Here's the thing about musicals: as a whole, the genre represents something rather extraordinary. Musicals are a stepping-stone, or a bridge; they're the way-point between one thing and another. They feel good but don't require much work. They span the gap between excitable childhood and moody puberty. Love 'em or hate 'em, musicals insinuate themselves into our consciousnesses and then stay there, fat and self-satisfied as any hypno-toad.
We Pornokitsch types, severally and individually, have a long and not particularly proud history with musicals. Today we're going to share a bit of that history with you. Sing along in the comments, why don't you?
Songs by Cole Porter, plot by Shakespeare and lead role in the film played by Howard Keel – Kiss Me Kate quite literally has everything I could possibly want in a musical. I’d pick the stage version over the film, though. You just have to see that dancing live.
It’s possible South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut has better songs, but Team America: World Police has puppet sex and dicks fucking assholes. I don’t really think there’s anything I can add to that.
I really, really want to know what was going through Benny and Bjorn’s minds when they were picking a collaborator for Chess: Our English, she is not so good. For this play we need a native speaker, a wordsmith greater than any other on this earth. A second Cole Porter. I know – Tim Rice! And the result is wonderful Abba melodies and lines like “Some are set up in the Somerset Maugham Suite.” I love it all.
My dad introduced me to Damon Runyon and everything he said about how great he was is true. Guys and Dolls is based on two of Runyon’s short stories and it’s full of his wit and warmth and, most of all, it’s full of New York. Great songs, too.
Whenever I'm falling out of love with Buffy, I remember Once More With Feeling. I love Xena, and Xena did a musical first, but Buffy did it better. So what if most of the cast can't sing? It's joyous, and even has a proper story. Only Lucy Lawless could have made it better.
First, the sentimental favorite - Cats. Do not you judge; it was the '80s. The Cats soundtrack was the first album I ever owned, so there's that. More importantly, the libretto is based on TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - which my dad used to read to me when I was very, very young. I've still got the whole thing memorized, songs and poems, to Jared's ongoing distress.
That said, the primary cause of Jared's marital distress is my life-long obsession with The Mikado. I've got that entirely memorized, too.
Hey, how about 1968's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Mad scientists, candy flutes, clockwork girls, terrifying child-catchers, and even more mad scientists populate this confection of a film about a nutsoid inventor and his flying car. Later in life I discovered that the musical (script by Roald Dahl!) is based (loosishly) on a book by none other than Ian Flemming, and features a recipe for fudge. The weird, she grows ever weirder. I haven't seen CCBB since I was about 10, but my memories of it are really entertaining.
The unpromisingly named Sherlock Holmes the Musical beat out a lot of other contenders to take a place on this list. SHtM ran for approximately five weeks in London in the spring of 1989, receving staggeringly awful reviews before limping off into the dusty recesses of West End history. I was nine, and visiting London with my family. My dad got us tickets to see the show as a kind of a joke; we'd just seen Jeremy Brett on stage in The Secret of Sherlock Holmes - which was so incredibly boring. (I know, I know.) Anyway, SHtM was one of the greatest theatre experiences I've ever had. In spite of - maybe even because of - its ludicrous plot (Holmes falls in love with Moriarty's daughter) and shameless audience-pandering, we ate it up. In a life of dedicated theatre-going, SHtM remains the only show I've ever seen with a literal show-stopping number: the second act song "Apples n' Pears," to which the crowd gave a standing ovation half-way through. SHtM may have been - indeed, it almost certainly was - awful. But we loved the hell out of it.
It's possible I - young, lonely, bookish, weird - maybe identified just a teensy bit with Beauty and the Beast back in my salad-eating youth. It's also possible that it's still one of my favorite movies. Yes, it's a shiny corporate musical about Stockholm Syndrome, you cynics. It's also achingly gorgeous and achingly good-natured and I'm a sucker for a happy ending. Everyone wins! (Except the villains.)
Anne and Bex both thought that listing five genre musicals would be impossible. Clearly they're both women of taste and refinement, without a high school addiction to late night cable.
The Court Jester (1955) features the incomparable Danny Kaye fencing with Basil Rathbone. Danny Kaye dodging Angela Lansbury (as the "bad girl" vixen). And Danny Kaye wooing the mom from Mary Poppins (as the surprisingly foxy, husky-voiced "good girl"). Basically, Danny Kaye. The famous "Vessel with the Pestle" moment isn't in itself a song, but it comes damn close.
The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T (1953) is the mad brainchild of Doctor Seuss. I first saw it on a 4-digit cable station at 2 am and thought I'd hallucinated the entire thing. Bart hates his piano lessons. Doctor Terwilliker wants to take 5,000 piano pupils and conquer the world... starting with Bart's MILFy mom. The plumber is the hero. There are insane sets, bonkers dance numbers and even a whammy duel.
Labyrinth (1986). Would you like me to sing the entire movie right now? I can, you know. I've proven this before (much to the regret of everyone around me). No one can blame you, for walk-ing aaaaway. I'll stop. Have yourself some Bowie:
Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) features Julie Andrews in a distinctly un-Maria-like role. She's a modern sort of girl, determined to do the latest dances, wear the latest fashions and marry her boss. Her wide-eyed friend (Mary Tyler Moore) is lucky to have Millie to guide her through the rough parts of life. Millie's romantic & occupational escapades are intermingled with a bizarre subplot featuring Beatrice Lillie as Yellow Peril style villainess straight out of Sax Rohmer (Pat Morita is one of her minions!). Sadly, there are no good clips of the tap-powered elevator on YouTube, but there is the Tapioca!
The Brave Little Toaster (1987) has a lot of (eventually) famous comedians all pretending to be sentient kitchen appliances. What's not to love? (Besides the fact that the entire thing is a bizarrely fascist ode to capitalist slavery, but let's sweep that under the singing carpet). The songs include "B-Movie Show" (sung by terrifying home electronic abominations) and "Worthless" (which features suicidal cars and gave me nightmares). Also, written by Thomas Disch, although presumably not at the same time as Camp Concentration.