Matt’s Top 5 Musicals: The Movie Versions
Here are my top 5 musicals on celluloid.
As promised, since the Tony Awards are this Sunday, I said I’d do a quick article about my favorite movie musicals. I already did an article about my favorite filmed stage versions of shows, but these here are a bit different. Movie musicals are, more often than not, adaptations of their stage counterparts. With more space and leeway to work with, the movie versions are usually more elaborate than the original content. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are better, though. As I am still a kid that has the comedy and tragedy masks flowing through his veins, there have been very few times when I’ve said the movie version of a musical is better than the original stage production.
Regardless, some musicals only have a movie version. Many of the Disney animated classics have been adapted into stage versions, but there are still a bunch that have yet to hit the stage. Two MA my Top 5 picks can only be seen on film, but I’m sure there have been a few theater troupes who have put on their own productions in some fashion, probably “in concert” more than anything else. While the balance between film and stage versions of musicals is in heavy favor of Broadway, the few that have only been on the silver screen can be just as good and powerful.
For this list, I’ve completely disregarded Disney animated films. There are just too many of them, and all of them are pretty much brilliant. So, those will have to be left for another article at some point in time. There are also a lot of movie musicals altogether, many of them being released between 1930 and 1960. So, when I was creating this list, I picked the five that I’ve always enjoyed thoroughly over the years and could listen to the soundtrack over and over again. These aren’t necessarily the BEST movie musicals, just the ones I love.
The Tony’s are not all about musicals, but they are the most popular medium at the awards show, just like movies are more popular at the Golden Globes than television. Straight plays are still around and very popular on Broadway, featuring big name and extremely talented actors that would make William Shakespeare proud, but at the end of the day the general population cares mostly about the musicals. I wish all the love could be split 50/50, but when most people think of Broadway they think of the show-stopping musical with the extravagant costumes, large cast and incredible scores. It’s only expected for musicals to be the more popular medium during Broadway’s biggest night.
Yet! We are not talking about Broadway right now. Let’s move over to the other side of the country and talk about my top 5 musicals produced by Hollywood.
5. Muppet Treasure Island
The Muppets will forever be cemented with my childhood and the blood that pumps through my veins, so it’s only right for me to have my favorite muppet movie on this list. Not only does it make me laugh to this day, but this musical has a fun and quite brilliant score. I only started recognizing the scores’ brilliance when I got older and started studying music, theatre and musicals altogether. It’s a fun movie for the entire family, and it’ll have you humming its tunes for days afterward.
I know some of you are asking how this musical could beat classics like “Oliver!,” “An American in Paris,” “Singin’ In The Rain” and “Sound of Music.” It really all comes down to how much I enjoy this movie and its music. Yes, the classics are brilliant in their specific ways, but with how “Muppet Treasure Island” has stayed with my heart for so many years, never losing its luster or appeal, it’s only right to call this one of my favorite movie musicals. Besides the score, all of my favorite characters appear in excellence fashion, including an awesome, as always, performance by the great Tim Curry as Long John Silver. The film has everything one needs to enjoy a musical: Great characters, great story, fun music, big ensemble numbers, extreme comedy and a wonderful villain.
4. West Side Story
When I was 10 years old or so, I hated musicals, and this one in particular was the reason why. My mother sat me down and made me watch this with a big bowl of cereal in my lap. I didn’t get it and found myself bored after the opening dance number. Back then, I didn’t respect or understand what great choreography was and the beauty it creates. I could care less because I just wanted to play “Grand Theft Auto” and concentrate on my AIM girlfriend. Now that I’m older, I wish “West Side Story” sparked an extreme interest to learn how to dance, sing and get into musical theatre. That could be because my respect for the art of a musical has increased by 2000% since the year 2000, but I believe my initial disinterest came from doubting myself. I looked at all the dancers and kept telling myself I couldn’t do that. I listened to all the singers and kept telling myself I couldn’t sing that. I witnessed the ending and kept telling myself I couldn’t write something that great.
The doubt pushed me away from a love that would later bloom inside of me. “West Side Story” is now one my favorite movie musicals because it reminds me of the doubt I overcame. Yes, it has WONDERFUL dancing, beautiful music and an incredible ending, but it goes deeper for me. I have now been paid as a professional dancer, singer and writer. The three things I doubted back when I was 10 years old have now come full circle and have allowed me to pay my bills while doing something I love. The movie reminds me of how far I’ve come as a person, because the journey from 10 to 26 has been a long one, like has been and will be for everyone. Will I sit my kids down and make them watch this? Absolutely. I don’t necessarily want them to grow up exactly like me, but I want to give them the same opportunities I had. The opportunity for receiving doubt, or perhaps ambition, will hopefully allow them to prosper like I have and then blow my accomplishments out of the water with their own. All it takes is a little doubt to make something later in life that much sweeter.
3. Little Shop of Horrors
I believe it is safe to say that the score of “Little Shop of Horrors” is my favorite musical score. There are plenty I love and enjoy and respect, but “Little Shop” is the type I literally could listen to on repeat for the rest of my life. It’s fun, quirky, beautiful and you can dance to it. Each song holds onto the life and personality of each character, all while making the listener tap their foot or feel the love between Audrey and Seymour. With a funky opening all the way to a horrific ending, there’s just too much for me to talk about when it comes to the score. I cannot praise it enough.
