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Published on November 23rd, 2009 | by Darren & Lottie


Two Sheets To The Wind: Top Five Musicals

In honour of Screen Cinema’s season of musicals and the December 25th release of Rob Marshall’s musical, Nine, we have decided to open up the Top Five to our favourite musicals.

Now, we are talking about movie musicals only – there are plenty of strange and wonderful stage productions that have yet to grace the silver screen. For instance, my absolute favourite musical of all time, Wicked. While there is very excitable talk about a release in 2010 nothing is confirmed but rumour has it that neither Edina Menzel nor Kristin Chenoweth will be returning to their original roles. Boo and urns!

We are also leaving the likes of online sensations of Dr. Horrible and TV miracles such as the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer off this list.

Animated films are also out of the running as per the decree of the Culchies.

Lottie’s Top Five Movie Musicals

5. Chicago (2002)


Prior to the multi-Oscar winning 2002 movie, I had never seen a production of Chicago. (I still think it’s a travesty that Moulin Rouge didn’t win more at it’s Oscars. I guess the world just wasn’t ready). Like many musicals, it’s light on the narrative but Chicago is all about the razzle-dazzle!

ChicagoChicago is the story of two women  Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Catherine Zeta-Jones & Renée Zellweger) jailed for killing lovers and the threatened with the hangman’s noose should they be found guilty of their crimes.  But instead of worrying about their fates their concerns lie mainly with fame and their place in the spotlight. And so they employ sleazy, undefeated lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to defend and promote their plight.

Chicago is fast, naughty and conjures fantasies of the twenties jazz circuit lifestyle. A barely pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones is brilliant in the role of Velma Kelly.  She’s sexual and fierce and preforms every song as if she’s singing to the front row of a premier night Broadway audience.

Director Rob Marshall, soon to bring out the aforementioned Nine, executed the movie in such a way as to convert non-believers of musical theatre who are not used to people bursting out into song.  Every number, with the exception of “All the Jazz” and the ending, are figments of Roxie’s imagination, the way she pictures things as a wanna-be performer.

4. The Sound of Music (1965)

“The hills are alive with the sound of music”

What can be said about The Sound of Music that hasn’t already been said? But what would a top musicals list be without Julie Andrews?

The all time classic, The Sound of Music is the first musical I ever remember seeing, probably one Christmas Day, gathered around our old rabbit eared 14 Inch. I’m not that old, we were just poor, alright!?!

3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

“A mental mind fuck can be nice.”

A camp cult musical sci-fi satire about an alien transvestite who is building the perfect man while playing sexual games with his virginal visitors. Starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Meatloaf, you either love it or you hate it.

The phenomenon that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show grew out of the mind of actor and Crystal Maze host, Richard O’Brien.  The show premiered on stage in London in 1973 and was quickly transferred to the screen two years later.  In the theatres the film flopped and was damned and trashed by critics who claimed that “no-one understood it”. Those who did though stood fast behind the film, returning to see it again and again until slowly the film expanded out onto the midnight circuit.

Since then theatrical screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show have developed into a ritual that is repeated all over the world. Audiences turn up dressed as characters from the film, most usually cross dressed in the lingerie that Tim Curry affects throughout most of the show. The phenomenon is perhaps one of the most unique forms of interactive theatrical experiences ever to emerge.

Aside from the camp theatricality of the show, it contains some beautiful, haunting and brilliantly funny songs like Science Fiction Double Feature, The Time Warp, and Sweet Transvestite.

There have been several attempts to create a sequel to Rocky Horror, most of which have floundered due to Tim Curry’s unwillingness to return to the part. The only one of these that ever emerged was Shock Treatment (1981), a satire on TV and mental health which never came anywhere near replicating the cult success of the original and is generally looked down on by Rocky Horror cultists and which I found rather dull in comparison.

2. Rent (2005)

“There will always be women in rubber flirting with me…”

A tale of a group of bohemian friends who make movies, spawn performance art, compose rock songs and fight AIDS while New York rots around. Jonathan Larson’s 1996 pop rock stage adaptation Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La Boheme struck a chord with a generation not already smitten with, or necessarily conversant with, the traditional Broadway musicals.

In translating the musical from stage to screen, director Chris Columbus tried to remain as true to the stage production as possible. The settings were as minimalist as possible, the dream sequences and quirk remained however the increase of spoken dialogue, instead of continuous singing as on stage took something from the movie for me. I really think it could have gotten away with minimal “talking”.

The robust intricate harmonies are amplified with wonderful production qualities and respectful to it’s roots, Columbus employs a cast mostly born from Broadway.

