On Friday night, I watched the movie adaptation of the musical Cats. A great deal of the Internet has already made fun of this psychedelic oddity of a film adaptation, but I actually kind of loved it. I think it was a pretty decent stage adaptation, despite Taylor Swift adding a new song to it for some reason. It definitely had some oddities, like some of the cats having sneakers or tap shoes or even fur coats, which is a weird thing for a cat to wear. Here are a couple of choice Twitter post observations, before we move on:
Getting back to my original point- I was always going to love the Cats movie, because I’m an unapologetic musical theater geek. Always have been, and always will be. I’ve been listening to (and occasionally seeing) musicals for as long as I’ve been aware of them. I saw A Chorus Line at the end of its decade-busting run at the Schubert in New York City back in the 80s. I’ve seen Wicked enough times and in so many different cities that I’ve actually lost count. I’ve been a season subscriber to local theaters a few times now, and it’s a wonder that I didn’t major in musical theatre.
There are a LOT of stage musicals that have been made into movies. Don’t believe me? Go look up “movies of musicals” on Google. I’m not going to cover even a fraction of them here, just a few that have my attention right now. I’m also leaving out musical movies that were not originally stage shows at all, such as The Greatest Showman – that’s an entirely different post.
I’m sure that everyone who leaves a comment on this post will have some thoughts about musicals I’ve missed. Here are my thoughts on a few of them.
Little Shop Of Horrors
I love Little Shop. This has long been one of my all-time favorite musicals. So much so that I own three different variants of the soundtrack- the movie, the original broadway, and the recent revival. I even saw this in German while I was in Germany- hearing the same songs with lyrics auf Deutsch was fascinating.
The movie adaptation of Little Shop committed two sins, though. The first sin: It added a song to the movie that wasn’t in the stage show. This wasn’t too bad though, because the song was “Mean Green Mother,” which is hilarious and fun. The other sin, the more egregious mortal sin, is that the movie was unnecessarily given a happy ending when the stage show (and the original Jack Nicholson black and white movie, for that matter) don’t have happy endings. Still, this is a great movie adaptation. Plus, it has a bonus fun bit with Bill Murray that is entirely pointless, but still great fun.
West Side Story and Guys and Dolls
I can’t ignore the older musical movies – I love many of the “classic” movie musicals, and there are a great many: Kismet, Bells Are Ringing, My Fair Lady, and two of my long-time favorites, West Side Story and Guys and Dolls.
West Side Story is such a delight that I can’t even relate the sheer number of times that it’s filtered into other pop culture or been an integral part of a joke. Plus this musical is why all the gangstas in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video were such accomplished dancers.
As for Guys and Dolls, the movie is 65 years old but it still holds up, with Brando, Sinatra, and a fantastic supporting cast. Stubby Kaye sings one of my favorite songs from the entire musical:
A Chorus Line: The Movie
A Chorus Line is so very, very, very dated. The original stage show holds up much better because it gets occasionally updated. The movie version, on the other hand, is pure 1985 cheese with regard to instrumentation, arrangement, and dancing styles. Add to that the venial sin of adding a song that isn’t in the original stage show, and you have a movie that is absolutely terrible. The added song is so ear-wormy that it quickly became my favorite song in the movie, despite my previous complaints about movie-musicals that add a song just for the movie. I’m fickle and complicated; sue me.
Phantom Of The Opera
I wanted to love this because the stage show is amazing. The movie got the look spot on- the staging, the costumes, the orchestration- everything was perfect. Except for Gerard Butler. Why did they have to cast someone as the Phantom who makes me want to stick needles in my ears every time he opens his mouth? This musical movie adaptation would have been perfect if Butler had never opened his trap.