As for the movie, even though it has a “happier” ending than the stage version, seeing the original Off-Broadway Audrey, Ellen Greene, perform to the legendary status that she is now known for and feeling the excellent orchestrations are enough for me to say I enjoy this musical on film just as much as I do on stage. Rick Moranis is still my favorite Seymour to this day and Steve Martin as the Dentist, Orin Scrivello – D.D.S., is both frightening and hilarious. Audrey II, the alien plant, is and always will be the true star of this show. Audrey II’s puppetry is probably one of the biggest reasons people go see the show whenever it’s in a city near them. Seeing a gigantic plant come to life on stage is magical and fun, but the Audrey II in this film is the best one to date. Sure, budget has a lot to do with it, and Hollywood obviously had a decent-sized budget for this one, but don’t let that fool you, scenic and puppetry artists can do some pretty amazing things on stage. Regardless, Audrey II is the real star of the film. Its puppetry nearly fools me every time into thinking the plant is actually alive and not being controlled by a human. Which can only be defined as incredible.
2. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut
Yes, the South Park movie is a musical. Remember, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are Tony Award winners themselves. If you haven’t seen their smash hit “The Book of Mormon,” then try to as quickly as possible. It really is something spectacular. Before their Tony Award, Parker and Stone demonstrated that they were very talented in the musical medium, creating “Cannibal: The Musical” and this subject here “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut.” If you haven’t seen any bit of “South Park” and only base your opinions on those of others, then you’ve probably heard that “South Park” is one of the most crude, inappropriate and vulgar entities to ever hit television. This is still very true all these years later, and it’s most definitely true when it comes to this musical right here. When the movie was made, the show was on the verge of being cancelled, so the creators decided to go all out with what they had, meaning all the vulgarity was going to go above and beyond.
Many people will be offended by the musical’s content, so a great sense of humor is needed, but if you look past all the inappropriateness of the , what you get is a well-crafted and brilliantly orchestrated musical. The song “La Resistance,” one of the biggest ensemble numbers, will surprise you after you listen to it a few times. You’ll notice that everything about it is perfectly crafted, right down to the character voices mixing so beautifully with the string and wind section of the orchestra.”La Resistance” is only a piece of the puzzle that makes the show worth anyone’s time. It’s a show full of bad language and violence, but it’s also full of an Academy Award nominated song, somber character ballads and plenty of laughs to go around. Just like “Muppet Treasure Island” had everything you need for a fun, show-stopping Broadway experience, “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut” hits you with the same experience, only on a more adult level. If you’ve never seen it, give it a try and keep an open mind. If you have seen it, watch it again and truly pay attention to the orchestrations and the how the songs are perfectly characterized by the characters singing them. You’ll notice the genius hiding underneath the vulgarity. The very same genius that is evident in “The Book of Mormon,” which is a near-perfect musical.
1. Moulin Rouge!
There are many who do not like this movie. I completely understand why, but just like “West Side Story” has deep, underlying reasons for my admiration, “Moulin Rouge!” hits a deeper core than just, “The music is great, and the story is emotional.” My first viewing of “Moulin Rouge!” had me wondering what in the world I just watched. I was really confused, yet the story had me very emotional throughout, so this made me want to watch it again. That spark that I now wish “West Side Story” would have ignited finally came to life after my second viewing of this movie. Something about how it was structured and how the tragedy was so well thought out and embraced finally made me recognize the love I have for the musical medium. I finally understood why characters in musicals suddenly break out into song and dance. The songs are their own soliloquies for the events going on around them and inside of them. The dance numbers may seem like it’s a bunch of people dancing, but it has a much deeper meaning than that. They are dancing to portray the emotions rocking around inside of them. It all just started making sense to me. I don’t know why “Singin’ in the Rain” or “Oliver!” didn’t do it for me, but I don’t really care at this point in my life. It happened and I’m grateful for it.
I can go on and on about the deeper meaning as to why I love this movie, but as a show/musical I love it just the same. I enjoy how their are only two original songs and all the others are adaptations, embracing the true “bohemian” theme of the film. It’s an interesting structure to say the least, which fits perfectly with the film’s quirky and out-of-this-world artistic design. The singing could be better, I’ll admit, but Ewan McGregor still surprises me to this day, so I’ll continue to give him kudos until the day I die. There’s a lot about this movie that I enjoy, and if I had to break it down into three favorite aspects then I’d say the score, artistic design and tragic story. I can’t watch this movie without getting a tear in my eye, even though the ending is revealed to you during the opening minutes. The definition of a great tragedy is one that makes you hope there will be a different outcome every time you see it. You hope Romeo and Juliet aren’t stupid. You hope Hamlet won’t go insane. You hope Iago doesn’t trick Othello. Very similar to those Shakespeare classics I just mentioned, “Moulin Rouge!” makes you hope for a different outcome, but it always ends the same… the definition of a great tragedy.
Express your opinions about this one, but I will forever stand behind it as my favorite movie musical. All of these musicals may not be the best out there, not even close, but they are my favorites. I stand behind them for very superficial and internal reasons. Just like everyone has their reasons for calling something their favorite, I am very outspoken about my reasons for these. Many will not agree with me, and some will probably think I don’t deserve to work in theater for picking “Muppet Treasure Island” over “Sound of Music.” But, these are the five that entertain me the most. I could do a list called, “Matt’s Top 5 Most Boring Musicals,” and you’ll definitely see “Sound of Music” on there, but that’s for a different day.
Until next time friends, I hope you enjoyed this article.