RENT, The movie, much like the play is not for everyone.  Many people won’t care about a group of hedonistic drug addicts and spoilt neophytes and indeed the story is less relevant now than it once was. but it’s cool, ironic, arty and bohemian calling out to an audience are not ashamed of their feelings, it is the rousing shout of “Rent.”

1. Moulin Rouge (2001)

“The difference between you and I is that you can leave anytime you choose. But this is my home.”

“Moulin Rouge” reinvented musical cabaret and reignited the movie world’s  love affair with musicals.

Set in the  dark, fantastical underworld of Paris at the dawn of the 20th Century, Christian (McGregor), a romantic poet finds himself plunged into a passionate but ultimately tragic love affair with Satine (Kidman) a famous courtesan of The Moulin Rouge.

Their romance is played out against the infamous club’s struggle to become a genuine theatre and Harry Zigler’s (Jim Broadbent) rampant obsession with everything electric. This obsession with electricity and modern invention was supposed to have a much greater influence in the movie but was taken out on editing.

Aside from the decent acting, wonderfully fun musical numbers and heartbreaking love story, Moulin Rouge it’s visually spectacular to watch.  While there are few original songs in the movie, Lurhman relies on medleys of well known pop/rock songs the best example of which is in The Elephant Love Medley.

The show must go on!

Honourable Mentions: Reefer Madness, Labrynth, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Jesus Christ Super Star (If we were talking about stage productions, this would be in my top 5), Bugsy Malone, Grease, Grease 2 (It has Michelle Pfeiffer in it), Sweeney Todd, Little Shop Of Horrors, The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and The Beast (I know we said ‘No’ to cartoon musicals but this is one of my favourites), My Fair Lady, Enchanted, Mary Poppins,West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof.

Darren’s Top Five Movie Musicals

5. Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

“I’m the monster. I’m the villain. What perfection. What precision! Keen incisions, I deliver. Unscathed organs, I deliver. Repossession, I deliver. I’m the Repo! Legal assassin!”

Repo! The Genetic OperaThe films that Repo! beat to fifth place, I’ve actually seen far more often than Repo! itself – The Wizard of Oz, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Across the Universe and Bugsy Malone – but Repo’s originality and no fear attitude to the genre makes it the superior film in my view. The music throughout is epic too – from the huge rock opera numbers  of At the Opera Tonight and Zydrate Anatomy to the gentle but no less gripping I Didn’t Know I’d Love You So Much, the music is flawless. And then there’s the storyline – set in the future where organs are bought on credit, those who can’t pay are visited by the Repo Man. It’s bloody, gruesome and even scary.  Starring Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Brighman, Paul Sorvino and a not-awful Paris Hilton, it’s more than just an item of curiosity. If you haven’t seen it, please go buy this now on DVD.

4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

“And crawling, on the planet’s face, some insects, called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space… and meaning.”

I was introduced to Rocky Horror about the same time as I discovered Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph. I never saw it as being particularly controversial or questionable. At the same sitting I would listen to Gethsemene, followed by Potiphar, followed by Sweet Transvestite. I loved it all. The unifying thing was that all these different stories were being told through a wonderful medium that I was just being introduced to at the time – the musical.

Rocky Horror is different though – it has a following that no other musical seems to have. The dedicated fans dress up, participate and re-enact the whole film. It’s not just a musical, it’s a way of life for some. Granted, I was never sucked in to all of that side of it, but I still adore the music and the delicious campness of Curry’s Frank N Furter, O’Brien’s Riff Raff and Meatloaf’s half-brained Eddie.

3. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

“If you wanna be profound, if you really gotta justify, take a breath and look around, a lot of folks deserve to die!”

As much as Rocky Horror sends up the B-Movie genre, Little Shop is a delightful homage to it. It’s one of those perfect movies, where I wouldn’t change a beat – every song, every piece of hilarious dialogue, every bit of OTT hamminess from Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin and Bill Murray (what a brilliant cameo) fit together to create a classic.

And then there’s the plant – at times it took 40 puppeteers to make it work. In one of the best scenes from it, where AudreyII and Seymore sing Feed Me! it was recorded in slow motion, with Rick Moranis reciting his lines at less than half speed, then sped up in the editing room to create the flawless lip movements in the plant. The technical aspects of this film are only matched by the wonderful doo-wop motown songs twisted to perfection. Suppertime, Grow For Me, Mean Green Mother and Somewhere That’s Green are just a small selection from the incredible soundtrack.

