley can be reached at email@example.com.