Hopelessly Devoted to Musicals
If you love the theater, movie musicals can be dicey. For every "Grease" (which actually improved on the stage production), there's a badly botched film that sucks the joy right out of the jazz hands. Just check out this sampling of Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptations, listed in descending order.
1. "The Sound of Music" (1965)
Fewer chanting nuns, more dizzying spins across the Alps: That was the Oscar-winning formula that turned the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic into a glorious, sweeping epic that actually improved on the stage show. Go ahead, we dare you not to cry during "Edelweiss."
2. "Grease" (1978)
Yeah, yeah, we know: Some of the "teenagers" in this flick look like they're eligible for their AARP cards, and we have serious issues with the lesson to be imparted (girls, dress trashy to get your guy!). But never mind: Producers took a silly, campy homage to the '50s and turned it into one of the biggest summer blockbusters of all time. A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!
3. "West Side Story" (1961)
The stylized street-gang talk may sound dated, and the lip-syncing by Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer is a little awkward, but from the first whistle to the final heartbreaking shot, this Technicolor masterpiece—a collaboration by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim—is riveting. It won 10 Oscars, including awards for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris and Rita Moreno) and proved, once and for all, that tough guys can dance!
4. "Hairspray" (2007)
Who would've thunk the supremely quirky John Waters indie flick "Hairspray" (starring drag performer Divine as Edna, the ultimate Baltimore hausfrau) could have been turned into such a delightful family-friendly Broadway musical about desegregation, which was in turn transformed back into a hit movie? While John Travolta's Edna divided the critics, the fresh performances by Zac Efron, James Marsden, Elijah Kelley and Nikki Blonsky make this a must-see. Heck, even tabloid fodder Amanda Bynes was adorable back then.
5. "Chicago" (2002)
Widely credited with bringing back the big-screen musical, the six-time Oscar winner (including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress, for Catherine Zeta-Jones) was based on 1975's Jazz Era hit by Kander & Ebb. By staging the musical numbers as fantasy sequences, director Rob Marshall managed to get around the pesky question of "Why would a murderess break into song?"
6. "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1967)
If you only know Robert Morse as Bert Cooper, the old guy with an aversion to shoes on "Mad Men," check out his iconic role as a window-washer who schemes his way to the corner office in this screen version of his 1961 Tony-winning Broadway role (later played to great acclaim by Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliffe). Go ahead and watch this video of the classic number "Brotherhood of Man." We'll wait.
7. "Dreamgirls" (2006)
As someone who saw Jennifer Holliday's earth-shattering performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" when the Tony-winning musical was still in previews in December 1981, I can tell you it was the one of the most show-stopping numbers in the history of the Broadway theater. Jennifer Hudson achieved about 85 percent of J.Holl's intensity, which is still about 150 times greater than anything else on screen, making her performance worthy of her Oscar. Eddie Murphy is a revelation as the tragic James "Thunder" Early, and Beyoncé is perfectly cast as the Diana Ross–inspired Deena Jones.
8. "Les Misérables" (2012)
It took 25 years to get this much-loved musical about French revolutionaries, street urchins and a former prisoner seeking his redemption to the big screen, with mixed results. Anne Hathaway singing to the dying Jean Valjean "Take my hand, I'll lead you to SAL-va-a-tion" will make tear-puddle believers out of the most cynical moviegoers, and Eddie Redmayne gave the first hint of his Oscar-worthy talents, but Russell Crowe as a singing Inspector Javert? 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, indeed.
9. "Annie" (1982)
Scoff if you must about the red-headed orphan with an overly optimistic worldview, but if you were a 10-year-old girl in 1977 (ahem), this Broadway show was the greatest thing that ever happened in your life. Unfortunately, John Huston's 1982 adaptation surgically removed the charm from the story while adding a ridiculous Hail Mary action sequence late in the game. We had high hopes for the 2014 remake (believing, as always, that the sun'll come out tomorrow), but then the critics almost unanimously told us to skip it.
10. "A Chorus Line" (1985)
Perhaps the "Annie" debacle should have taught Hollywood that just because a director is old and bearded and has helmed an Oscar-nominated classic or two doesn't mean he knows the first thing about musicals. When Sir Richard Attenborough brought Michael Bennett's Pulitzer-winning musical about the lives, loves and struggles of a group of Broadway dancers to the screen, he just couldn't figure out how to make it work (no, taking the emphasis off the dancing was not the way to go). This was a notorious flop, both artistically and financially.
11. "Rent" (2005)
Hmm, why don't we take a tragic and moving show about living-on-the-edge East Village artists in the age of AIDS and film it on sets that look as authentically gritty as a Disneyland ride? And you know those scrappy kids who looked so young and hungry and sympathetic in 1996? Well, when the same actors are well into their 30s, you're tempted to say, "Geez, just get a job and pay the damn rent already!"
12. "The Producers" (2005)
Mel Brooks' musical, based on his 1967 comedy classic about two hapless producers angling to make big money off a guaranteed flop ("Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party!") was a smash on the Great White Way, earning $288 million and 12 Tony Awards. But when stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprised their roles onscreen, the creaky jokes and glitzy dances landed with a great big thud. Unfortunately, it wasn't the "so bad, it's good!" of "Springtime for Hitler"; it was just plain bad.
Classic comedy from a Not Ready for Prime Time Player
40 snapshots of the Neapolitan beauty who became one of Hollywood's biggest stars
Highlights from four decades of brilliant comedy, from early SNL to impromptu interactions with fans
Not Ready for Prime Time classics from the '70s
Choice bits from the long-running sitcom on its 25th anniversary
Rapid-fire comedy from the brilliant Golden Globe winner (and presenter)