The good people over at Pajiba put together a collection of their favorite movie musical moments in honor of the amazing Les Miserables trailer. It’s a cool little collection that can’t possibly please everyone. For one thing, there’s no Oliver selection and no one but me sticking up for the show in the comments. Boo.
But I digress. Any excuse to explore some of the lesser viewed movie musicals is a good excuse in my book. Pajiba has the basics covered. Now I’m digging deeper for five lesser known/seen/remembered options that are just as good.
Passing Strange: The Movie (2010)
Is it cheating to include a masterfully filmed presentation of a brilliant Broadway production? I don’t think so. Spike Lee’s labor of love Passing Strange: The Movie even played festivals. Every cut he makes adds to the experience of Stew’s semi-autobiographical rock musical about coming of age through self exploration, self expression, and self destruction serves the story.
Stand Out Moment? “Welcome to Amsterdam/Keys/It’s Alright.” “What’s Inside Is Just a Lie” is fantastic, too, but “Welcome to Amsterdam” captures the full cast, staging, and the raw energy of this brilliant musical.
Lil’ Abner (1959)
Poor Lil’ Abner. It’s gained such a reputation for bad things that are non-issues in the actual movie. The painted backdrops and exaggerated costumes are lifted straight from Al Capp’s colorful Appalachian comic strip. The story is a bit more sophisticated, pulling notes of Cold War paranoia and sexual politics into the sweet little love story of Lil’ Abner and Daisy Mae. The choreography is arguably some of the most athletic and impressive ever captured on film and the cast is extraordinary.
Stand Out Moment? “I’m Past My Prime.” Stubby Kaye singing opposite Leslie Parrish (vocals by Imogene Lynn) singing a two-handed Vaudeville-styled number about being an old maid at 17 years old. It’s such a silly and sweet moment. The “Sadie Hawkins Day (Ballet)” is a brilliant feat of choreography, but this song always brings the house down onscreen or onstage.
An American in Paris (1951)
I’m not afraid to say that An American in Paris is my favorite film musical. I mean, it’s based on an orchestral piece written by George Gershwin. That’s ballsy no matter which way you look at it. Add in a fun story, a great cast, and fantastic songs and you have a fun Hollywood-style musical.
Stand Out Moment? “Our Love is Here to Stay.” A sweet love song between Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, complete with a lovely ballet interlude on the Seine.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
Looking back now, it makes perfect sense that Trey Parker and Matt Stone would turn their hit animated show South Park into a movie musical. Casual filmgoers may have left thinking of the vulgarity and the absurdity of the plot. However, theater fans embraced the film as a brilliant musical. The songs drive the story even in their blatant vulgarity. Anytime is the right time to throw in a fantastic Les Miserables parody and that show becomes a subplot of the larger US/Canadian War in the film.
Stand Out Moment? “La Resistance.” This is the start of the Les Mis parody. It’s brilliant and it foreshadows the fantastic Act I closer of The Book of Mormon, “Man Up,” with its clever megamix approach. Do I need to mention this is NSFW?
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Like I’d skip out on of my favorite movies of all time in this post. Love it or hate it, Hedwig is one of the best movie musicals of the 2000s. It’s right up there with Chicago and Moulin Rouge!, only it’s low budget, dark, and centered on a very unhinged character with the proof that transitioning is not a decision you take lightly.
Stand Out Moment? “Sugar Daddy.” This is the moment that sets everything else in motion in Hedwig. The song is fun and driven by the story, but the audience response and the tension between Yitzak and Hedwig’s approach to heckling is quite impactful. It also plays to the stage show fans familiar with the car wash and audience participation elements.
Can I tell you I’m still mad John Cameron Mitchell is not an Oscar nominee yet? Between this, Shortbus, and Rabbit Hole, something should have stuck. Next time.
What about you? What are you favorite movie musical moments? I’d have included Happiness of the Katakuris but my favorite song still hasn’t been re-uploaded to YouTube or an alternate service. Sound off below.