Using music as a storytelling medium has moved from Broadway to the Hollywood stage. Movie musicals (both adaptions of Broadway musicals and original musicals) have picked up steam in the last decade, with more being released and announced every year. In 2021 alone, three movie musicals will have been released: “In the Heights“ in June, “Dear Evan Hansen“ in September and “West Side Story“ in December. Movie musicals have come into the mainstream for those new to musicals and veteran theater lovers.
We all have that one person we know, whether it’s a friend, a roommate or ourselves, who doesn’t like musicals. This article provides a starting list of recommended movies for even the strongest musical haters.
Broadway welcomed “Hamilton” on Aug. 6, 2015. Lin-Manuel Miranda composed and wrote all of the music and lyrics from “Hamilton”. The musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. We see Hamilton’s rise and fall as aide-de-camp to George Washington in the Revolutionary War, America’s first treasury secretary and prolific political writer during this time.
The musical explores the founding of America through a modern-day lens by having actors of color play historical characters such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
“Watching “Hamilton” is not as daunting as it seems,” said Leslie Nieves, a sophomore majoring in General Studies. “It’s actually really fun. I know people can be scared of a three-hour-long musical, but you learn a lot. You see other people’s views. At the same time, you have different moments of suspense, awe and complete surprise. I definitely think it’s a big musical or movie that people can watch as a group of friends.”
2) “Singin’ in the Rain”
“Singin’ in the Rain” is a 1952 film that explores the transition from silent films to movies with sound during the 1920s in Hollywood. The movie came during what is considered the golden age of musicals, a period of about two decades from the 1940s to the 1960s bookended by the Roger and Hammerstein musicals “Oklahoma” in 1943 and “The Sound of Music” movie adaptation in 1965.
“Singin’ in the Rain” is considered a classic for many.
In her article “Why Singin’ in the Rain Is an Almost Perfect Musical” for the Atlantic in 2019, Jeanine Basinger wrote, “In the most unpretentious way possible, Singin’ in the Rain gives an audience the elements necessary for a good musical: carefully established reality and unreality, with smooth transitions between them.”
Basinger even goes as far as to call “Singin’ in the Rain” “the musical for people who don’t like musicals.”
4) Dear Evan Hansen
“Dear Evan Hansen” opened in theaters on Sept. 24, and is a movie adaptation of the original musical. “Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of the titular character, Evan Hansen, a high schooler who suffers from social anxiety. After a writing exercise from his therapist, his letter falls into the hands of Connor Murphy, one of Evan’s classmates, Evan discovers that Connor took his own life with Evan’s letter in hand. The movie follows Evan as he helps the Murphy family grieve their loss and seems to get everything he’s ever wanted: popularity, belonging and even love.
“It’s about someone who is lost, finding their way home,” said Benjamin Dye, a freshman studying theatre education. “It means a lot to me because I think that those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are very real. It portrays a very real concern in society. Many feel disconnected and isolated. It gives us the reminder that we are not alone.”
5) “The Greatest Showman”
“The Greatest Showman” was released in theaters on Dec. 20, 2017. It follows the story of P.T. Barnum, the inventor of the circus as it is known today, and his rags to riches story.
While “The Greatest Showman” wasn’t a hit with critics, it fared well with audience members, receiving an 86% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes as compared to a 57% score known as the “Tomatometer” (which factors in critical reviews.)
According to Owen Gleiberman in his article for “Variety, “Film Review: ‘The Greatest Showman’”,” “The numbers in ‘The Greatest Showman’ have a dance-pop fire that keeps you hooked, and that bursting-out quality recalls, at times, the spirit of ‘Moulin Rouge!’”
6) “In the Heights”
“In the Heights” released in theaters on June 10 after being postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie follows the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights and some of its residents such as Usnavi (a bodega owner), Vanessa (an aspiring fashion designer) and Abuela Claudia (the matriarch of the block) over a record-breaking heatwave.
The music and lyrics were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the movie adaptation was directed by Jon Chu, the director of “Crazy Rich Asians.” The movie was loved by audience members and critics alike. On Rotten Tomatoes, “In the Heights” received a 94% for the Tomatometer (which focuses primarily on reviews from critics) and a 94% for the audience score.
According to K. Austin Collins, a movie reviewer for “The Rolling Stone, in his article “‘In the Heights’ Sets Out to Do the Impossible — And Largely Succeeds” “Its gorgeous, talented cast, buoyed along for two-and-half hours by songs with memorable swing, gigantic doses of feeling, multiple love stories, poignant conflicts, and a pervading sense of community that somehow surpasses the forces peeling that community apart. ‘In the Heights‘ is a hopeful musical.”