Moviegeek5: From Musical Stage to Silver Screen
Ever since sound was added to film, the musical has been there, beginning with the very first “talkie” The Jazz Singer (1927) and during the 1930, 1940s, and 1950s the genre enjoyed its greatest public success, producing countless classic films. The musical made stars of people like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Top Hat, 1935) and relatively quickly achieved critical success with films such as The Wizard of Oz (1939). After its first decline, the genre became less bankable, but studios continued to make great musical production from time to time, including titles like West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), and Mary Poppins (1964). During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, now classics of the genre continued to appear, but to a much lesser degree than early, and musicals continue to be relatively rare but great big production can still draw big crowds and critical acclaim, especially in animated form; think of Disney’s extremely successful musical Frozen (2013).
Film musicals come from many sources, be it directly from original stories, from other movies, from the back catalogue of pop and rock music, or completely original. However, the biggest source continues to be stage musicals.
There are countless examples, but below we have selected five examples of screen adaptations of stage musicals done well.
Check out the list below and let us know in the comments below what you think. What is your favourite stage to screen musical adaptation?
The Sound of Music (1965)
Of the many musicals made in the final great decade of film musicals, The Sound of Music is probably the one lodged most securely in the collective memory and a favourite of many (myself included). Inspired by the true story of a young woman who leaves a convent to act as governess to the seven children of a widowed captain in 1930s Austria. Set in the picturesque Austrian Alps and with the backdrop of the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938. Filled with wonderful and catching tunes and anchored by a central love story apt to melt your heart this is a musical classic must-see.
This 1970s classic set in the early days of youth culture in 1950s America manages the feat of being a classic of both eras. Starring the bedazzling pair John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever, 1977) and Olivia Newton-John (Xanadu, 1980) as the local cool kid and the new kid in school who fall helplessly in love the film is filled with innocent gang action, teenage gossip, high school drama, lots of dancing and remains on of the best high school films in movie history. With a soundtrack to die for, entertaining (and sometimes goofy) scenography and actors with voices to match the great tunes, Grease is a musical classic of the sort that are too few and too far between.
Many were all but ready to announce the death of the big budget film musical when Rob Marshall’s (Into the Woods, 2014) great adaptation of this popular Broadway musical opened in theatres. The film made unlikely musical stars of John C. Reilly, Renée Zellweger, and Richard Gere as well as brought out the roaring singing talents of Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages, 2012). Set in 1920s the film revolves around Roxie Hart, a wannabe singer who stands trial for killing her deceitful lover, the film is a wonderful mix of reality and fantastical musical number playing out in a women’s prison and in the court room. With beautiful production design and talent both in front of and behind the camera, Chicago earned well-deserved 6 Oscars.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
When talking of stage musicals in recent decades, the name Andrew Lloyd-Webber is one that inevitably finds its way into the conversation. This highly gothic and very lush musical is one of his most popular musicals, and while rarely mentioned among the greats, it actually got an excellent movie adaptation in 2004. Starring Gerard Butler as the eponymous phantom running the Paris opera from the ancient caves underneath, the film made a bold choice to cast the rough voiced actor in a role usual held by technically astute tenors. This played well into the sexual undertones running underneath this romance set in the Parisian gilded age. Filled with beautiful music, breathtaking sets, and an almost melancholic opulence The Phantom of the Opera is a must-see for fans of everything gothic.
Les Misérables (2012)
The musical returns in style to the Oscars with Tom Hooper’s adaptation of this seminal French musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Beautiful to look at and endlessly moving, Hooper made the choice to record all singing live during filming, giving the performances a vibrant immediacy ans well as freeing the film of the constraints of pre-recorded and fine-tuned performances. The film is cleverly cast with people who excel at both singing and acting, including Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, and last but not least Anne Hathaway, who walked away with an Oscar for her short but essential performance as Fantine. With hardly any dialogue, the film is 2½ hours of some of the very best musical tunes and one heck of a great story.