I admit it: I love musicals. And I would scream it from the rooftops. I just think they are marvellous and uplifting. But I really understand some people’s aversion to musicals. It may seem silly to see people singing and dancing in the rain for seemingly no reason at all. But what’s so wrong with a little spontaneous expression of joy?
But I think the outright refusal to watch any sort of musical is a little sad – and also a little absurd, almost like saying “I don’t like books” or “I don’t like cake”. Just like books and cake, there are a variety of musicals out there, and almost certainly there is one for everyone – even those ‘too cool’ to be ‘seen dead’ watching one.
Now, let’s try to find a musical to tickle your (ear) tastebuds…
Set in the centre of Dublin, two buskers meet on Grafton Street and make music together. It is as simple as that. All of the songs are interwoven into the plot, so it is cleverly disguised. This is a charming and witty modern day musical helped along by Glen Hansard’s hauntingly beautiful songwriting. Once is an unpretentious, unassuming look at the struggles of two very different musicians. The magnificent acting carries the film and you cannot help but be touched by its tragedy.
The Producers (2005)
This musical makes a mockery of the musical industry. It is hilarious; it is ridiculous; it is fabulous. Leopold Bloom and Max Bialystock meet under strange circumstances and decide to write a musical that would become a flop in order to claim insurance money. They put on ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind’s Springtime for Hitler – the most offensive and terrible play ever written. Scantily clad women in SS uniforms march around, forming a swastika. Meanwhile, Bialystock sleeps with the female octogenarian population of Manhattan. As bizarre and outrageous as it sounds, it is a must-see.
Bugsy Malone (1976)
A weird and wonderful take on prohibition. Shootings, theft and prostitution – forget Gatsby, Bugsy Malone has it all. It is not just a children’s movie and it is not just a musical. Thirteen year-old Jodie Foster sings: “If you’re lonely, you don’t have to be lonely / When they talk about Tallulah, you know what they say / No one south of Heaven’s gonna treat you finer / Tallulah had her training in North Carolina.” The film certainly oversteps the line. Yet, the innocent acting of these children turns something that could have gone so wrong into a timeless, multi-layered comedy.
West Side Story (1961)
Two opposing groups, two beautiful young people; their eyes meet across the room and they fall in love. Sound familiar? West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet. Set in 1950s New York, the Jets and Sharks detest each other. But can young lovers bring them together? Well, not really – but we still love Shakespeare, even if we don’t like musicals. We all know the ending, but the fight-dance routines just make this classic tale so darned cool.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
In 2006, the American Film Institute named Singin’ in the Rain the number one greatest movie musical of all time. Don’t let this put you off! This film is a work of cinematic genius, a musical in its purest form. It is a look back at the transition from silent movies to talkies in the 1920s. As a movie about the movie industry, it does not take itself too seriously. The film has achieved legendary status. One myth is that the rain used in the most famous dance scene, apparently performed by Gene Kelly in one take, was actually milk. Another is that Kelly made his co-star Debbie Reynolds cry because her dancing was not good enough. This film has not only the greatest choreography but also one of the funniest scenes in any film – when Donald O’Connor performs ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’. I challenge anyone not to like this musical.