With the much anticipated release of Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the musical Jersey Boys this week, many may be in the mood to catch up on their movie musicals or aiming to host a sing-along. Either way, maybe you don’t feel like replaying the old standbys. Now don’t get me wrong, the classic movie musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Royal Wedding are classics for a reason, but sometimes you want something a little less formulaic and a little more quirky to round out your movie musical education – something like Silence of the Lambs the Musical perhaps (not a movie – yet – but there is a damn catchy full length soundtrack floating around out there that you should locate immediately). So here are six musicals that are slightly off the beaten path with soundtracks that will have you singing for days.
Off-Beat Movie Musicals
6. Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Before Matt Stone and Trey Parker masterminded South Park or wrote the hit musical Book of Mormon, or even before they created the short lived cult comedy That’s My Bush! for Comedy Central, they made the catchy, kitschy, gory, and irreverent musical about a prospector turned cannibal during the tough pioneering days of the old west. The budget is low and so is the general quality, but the now familiar comedy style and voices of the South Park guys will have you in stitches and singing unlikely lyrics for weeks. Expect many unconvincing false beards.
5. Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
This strange, disconcerting, melodramatic, and atmospheric musical concerns an overwrought organ repossession agent and his sickly daughter. Father and daughter clash over mysterious secrets and the father’s domineering nature as the daughter searches for answers to her disease and her family’s hidden past. The music is suitably grungy for such an urgently dramatic and post apocalyptic movie and the cast strangely diverse and eclectic. Anthony Stewart Head plays the father and repo man, adding his usual magnetism to his heartbreaking and dynamic performance as the conflicted man leading a double life. It is truly a miraculous and frightening movie, and like nothing else in existence.
- Check out the Renegade Cinema interview with Terrance Zdunich, the writer of Repo! The Genetic Opera
4. The Singing Detective (1986/2003)
While this entry is for the Mel Gibson produced, Robert Downey Jr. lead movie version, I must also include the original British mini-series on which the film is based. While the American film version is more than strange enough, it manages to lack a certain delirious absurdity that the mini-series excels at, communicating perfectly the desperate mental state of the ailing author who imagines these musical numbers. Something about the essential Britishness of it is able to explore without abandon the surreal and abstract quality of the lead character’s dementia. However, the film version is beautifully shot and stylishly cool, evoking the shiny Americanness of the dime novel detective genre – and you just can’t go wrong with Robert Downey Jr.
3. Reefer Madness (2005)
It’s a little daunting to think that this tongue-in-cheek musical satire is a remake of a dead serious, melodramatic morality tale of the dangers of marijuana use from 1936. These days most of us know better than to think marijuana use alone could lead anyone down the insane paths these naive 1950s teenagers traverse. The music is fun and poppy, the performances hilariously over-the-top, and the plot downright improbable. Wide-eyed Kristen Bell plays innocent teenager Mary Lane with an amazing contributing cast including the likes of Alan Cumming, Ana Gasteyer, Neve Campbell, Steven Weber, and Christian Campbell.
2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
This movie has been a cult classic for decades, running continuously as a midnight feature favorite and sing-along event that must be experienced at least once before you die. While the film itself is fun, creepy, sexy, campy, gothically atmospheric, and musically catchy, the main attraction is the incomparably fabulous Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a scientist and sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania. It is undeniably his sensual magnetism – with fishnetted legs and big ruby red lips – that drives the movie from start to finish. There is nothing like Tim Curry in this whole wide world, and certainly nothing like Tim Curry in a shapely corset and heels. Other highlights include Susan Sarandon in a very early role as our heroine Janet Weiss and Barry Bostwick as our hero Brad Majors. Meat Loaf also makes a generally pointless but high energy appearance as one of Dr. Frank’s former experiments. Get to a midnight show and enjoy all the singing, dancing, comedy callbacks, and prop throwing you can stand.
1. The Producers (1967/2005)
Yes, I am counting the original Mel Brooks version of The Producers as a musical, even though technically I suppose its not. Mostly this is because the 2005 musical film version of the excellent Broadway musical had its moments, but frankly wasn’t all it could or should be. The original Producers is a masterpiece of comedy, Mel Brooks’ feature film directorial debut, and still arguably among his strongest works in an archive of classic comedies. Turning it into a musical 35 years later simply adds another level of irony and depth to both the original and its musical remake. Taken as a duo, together they are the perfect movie musical, spanning and closing the gap between them. Now, add to that the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David is cast as Max Bialystock as a scheme between Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft to close down the musical forever – which predictably backfires – and you have the perfect trilogy.