I was surprised and elated by the great response to last week’s Gypsy Super Album! I’ll do another one again soon, but in the meantime, the lack of the movie cast recording on the super album got me thinking not only about those movie musicals that are worse than their Broadway originals (a subject about which I’ve written extensively), but also those musicals which are better. So, without stepping on too many toes (I hope), here is a list of 5(ish) movie musicals that I think improved on their source material.
5.) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: Maybe Gentlemen Prefer Blondes shouldn’t count, since the movie is so different from the stage musical. Because of Hays Code restrictions, 20th Century Fox basically tossed the entire plot out and rewrote it. Also, this was supposed to be in part a Jane Russell vehicle, so her part was expanded to include as many musical numbers as Monroe (who was less famous at the time). My fellow Carol Channing fans may hate me for saying it, but I prefer the movie. Fun fact, though: Megan Hilty (of Smash fame) did a brief Encore performance of the stage play, of which you can find a recording on Spotify. It’s great.
4.) Little Shop Of Horrors/The Rocky Horror Picture Show: I’m lumping these two together because their reasons for being are so similar. Both are send ups to B horror movies from the 1950s, and thus, though both were great stage plays, both work better as B+ horror movie musicals. Plus, with a slightly larger budget, they could include pieces like a fully animatronic Audrey II or a swimming pool with the Sistine Chapel painted on the bottom. Also, both are just really weird (in a good way).
3.) The Sound of Music: In many ways, The Sound of Music was made to be a movie. Mary Martin belting out that the hills are alive next to a fake evergreen doesn’t have half the impact of Julie Andrews doing the same in the middle of an open meadow on an actual hill. The movie works so well in part because it explores its Austrian locations so thoroughly. In fact, the town where The Sound Of Music was shot now does location tours, so it’s picturesque and dorky!
2.) West Side Story: The only way to improve on Jerome Robbins’ incredible choreography is to give it incredible cinematography to match. For one of the best examples of musical movie making, watch “The Prologue.” It is exciting, dynamic, and perfectly orchestrated as the camera and the dancers duck and weave through the streets of New York.
1.) Cabaret: This is an example of a movie musical that became so iconic that it actually overshadowed its source material. The stage musical was very different from the movie, not just in casting – Sally Bowles is British – but in choreography, plot, and music. Fosse always put his signature touches on musicals, even ones that were originally not his own. In fact, this Cabaret was so successful that when the show was revived in 1998, musical numbers and choreography were added from the movie.
So, there’s my list. What are your favorite movie musicals? Do you prefer them over their stage counterparts? Post in the comments below!