Musicals are alive and well on our local community stages this summer from Prattville’s Way Off Broadway Theatre production of Oklahoma! and the Millbrook Community Players’ presentation of Hello, Dolly! to Wetumpka Depot Players’ premiere of Big Fish the Musical. You will find these tuneful productions as popular fare, especially at this time of year. With this in mind, let’s salute some great musicals of the silver screen.
The last time I wrote specifically about musicals for Elmore County Living was back in 2015. Since that time, musicals have continued to gain in popularity, and audiences have been charmed with some of the following cinematic treats.
La La Land (2016) – With star power galore Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this musical love story set in Los Angeles delighted critics and audiences alike and also took home a carload of Oscars.
The Greatest Showman (2017) – One year later, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Academy Award-winning songwriting team from La La Land, again struck box office gold with this captivating P. T. Barnum extravaganza, featuring the dream cast of Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya.
Musicals about Musicians
A Star is Born (2018) – Producer/director Bradley Cooper joined forces with music icon Lady Gaga to bring this third remake of the original 1937 film to the screen. Their efforts created one of the biggest hits of the year and produced the Oscar-winning song Shallow, an electrifying tune that Cooper and Gaga performed live before a spellbound audience at this year’s Academy Awards.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) – Rami Malek won an Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the British rock band Queen, in this smash hit biographical film.
Moana (2016) – Audiences adored this computer-animated treat, featuring The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) as one of the vocal leads. The film’s songs were co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the same guy who is responsible for the wildly successful musical, Hamilton,which continues to take Broadway by storm.
Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Few could resist this Disney live-action gem based on the beloved 1991 animated film and featuring an impeccable ensemble cast, including Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline and Emma Thompson.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018) – Though this sequel to 1964’sMary Poppins represents one of the longest gaps to a follow-up in film history, this fact did not deter audiences and critics from entirely surrendering to its multiple charms – most notably, stars Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Meryl Streep.
An American in Paris (1951) – The unbeatable combination of Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, director Vincente Minnelli, scriptwriter Alan Jay Lerner and music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin created an indelible masterpiece that also has become a smash hit Broadway musical garnering a new generation of fans.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and starring Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, this film is generally regarded as one of the best musicals ever made.
The King and I (1956) – 20th Century Fox released this sumptuous Oscar and Hammerstein musical, featuring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. This is yet another classic that has returned to Broadway in the last few years.
West Side Story (1961) – An adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name – and inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – this film stars Natalie Wood and is the record-holder for the most Oscar wins for a movie musical. Have you heard the big news? Yes, Steven Spielberg is re-making this iconic musical.
Mary Poppins (1964) – This wondrous Disney musical has it all: Oscar-winner Julie Andrews; songs written and composed by the Sherman Brothers; and an incomparable cast, including Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns.
My Fair Lady (1964) – A film adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe stage musical of the same name, featuring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, this treasure won eight Academy Awards – including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director.
The Sound of Music (1965) – Multiple Academy Award-winner (including Best Picture) and one of the highest-grossing and most beloved movie musicals of all time. Nearing the 54th anniversary of its original release, its continued popularity reminds us all that, indeed, the hills are still vividly alive with The Sound of Music.
Funny Girl (1968) – The movie musical that launched Barbra Streisand into the stratosphere is loosely based on the life and career of Broadway and film actress Fanny Brice and her stormy relationship with gambler Nicky Arnstein.
Oliver! (1968) – Based on Charles Dickens’ novel and helmed by famed director Carol Reed, this entertaining musical took home six Oscars, including Best Picture.
Cabaret (1972) – Electrifying Oscar-winning performances by Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey form the center of director Bob Fosse’s masterful musical film set in Berlin in 1931.
Grease (1978) – Celebrating life in a 1950s high school and starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, this critical and box office success features a catchy record-breaking soundtrack that is still wildly popular today.
All That Jazz (1979) – Bob Fosse created and directed this semi-autobiographical fantasy based on aspects of his life and career as a dancer, choreographer and director. Dazzling and unforgettable! Don’t miss the mini-series Fosse/Verdon (currently playing on FX), for a mesmerizing portrait of this artistic genius.
So, there you have it: some current screen musical releases and some enduring classics. Fans of movie musicals will be delighted to learn that countless musical films are on the way to the multiplex as early as this summer: The Lion King, Rocketman. And in the years ahead: Cats, Frozen 2 and Wicked.
Until next month…
Dr. Jeff Langham is State Assistant Superintendent for External and Governmental Affairs and a lifelong lover of film.