Top 5 musical films

The problem with lists is that it’s tough to decide what makes the cut, and there are so many musical films I love so picking and ordering just 5 was really difficult. The only thing I knew for certain was what would take the top spot. West Side Story feels like it should be on the list, but I swapped it out as I prefer the stage show to the film, and this post is all about the films. Likewise Les Miserables. Honourable mention goes to Sweeney Todd, which I enjoy as a Tim Burton and Alan Rickman fan, but wish the singing was stronger. And the Blues Brothers – which I just don’t quite see as a musical, rather a film with songs – albeit brilliant ones.


5. Chicago
Catherine Zeta Jones is excellent – her voice and dancing are brilliant and she has the best facial expressions for Velma. I didn’t know Queen Latifah until this film, but she was a revelation, and the ensemble is incredible. I could watch the Cell Block Tango on repeat for hours, and there are so many strong numbers. It loses points for cutting out Class, and I would maybe have preferred true Broadway performers to Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger, but they’re both pretty good really. All in all, a solid film that deserved its Oscars – and I prefer it to the stage show.


4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
If you haven’t seen it, just watch it. John Cameron Mitchell’s story of a transgender punk rock girl telling her tale through songs as she tours dive bars, while she also follows her ex who stole her songs as he performs to huge sell out crowds. It’s funny, it’s heart breaking, it’s uplifting, it’s truly unique. And the music is excellent. We saw it on Broadway a couple of years ago with Michael C. Hall in the title role, and he was unbelievably good – perhaps a stronger singer than Mitchell – but the film is different and also brilliant, making the most of the benefits of film by adding in flashbacks and shooting on location.


3. Fiddler on the Roof
As I said before when I reviewed Fiddler on Broadway, I’ve loved this show since I played Shprintze in my local amdram’s production some 20 years ago, so it’s no real surprise that it turns up on this list. The songs are so flipping catchy. And some of the dialogue is hilarious – mostly thanks to Topol’s performance as Tevye. Oh and Starsky or Hutch is in it. The second half takes a real dive as life in Anatevka starts to look less and less stable, and Tevye tries to hold on to tradition, but he and his daughters drift further apart both emotionally and geographically, but there are still some cracking funny lines and moments of levity in there. It takes you through the full run of emotions and you come out the other side feeling pretty battered, but it’s worth every tear.


2. Singin’ in the Rain 
Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor is just the most incredible combination. This is classic entertainment from the golden age with amazing dancing from the main cast. The songs (Make Em Laugh, Good Morning, Moses Supposes…), the dancing, the comedy – it’s just unbeatable in pretty much every respect. The only negative is that it’s a little longer than it needs to be, with a couple of set pieces that are superfluous to the narrative, but it redeems itself with all that glorious tapping.

And the winner is…


In my opinion, completely unequalled. Liza Minnelli was born to play Sally Bowles – she’s a much bigger part in the film than the original story or play, which focus on Brian and Emcee respectively – and Joel Gray is a marvel. The story goes that when Liza Minnelli won her Oscar, she took her dad as her date and after she won he said that if Joel Gray didn’t win one too, she’d have to give hers back as he was better than her.  Combine great performances with Fosse’s choreography, some of the best show tunes ever written, dark comedy and the brooding, dangerous atmosphere of 30s Berlin, and you have a film that really does have it all.


Fiddler on the Roof – Friday 30th December (matinee)

I have a long and rather complicated relationship with Fiddler on the Roof, having played Shprintze in my local amdram production some 20 years ago – she’s the daughter that goes on to commit suicide in the original story. Cheery stuff.

But it’s a show I’ve always loved – the first half full of the catchy tunes and big chorus numbers, the second half rather more melancholy but with some real moments of beauty and humour. 

So with Jesse Kovarsky – whom my chums and I first discovered in The Drowned Man, where he played Marshall and the Grocer – in the titular role, we knew we had to go see it. Ally and I headed to Times Square, purchased a couple of tickets for the matinee and set ourselves down for two hours of joy and pain. The production was good, but where it really excelled was the dancing – the choreography was traditional, but somehow modern. And with dancers like Jesse and Marla Phelan (also of Punchdrunk), there were some truly electric moments. I particularly enjoyed the little girl in the queue for the restroom telling her mum that her favourite dancer was the Fiddler, but that there was another dancer, a shorter one with a big bushy beard, that she also really liked. She may have been young – I’d guess about 7 – but she clearly had a keen eye, as both her favourites were Jesse.

The other thing the production did really well, was extract every drop of humour from the script – even with the inevitable sadness of the second half, there were plenty of laughs to be had. If I’m being really picky, I didn’t love Tzeitel – her singing wasn’t as strong as Hodel or Chava’s, and I didn’t believe her chemistry with Motel really. And I guess I found Perchik a little too crazy and angry, but I’m nitpicking.

The production has now closed, but if it hadn’t, I’d highly recommend it.