La La Land’s Debt to Ethnic Musicals of Yore

Its “Burst-Into-Song” Style Echoes the Intimacy of Early Black, Mexican, and Jewish Productions

“Without a nickel to my name/ Hopped a bus/ Here I came …” So sings a young woman at the start of La La Land, the original musical film by Damien Chazelle and this year’s leading Oscar contender. The number begins with a pan across mostly solitary individuals sitting in a traffic jam on an L.A. freeway. As we move past open car windows, we hear that each driver is listening to something different. Suddenly, one female driver begins to sing and steps out of her car. Dozens of others …