The Five Best Musicals Everyone Can Enjoy
Mr Matthew Broderick in The Producers, 2005. Photograph by Moviestore Collection
Our roundup of the musical movies that are decidedly stylish rather than saccharine.
Emotions so strong they can only be expressed by bursting into song. Garish costumes and overcooked romance. Such are the staples of musical movies that have some of us cringing and turning to the nearest action flick as an antidote. But the smart, gritty and engaging La La Land – directed by Mr Damien Chazelle and out this week in the UK – is proving a heart-gladdening exception that may well breathe new life into the genre. Here are five other musicals which we can all enjoy.
Singin’ in the Rain
Mr Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, 1952. Photograph by MGM. Courtesy of Neal Peters Collection
Rarely has such flimsy cloth been spun into gold. La La Land’s primary influence is also a film about Hollywood – specifically, the end of the silent era and the dawn of talkies in the late 1920s. Mr Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a star who has worked his way up through vaudeville with wisecracking best friend Cosmo Brown (Mr Donald O’Connor) and who falls for aspiring actress Kathy Selden (the lately missed Ms Debbie Reynolds), to the dismay of his shrill co-star (a hilarious Ms Jean Hagen). The storyline is nothing but a cheerful excuse for Mr Kelly’s jaw-dropping choreography, performed to great songs drawn from earlier MGM musicals, such as “Good Morning”, “Make ’Em Laugh”, “All I Do Is Dream of You”. Then of course there’s that sublime title song. Sloshing through gutters and leaping from lampposts, Mr Kelly seems to express a whole philosophy of life through one song and dance routine.
Messrs Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young and Erich Bergen in Jersey Boys, 2014. Photograph by Warner Bros/REX Shutterstock
Don’t like musicals? Start with Jersey Boys – it’s like a Mr Martin Scorsese crime saga crossed with a warts-and-all band documentary. Mr Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons emerged from working class Italian origins in Belleville, New Jersey to create a unique close-harmony sound that yielded seven US number one hits in the 1960s and 1970s. The movie, like the stage smash, gives each member of the group a chance to narrate their own story, interspersed with renditions of familiar songs such as “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”. These boys with heavenly voices aren’t exactly angels, and the movie charts their early scrapes with the law, personified by Mr Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo (Mr Christopher Walken). Director Mr Clint Eastwood – no mean musician himself – gleaned his lead actors from the stage show rather than the Hollywood A-list.
Ms Liza Minnelli in Cabaret, 1972. Photograph by mptvimages.com
It’s Berlin during the rise of the Third Reich and the irreverent Kit Kat Klub is where American singer Sally Bowles (Ms Liza Minnelli) can show you that life is a cabaret, old chum, and you may as well live it up before history overtakes you. Her new, bisexual lodger (Mr Michael York) takes Sally’s advice, getting involved both with her and a wealthy German playboy, till it all falls in an unceremonious heap. Heralding the new mood of pessimism of Hollywood in the 1970s, Mr Bob Fosse’s film erases any sentimentality from the 1966 Messrs Kander and Ebb musical, confining the singing to the club scenes as a Greek chorus on the action – except for when a member of the Hitler Youth rises in public to lead the chilling anthem “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”. With Cabaret, the Hollywood musical finally grew up.
Messrs Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers, 2005. Photograph by Moviestore Collection
The Nazis show up in more musicals than you’d think. But a world away from the brutal realism of Cabaret and the earnest schmaltz of The Sound Of Music there’s Springtime For Hitler, the musical-within-a-musical in The Producers. A love letter to National Socialism composed by a lunatic (played by Mr Will Ferrell), Springtime is taken to Broadway by a scheming duo of producers (Mr Nathan Lane and Mr Matthew Broderick) with the intention of failing so they can embezzle the backers’ funds. Little do they expect their bad-taste extravaganza to be taken as satire and become a smash. This toe-tapping tribute to showbiz excesses is based on the Tony Award-winning musical by Messrs Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, itself based on Mr Brooks’ Oscar-winning 1968 film that starred Messrs Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel.
Little Shop Of Horrors
Mr Rick Moranis in Little Shop Of Horrors, 1986. Photograph by Ronald Grant Archive
It looks like a Venus flytrap, but it’s really a mean, green mother from outer space. Audrey II (voiced by Mr Levi Stubbs) is found by nebbish flower shop boy Seymour Krelborn (Mr Rick Moranis), who reluctantly agrees to feed it blood and, eventually, human bodies – like that of the sadistic dentist (Mr Steve Martin) who’s beating up the woman of his dreams (Miss Ellen Greene). Another movie based on a musical that was based on a movie – in this instance a creepy 1960 effort from low-budget maestro Mr Roger Corman that featured the very young Mr Jack Nicholson – this tuneful tribute to sci-fi schlock is powered by doo-wop numbers from Messrs Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and exists in two versions: one with the studio-imposed happy ending, and Mr Frank Oz’s director’s cut, finally restored with full special effects in 2012.