No matter what the era, musicals never really go out of style in Hollywood. They’re a Tinseltown staple, and for moviegoers there’s nothing we love better than seeing our favorite actors and actresses belt out tunes and tap their toes in completely improbable song and dance numbers. Though musicals have never really worn out their welcome, they got a kick in the pants resurgence in 2001 courtesy of Moulin Rouge
and since then Hollywood musicals have been hotter than ever.
With yet another version if Hairspray
hitting theaters this weekend, now seemed like the time for the Cinema Blend staff to engage in the site’s textual equivalent of a line dance. So I shoved the CB crew out on stage and forced them to Riverdance, until they came up with a list of the greatest stage musical movie adaptations of all time. Here’s the result, our latest CB Top 5.
TOP 5 MOVIE MUSICALS ADAPTED FROM THE STAGE
LEXI FEINBERG: "It's a hard-knock life...” sing the disgruntled orphans as they’re forced to tidy up the place under the cruel regime of Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett). That’s right, orphans. How director John Huston churned out a solid (sometimes cheerful!) musical about abandoned kids is beyond me, but he more than makes it work. A big reason for its success is that beneath its fantastic musical numbers, it has an accessible message of the importance of family. To this day, I can’t see a little girl with poofy red hair without thinking of Annie, or feeling strangely inclined to adopt her.
RAFE TELSCH: Okay, John Huston’s Annie may not be the best adaptation of a musical to the screen. It’s quite sappy (although so was the original story) and that red-headed wig is embarrassingly bad (I guess this was before young actresses were asked to dye their hair color, now a common occurrence). But still, how can a movie with Carol Burnett and Tim Curry playing the villains not wind up as a cult classic? Plus, I have to admit the movie is a sentimental picture for me, reminding me of when I first fell in love with movie musicals.
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
DANIEL SOLOMON: Tim Curry was lady theatre's first badass. Until Rocky Horror came along, musicals were boring, sterile, and full of apple-cheeked children asking stupid questions that could only be answered in song. This homage to the RKO horror dynasty proved that polyamorous alien weirdos do it much better. The music actually rocked, as did the acting, and the sexual innuendo was only overshadowed by the actual sex shit going on. It was a good musical that turned people bad, especially Susan Sarandon, in her only physically appealing role. Just a tip: when Janet says: "I don't like muscles," you must then quip: "Except one!" Otherwise, the fat girl wearing a yellow-sequined Columbia hat will look at you with contempt.
MACK RAWDEN: The Rocky Horror Picture Show takes nearly every morally degrading concept the Conservative Right has ever rallied against and bottles them into one neat little cinematic package. In fact, the entire motion pictures plays like some absurd nightmare from Bill O’Reilly’s subconscious with copious amounts of cannibalism, dude on dude, incest, ugly people, and even Meatloaf. Some less adventurous critics write the movie off as a juvenile, John Waters-esque voyeurism glorification, but at the end of the day, the joke is on those assholes. There’s no more freeing and subversively beautiful experience than watching Tim Curry prance around in outfits Karen Carpenter would have had trouble fitting in to.
LEXI FEINBERG: Long before he was sporting drag onscreen and serving as a spokesman for Scientology, John Travolta was oozing sex appeal in the surprise 1978 hit Grease. It was such a smash that it was followed by one of the worst sequels ever, but Michelle Pfeiffer wants us to forget about that so let’s do her the favor. What makes Grease such a shamelessly fun movie is that every song is somehow more catchy than the last, and there’s enough humor to entertain just about anyone. Even people who generally hate musicals have seen this one twice. No wonder Grease is the word.
MACK RAWDEN: Grease holds a special place in my heart as one of the few films that I simultaneously love and hate at the same time. With every viewing, I find more reasons to despise both the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies, but I, invariably, brush them aside because the movie is just too damn fun to not enjoy yourself. Every song is incredibly catchy, John Travolta is just the right level of over-the-top, and the hoop skirts are so damn hot (in a repressed Amish librarian kind of way). The whole thing makes me want to grab my Honda CRV keys and head to Thunder Road, hell-bent on racing some rival gang’s toughest 50s greaser.