Oh, and an interesting point – the film was directed by Miss Piggy. 🙂

2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

“We have a dance in the brothels of Buenos Aires. It tells the story of the prostitute and a man who falls in love with her. First, there is desire. Then, passion. Then, suspicion. Jealousy. Anger. Betrayal. When love is for the highest bidder, there can be no trust. Without trust, there can be no love. Jealousy, yes, jealousy will drive you mad.”

The first night we saw this, we went straight back to the cinema and watched it a second time. As I watched it, I got shivers of excitement a number of times. It has some of my favourite scenes from the movies – the fantastic Elephant Medley and the awesome Spectacular, Spectacular. It’s sexy, beautiful and heartbreaking, peppered with great comedy throughout.

1. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

“Tell me, Christ, how you feel tonight! Do you plan to put up a fight? Do you feel that you’ve had the breaks? What would you say were your big mistakes? Do you think that you may retire? Did you think you would get much higher? How do you view your coming trial? Have your men proved at all worthwhile?”

Jesus Christ was the film that started my life long affair with musicals. The hippy era style coupled with Lloyd Webbers’ genius songs (Tim Rice helped too) and score had me mesmerised from start to finish and I’ve probably watched the 1973 film more than any other musical. The characters are so varied and interesting to watch and the vocals of Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson as Jesus and Judas are not only gorgeous to listen to, but exude such emotion that it’s easy to buy into the set up.

Gethsemene, the song in which Jesus questions his own resolve and asks God for guidance is probably my favourite song from a musical. But there’s literally no song in the musical that I dislike – from the huge opener, Heaven on Their Minds to the beautiful I Don’t Know How to Love Him, from the hilariously camp Herod’s Song to the distressing Crucifixion.

There’s a remake planned for next year and rather than being upset or annoyed, I’m actually quite excited about it. I’ve seen Jesus Christ in a number of different stage verisons, whether they be amateur productions (both terrific and terrible) or the brilliant revival tour when it came to The Point (I saw it twice). The new movie would just be another version to enjoy or lambaste.

Honourable Mentions: I have to mention Rent. It’s one of my top musicals on stage, but the film version took far too much out, which was very disappointing for me. The version that ended up on screen however is still brilliant and worth watching. Similarly, Burton’s Sweeney Todd lacked the grit and atmosphere of the stage version, but was still very exciting and had some great scenes. The same applies to Phantom of the Opera. The classics such as Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma!, High Society, My Fair Lady, etc. were great films, but they were often a bit too ‘staged’. The acting was generally sacrificed in favour of the spectacle numbers, which is a shame. I’d love to see a revival of a number of them with a modern spin. I’d also recommend De-Lovely, Enchanted and Chicago.

So, let’s hear your favourites? Are you annoyed at the lack of films from the Golden Era? Do you feel the crowd pleasing Mamma Mia! and Hairspray should be here? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author

The couple that blogs together, stays together. Check out here and here for other posts by Darren. Click here and here for posts by Lottie.

9 Responses to Two Sheets To The Wind: Top Five Musicals

  1. Emlyn says:

    ‘Moulin Rouge’ got me excited about musicals again. A lot of people I know who hate the movie always complain about the simplistic plot…but it’s a musical about love! Plain and simple! 🙂

    ‘Rocky Horror’ is also a favourite, as is ‘Sweeney Todd’, and ‘Phantom’…which shows my love of gothic too…lol

    ‘Singing In The Rain’ – classic.

  2. Sweary says:

    My smallie is showing an interest in watching musicals, so we sat down with Grease the other day. I was amazed at how bad it was! I remember it being way, way better than that!

    Sound of Music has to be up there, as does Annie … just for the nostalgia. As kids we ADORED both, but only used to watch the first hour of Sound Of Music, where you get all the great songs and none of the gooey love story.

    Having said that, I still think Captain Von Trapp is a fox.

  3. Peter says:

    Great post as always.

    But unfortunatley my least favourite genre of all time!

    So my favourite musical must be: I Hate Musicals (2007). Its all or 20 mins long but thats as much as I could handle!

  4. Emlyn says:

    @ Pete – not even Evil Dead – The Musical?

    It exists!

  5. Annie says:

    I am a giant cheeseball when it comes to musicals so my top five would have to be:

    Mamma Mia (just for the funness of it – don’t judge!)
    Mary Poppins
    Sound of Music

    Very honourable mentions go to Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and My Fair Lady.

    Have you guys done a top 5 ‘dance’ movies yet?

  6. fergal says:

    For sheer madness you have to see R Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet.The fact that the guy takes it so seriously makes it doubly hilarious.The South Park pisstake is worth a look as well.

  7. Lottie says:

    @Peter – Boo hiss!

    @Fergal – I saw that a few years ago. It’s just so bizarre. Really, really BIZARRE!

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