Honestly, there's no telling you just how many times I've watched 'Centre Stage'. And while it's not technically a "musical", I'm personally extending the definition because it does have a lot of music and instead of singing there's dancing... incredible dancing! Unrealistic dancing! And also Zoe Saldana before anyone knew who she was, in a sea of actual
ballet dancers pretending they can act. It's glorious! Glorious, I tells you! And what's more; if you like this one there are not one but two
more deliciously atrocious straight-to-DVD sequels for you to track down. Yay!
'CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL'
In 1993, long before there was 'South Park' or 'Team America: World Police', Trey Parker directed, wrote, and co-scored the black comedy musical film, 'Cannibal! The Musical', while studying at the University of Colorado. The film is loosely based on the true story of Alferd Packer, the only person convicted of cannibalism in America. Looking to seek their fortune in the Colorado territory, a group of miners follow fellow gold rusher Packer deep into the Rocky Mountains. Along the way, they run into a band of trappers who steal Packer's prized pony, Liane. A stop-off at a local Ute Indian Reservation provides a last chance at avoiding tragedy, but Packer will not be persuaded. Cannibalism ensues and only Packer escapes. When pressed, he tells a wild tale of murder, mayhem, and massive helpings of man meat. Filled with dumb jokes, unprofessional performances, lapses in taste and tone, gore, infectious music (highlights include 'When I Was on Top of You', a song about a cowboy's love for his horse that Parker wrote after discovering his fiancée with another man), it is a movie made for a specific mindset. It's pretty great! Parker understands the strange dynamic of having characters break out into song and plays on that unreal magic magnificently. Troma Entertainment has made 'Cannibal! The Musical' freely available on its YouTube channel below.
CHARLIE DAVID PAGE
This is one of the first musicals I remember seeing, and boy, what a doozy it is. Taking Charles Dickens' classic novel and running very loosely with it, this classic takes our titular orphan (Mark Lester) and sets him amongst a gang of pickpockets led by the persuasive Fagin (Ron Moody), which leaves him longing for a better life. Almost every tune here is a bona fide classic, from the opening 'Food Glorious Food' to the epic 'Consider Yourself', from Fagin's 'You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two' or 'Be Back Soon' to Nancy's (Shani Wallis) risqué 'Oom-Pam-Pah' to the grand 'Who Will Buy'. With stunning performances from the adult cast as well as its younger ensemble, the scale of this musical is something of another age. It's such an impressive musical it still regularly appears on the stage; I saw it a few years ago on the West End and even as an adult, it's still a marvel. There's a very good reason the film won five Oscars.
'WEST SIDE STORY'
A tale of star-crossed lovers, adapted from the Broadway musical, itself an adaption of 'Romeo and Juliet'. Rival gangs in New York City, the Jets and Sharks, are engrossed in ever-growing tensions, which builds towards tragedy as Tony and Maria, two young romantics, fall in love from opposing sides. It's not an unfamiliar story, but don't hold that against this musical masterpiece. Since you're here to discover a musical, it would be remiss not to discuss the music itself. A Bernstein and Sondheim collaboration, it is a brilliant showcase in how the structure of music can influence and foreshadow the narrative. The songs and score are not only catchy and memorable but develop the plot and the characters whilst bringing electricity to the conflict. Unlike 'Romeo and Juliet' which focusses on the romance, 'West Side Story' chooses to hone in on the hate and racial tensions, which crucially have no resolution. It's the same story, but the sad, bitter pill to swallow at its conclusion feels completely different. In preparation for Spielberg's new adaption, currently due for release December 2020, I highly recommend revisiting this classic.
A mere paragraph is not nearly enough space to discuss the love I have for 'Sing Street'. Very few films exist that are so full of joy and life that even though they can delve into darker and more mature issues, they never do so at the expense of creating a feelgood experience. 'Sing Street' has a simple premise - a boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, TV's 'Vikings') in the 80s begins a band with his friends to impress his crush (Lucy Boynton, 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
) - but it never feels like previously tread ground. It also boasts an incredibly catchy 80s-inspired soundtrack that is sure to be stuck in your head for weeks. Director John Carney ('Begin Again'
, 'Once') has a knack for building worlds that wouldn't shine nearly as brightly without music, and 'Sing Street' is perhaps his most joyous film to date.READ OUR REVIEW
'A STAR IS BORN'
There have now been five versions of this foundational Hollywood myth, of the fall of the old to make way for the ascent of the new, but none have the emotional scope or raw power of the 1954 version. It finds a balance between the stories of Esther (Judy Garland) and Norman (James Mason), giving each character the attention needed for the film to work, making it about them together rather than one over the other, and the results are overwhelming - not just because of its considerable length but in how emotionally uncompromising it is, moments that make your stomach lurch. Mason's performance is a devastating portrait of collapse, and Garland, hopeful and heartbroken, is jaw-dropping in every scene - her breakdown in the final act is one of the great moments of Hollywood cinema. Coupled with terrific musical numbers (including the titanic 'The Man That Got Away') and fabulous direction from George Cukor, this is the best version of the 'Star is Born' myth and a flawed but fabulous musical classic.
CHRIS DOS SANTOS
'MARY POPPINS RETURNS'
To do a sequel to a film as precious as Disney's 1964 'Mary Poppins' is risky, and in the wrong hands could have been a mess. Thankfully, the nanny with the flying umbrellas return was given to Mr Rob Marshall and the title role was given to love of my life, Emily Blunt. 'Mary Poppins Returns' is a downright success, and a perfect follow-up to the original film. Where it lacks is the modern three-act story structure, but everything else is (as they would say) supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Blunt shines as Poppins - she was born for this role, having the sass and heart of Andrews while completely making her own. The music shines; 'Trip a Little Light Fantastic' is one of the best musical numbers of the 21st century, and it's just downright fun. Unlike other modern Disney live-action ventures, the fan service feels completely natural and not shoved down your throat. It's a welcome trip back to Cherry Tree Lane that's not a constant reminder of the other film, like a lot of their movies tend to be. This film feels kind of slept on, and now is the perfect time to venture again into the world of everyone's favourite nanny.READ OUR REVIEW
'Moulin Rouge' is the cocktail of musicals. It's all the ingredients of a spectacle - costumes, music, cast, effects, glitter - shaken together and poured out into a classy crystal class. Baz Luhrmann has a flair for taking old stories and making them into an entirely different experience - hell, just look at 'The Great Gatsby'
or 'Romeo + Juliet'
. 'Moulin Rouge' is no different. It's a tale we've all heard before - man falls in love with sex worker - OMG what are they going to do?! The obvious answer here is sing 'Roxanne' by The Police. What's fantastic about this jukebox extravaganza is Luhrmann really doesn't hold back. The songs are anthems, the editing is whacky, Catherine Martin nails the costume game (she did win Oscars), and Ewan McGregor makes you also want to sing in a rain pour of glitter at the top of Paris. It's fantasy crossed with party mixed in with a little flared drama. Better yet, it's about the greatest thing you'll ever learn - to love
. This movie is a guaranteed two hours of wow! Enjoy!
Beyoncé. Jennifer Hudson.
As much as I wanted this to just be a two-word suggestion, as their names are enough (or should be), I wasn't allowed. You've got disco, you've got drama, and you've got some of the best-known musical songs of all time. What more could you want? If the answer was "nothing more", then look no further than 'Dreamgirls'. While the film is a slightly adjusted version of the show, it's still very enjoyable and less of a direct stage-to-screen adaption than the likes of 'Chicago'.
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