My only complaint about the movie adaptation of Rent is that the stage show has some grit to it, and the movie is so polished that it felt like an MTV video of the stage show. They get bonus points for pulling in many of the original Broadway cast actors for this one, and when they did bring in new talent, it was a good fit. Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms both did really excellent jobs with their songs, and I have no complaints.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
When I saw that they were making a movie of this, I was ecstatic. Then I saw they were casting Johnny Depp as Sweeney and I was distraught. I love Avenue Q. I adore Wicked. But Sweeney Todd may be my all-time favorite musical. Especially the original Len Cariou/Angela Lansbury version. (Bonus geek trivia: Len Cariou, the original Sweeney, played Janeway’s father in one episode of Star Trek: Voyager. True story.) I love Sweeney Todd so much that I was horrified at what might happen with Depp in the lead. I wasn’t sure if he could sing, and it reeked of stunt casting.
I had nothing to fear though- I was in the audience opening weekend, and my row-mates actually caught me squeeing a number of times- Depp and Helena Bonham Carter both did an amazing job. And I found, to my delight, that this was the single best movie adaptation of a musical I had yet seen. It was faithful enough to the stage show that I didn’t feel like it was needlessly truncated, and the entirety of it was pitch-perfect in every way. Pun only mildly intended.
It’s also the only time I’ve seen Sacha Baron Cohen in any role without getting irrationally snarky and irritated. Make of that what you will.
This one made me very, very happy.
Into The Woods
The wonderful job they did setting this one to film made me very happy, and it gave me optimism that they will eventually do a good film adaptation of Wicked, since both have a similarly fantastical world to set up. Into The Woods had an all-star cast, and I’ll even forgive them for letting Meryl Streep get away with talk-singing her way through most of her bits instead of really singing. Honestly, I still think they should have just gotten Bernadette Peters to reprise her stage role for the film. I know she was 65 when they made this movie, but she looks younger than me. She would have been perfect. Even with that newbie Meryl in the role of the Witch, the movie version of this show was incredibly well done.
Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to mention a bit about the reverse- movies that have become stage shows, against all odds and better judgement. Especially since many of these were not musicals to begin with. Turning non-musical movies into musicals has been a big trend lately, with Mean Girls and Legally Blonde both becoming really popular as stage musicals.
I’m completely ignoring all the Disney broadway adaptations. They’re usually pretty good, and they find little ways to improve on the original cartoon versions, but I still feel like a Disney Broadway show based on a cartoon musical is a bit of a cheat.
I’m also disregarding Spamalot, because although it’s mostly Holy Grail, it goes way off track in bizarre ways. I’m just going to talk about four here:
This had great potential to be wonderful. I love the original film it was based on. Regrettably, they really changed the tone and style of the music to make it a stage show, and they camped it up even more than the original movie. I wanted to love this, but I find myself only mildly digging it. Alas.
Heathers: The Musical
I absolutely love this one. I appreciate how much of the original score was incorporated into the original music for this one. The original cast recording’s Barrett Wilbert Weed does a great job of sounding like Winona Ryder while still also making the role entirely her own. (She went on to grab a part in the Mean Girls musical after this.). Ultimately, Heathers: The Musical does the thing that every musical WANTS to do: it gets stuck in your head and has you humming the songs after you’ve left the theater.
Evil Dead: The Musical
Evil Dead: The Musical is really brilliant. I still haven’t ever managed to see a live show of it, but I very much want to. With song titles like “Do The Necronomicon,” “What the Fuck Was That,” “Boomstick,” and “Blew That Bitch Away,” how could you not love this?
Silence! (The Silence Of The Lambs Musical)
Yes. They really made a musical out of this. Last time I looked into it, Silence! was just a concept album really, but since then it’s been performed numerous times in different cities. It’s kind of amazing and kind of hilarious… The music is a lot of fun.
…and last, but not least…
The Last Starfighter
I wish I’d been able to fly to New York to see this when it was open. It’s only been done in short bursts, but that’s probably a good thing. I love the original movie- it’s a huge part of my childhood. This musical…. well, it disappoints in almost every conceivable way. I actually bought the soundtrack to the musical with high hopes, and they were shattered on the very first listen. They didn’t even try to work in Craig Safan’s amazing score. This is honestly completely terrible, but I still really want to see it someday.
As you can imagine, I could have written pages and pages more about musicals in film or films that have become musicals, but I had to stop somewhere.
What are some of your favorite musicals, whether they be on stage or on the silver screen?