Recently I saw the musical Book of Mormon in London, the stage hit by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I normally find musicals – stage or screen – nauseating, but add in some humour and they become much easier to stomach. (I once had to sit through the entire 108 minutes of Brigadoon, although I would place that firmly in the horror genre.)

I’ve compiled my top five movie musicals – ones that don’t induce vomiting – starting with Mel Brooks’ directorial debut.

 

The Producers (1967)

A musical about a musical. Featuring one of Gene Wilder’s first film roles, The Producers is a riot of song, dance and general hilarity. Broadway star Zero Mostel plays Max Bialystock, a washed-up theatre producer who has to resign himself to the odd grope from wealthy old ladies in exchange for investment in his productions. Wilder is Leo Bloom, a mild-mannered young accountant with big ideas and a little blue blanket.

The aim is to create a production so terrible that no one will want to see it, enabling Mostel and Bloom to pocket the investments of its benefactors. The musical is to be titled Springtime for Hitler, featuring a star song of the same name, which is performed to incite ire in its audience. It turns out that the production is indeed terrible. Terribly brilliant. And terribly successful.

 

Cabaret (1972)

Cabaret is a great movie that just so happens to be a musical. Liza Minnelli’s performance as brash American singer Sally Bowles won her an Oscar for Best Actress, and the film totalled eight Oscars, including Best Music. The characters seldom burst into song, rather the numbers performed are all part of the characters’ jobs at the Kit-Kat club.

Based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Goodbye to Berlin, Cabaret is set in 1930s Berlin during the rise to power of the Nazis. One of Sally’s lovers is Brian Roberts (Michael York), an English scholar residing in Germany to complete his studies. Their relationship is complicated and is played out under the tense and threatening shadow of a country falling into the grip of dictatorship.

Patrons at the Kit-Kat include Otto Dix-inspired audience members and great attention has been paid to the mise en scene. Cabaret is a fun film but with very serious undertones; the threat of violence is ever present and comes to a head in one particularly grisly scene.

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Young newlyweds Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) experience car trouble during a storm. They hurry to the nearest house to use the phone, which just so happens to be a castle owned by a manic doctor in stockings and suspenders, hell bent on creating the perfect man. Dr Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) is served by faithful siblings Riff Raff and Magenta (Patricia Quinn), and worshipped by devoted followers who attend his many soirees. Will Brad and Janet get out alive?

Written by Richard O’Brien (who plays Riff Raff), Rocky Horror is a deliciously camp and OTT production. The set design and costumes are pretty impressive, as are the songs that range from soft and slow (Over at the Frankenstein Place) to jerky and frenetic (The Time Warp). The music has a distinct rock and roll edge, but is still very melodic.

 

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Ludicrous, ridiculous and brilliant, with great songs, especially the doo-wop inflections. Frank Oz-created puppet Audrey II, is a carnivorous plant that comes to life after lightning strikes. Green-fingered Seymour (Rock Moranis) discovers and names said plant and must cope with its ravenous secret.

Seymour is a lonely store clerk who’s in love with his co-worker, Audrey (Ellen Greene). Audrey is insecure and dating a sadistic dentist (Steve Martin), who likes to knock her about (‘Who wants their teeth done by the Marquis de Sade?’). As Audrey’s confidence grows, Seymour declares his love and helps rid her of her odious boyfriend in the most resourceful of ways.

 

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

Foul-mouthed eight-year olds Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny become obsessed with the new Terrance and Phillip Movie, which began as a Canadian TV series featuring extreme toilet humour and coarse language. The movie turns out to be a huge hit amongst the youngsters of South Park and beyond, much to their parents’ disapproval. Carnage ensues and war on Canada is declared.

How such vulgar and crass content can translate into so many accomplished songs is nothing short of genius. ‘What Would Brian Boitano Do?’ is a random and bizarre homage to an Olympian that bears no relevance to the story yet it’s extremely catchy and enjoyable. The songs in the South Park movie are so tuneful you find yourself mouthing ‘Uncle Fu**a’ on the bus before realising your error. I Blame Canada.

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