2. West Side Story
BRIAN HOLCOMB: Co-director Robert Wise takes his helicopter for a spin in the opening shot of this landmark movie musical, hovering over the streets of New York and boldly announcing a new take on the genre. Not in the use of location photography itself, which Stanley Donen had already exploited in On the Town, but rather in a more organic fusion of the sights and sounds of the real world within dance, color and song. It’s congratulatory liberal attitude in pushing the “hot button” topic of racism within the context of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” is much less important than it’s aesthetics. The opening ballet of finger snapping and violent, rhythmic dance, “Maria”, “America”, “Tonight” and of course “Somewhere” remain testaments to the talents of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and particularly, co-director and choreographer Jerome Robbins. Robbins was notoriously difficult, but his work remains the most memorable aspect of this film. Its influence reached far beyond the movie musical however: Director John Woo credits the film’s bold use of movement and sound for inspiring the elaborate choreography of his trademark shootouts.
EDWARD PERKIS: West Side Story is often knocked because supposedly tough gang members jazz dance around the mean streets of New York, but that's nitpicking in the extreme. Get past that and this loose translation of "Romeo and Juliet" (white and Puerto Rican gangs stand-in for the Montagues and Capulets) provides the some of the most amazing dance heavy musical numbers around. Nearly everyone's voice was dubbed but Leonard Bernstein's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics capture the angst and upheaval of disaffected youth and doomed love perfectly. It's also one of the few high quality musicals that at least tries to handle a current (at the time) social issue. Watch the gang members from both sides close ranks with each other every time the cops show up. Richard Beymer is a little stiff but everyone else is wonderful and the ending is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
ALEXANDRA CALAMARI: Not only is West Side Story one of the greatest movie-musicals ever created (ten Oscars can attest to that) but it also revolutionized the film medium, so much so that the 1961 movie is still referenced today. Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video, the film Anchorman and several Family Guy episodes all pay homage to the fabulous rumble scene between the Jets and the Sharks, while songs like "I feel pretty" have been remade countless times. The Romeo and Juliet adaptation is such a landmark because it appeals to all the senses; filmmakers used bright rich colors in their costumes and scenery, dances like " America" simply leapt off the screen, and the passionate melodies redefined the notion of "love songs."
ALEXANDRA CALAMARI: It's interesting that Chicago is at the top of our list considering it's certainly not the best musical on Broadway. But unlike other stage to screen adaptations such as The Producers, which simply recreated the Broadway show frame by frame, Chicago director Rob Marshall was willing to alter the musical to create a believable, compelling movie that didn't feel awkward when the characters broke out into song and dance. Sure diehard fans might miss Velma-centric numbers but they'll always have Broadway. Meanwhile the acting is surprisingly good (even from a near-emaciated Renee Zellweger), the singing even better, and the cellblock tango scene could win best picture by itself.
FRANCK TABOURING: My favorite adaptation of a musical and also one of my all-time favorite movies, Chicago is a splendid cinematic experience that hits all the right notes and should keep Broadway fans swinging in their seat. The great thing about this grandiose spectacle is that it hits perfection on many levels. Not only does the plot feature stunning on-stage performances, but the story itself is smart and engaging, including strong character development and an in-depth exploration of the general themes of the musical. Rob Marshall did a fabulous job at directing, and his casting managers assembled a magnificent ensemble cast that delivers a razzling-dazzling show! Oh and ALL that Jazz! Clearly, a movie that will knock you flat!
RAFE TELSCH: Many people credit Moulin Rouge! for the resurgence of the musical, but I give credit to this broadway adaptation. While Baz Luhrman created some interesting arrangements, in Chicago the music is as essential to the whole product as anything else. It’s a whole other character for the movie, as it should be for a good musical. Sure, we might also have to blame Chicago for less successful adaptations, but it’s good to see Broadway and Hollywood working together in tandem like they did in the golden days of film.
Nominated but didn’t make the cut: The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, Phantom of the Opera, Meet Me in St. Louis, Kiss Me Kate, Dreamgirls, 8 Women, Rent, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, Amadeus, Mary Poppins, Oliver!, Cabaret, The Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers