The Case of the Movie Musical Part 2


So in part one, we talked about movies from 1927-1978. Now, we’re covering musical films from 1979-2019!


When we left off last week, we had covered some of the most influential movie musicals of the 1970’s. As we head into the 1980’s, movie musicals continue to be adapted from the stage with a few great exceptions. Let’s start in the age of Aquarius with Hair.



  • Hair (1979)
    • This movie is based on the 1968 musical Hair: An American Tribal Love Rock Musical
    • The music and story were influenced by the Hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960’s
    • The movie follows a young draftee who meets a group of hippies on his way to the induction center. They introduce him to marijuana and LSD and he befriends the group leader as well as falls in love with a young rich girl named Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo)
    • This movie is an example of art imitating life and is a visual representation of the political climate of the US during the Vietnam War
    • Song on the list: Aquarius
  • The Muppet Movie (1979)
    • Written by the same people behind “The Muppet Show,” the movie was produced during the third season of the show and was the first feature film to star the Muppets
    • It was nominated for an Oscar for the score and also for “Rainbow Connection” by Kenneth Ascher and Paul Williams
    • The success of this film led to other Muppet movies to be made
    • The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry
    • Song on the list: Rainbow Connection
  • Fame (1980)
    • Partially inspired by A Chorus Line, Fame was written by Christopher Gore and was originally called “Hot Lunch”
    • It follows students in a performing arts high school in New York in 1980
    • Because New York Board of Education didn’t approve of the movie’s subject matter, they weren’t able to film in the actual school that its based on
    • The movie starred Irene Cara
    • Song on the list: Hot Lunch
  • The Blues Brothers(1980)
    • Directed by John Landis, The Blues Brothers stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd
    • It was based on their SNL characters of the same name, and it follows Jake and Elwood as they try to save their childhood home by getting their band back together and putting on a show
    • This film featured many legendary R&B, Blues, and Soul artists such as: Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, and John Lee Hooker
    • The movie was filmed in Chicago, where it was based, and one of the most expensive comedies ever produced
    • Songs on the list: You Better Think & Rawhide/Stand By Your Man
  • Annie (1982)
    • Based on the Broadway musical which was based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip
    • The movie starred Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, and Tim Curry
    • It follows a young orphan during the great depression, as she gets adopted by the wealthy Oliver Warbucks
    • Songs on the list: Hard-Knock Life & Little Girls
  • Yentl (1983)
    • Yentl was directed and co-produced by its star: Barbara Steisand
    • It is based on Isaac Bachevis Singer’s play of the same name, which was based on a short story by him as well: Yentl the Yeshiva Boy
    • It follows Jewish girl in Poland who dresses as a boy and takes the name of her late brother to receive an education in Talmudic Law
    • Song on the list: Papa, Can You Hear Me?
  • Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
    • Previously mentioned in the Disney Scores episode, this 1986 adaptation of the Broadway musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman was directed by Frank Oz and starred Rick Moranis
    • Song on the list: Downtown (Skid Row)
  • Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
    • Starring Gena Davis, this quirky musical from the late-1980s is based off a song with the same title by Julie Brown
    • Also starring Jim Carey, Jeff Goldbloom, and Damon Wayans as the aliens
    • Song on the list: Brand New Girl
  • Polly (1989)
    • A late-80’s adaptation of the novel Pollyanna, produced by Disney starred an all-black cast and was set in Alabama in the 1950’s
    • Polly is an optimistic young orphan that brings joy to the small town of Harrington and especially her strict Aunt Polly
    • This was a made-for-TV musical that premiered on NBC and also starred Phylicia Rashad
    • Song on the list: Sweet Little Angel Eyes sung by Brandon Quintin Adams

*Footloose, Hairspray, Flashdance, Dirty Dancing*  are mentioned briefly


  • Crybaby (1990)
    • John Waters was coming off the big hit of 1988’s Hairspray so there ended up being a bidding war to make this movie
    • It was not very successful when it first came out but has since become a cult classic
    • Johnny Depp was well known for 21 Jumpstreet at this point and found the script intriguing
    • Set in the 50’s
    • Song on the list: Doin’ Time for Bein’ Young
  • Newsies (1992)
    • Directed by Kenny Ortega and starring Christian Bale, this early 90s movie musical featured songs by Alan Menkin and Jack Feldman
    • Because of a poor opening weekend, Disney pulled the movie from theatres after opening weekend. Because of this, the movie made about ⅕ of its 15 million dollar budget
    • Although it’s one of the lowest-grossing live-action Disney films, it was popular enough to be made into a Broadway musical that won two Tony Awards including best original score
    • Song Included: King of New York
  • Gypsy (1993)
    • This movie starring Bette Midler was based on the stage musical of the same name (which was based on a memoir by Gypsey Rose Lee)
    • Gypsy’s son was the force behind getting the film in production and wanted Bette Midler for the role for 10 years until finally obtaining approval
    • Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book of the musical, hated the 1962 film and was slow to approve of this adaptation
    • Song Included: Let me Entertain You & Rose’s Turn
  • Evita (1996)
    • Based on the concept Album of the same name by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber, which also inspired a stage musical in 1978
    • A film adaptation of the musical was stuck in development for about 15 years
    • The movie was directed by Alan Parker, and was written by Parker and Oliver Stone and starred Madonna as Eva Peron with Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas as the narrator
    • It’s based on the life of Eva Peron, the first lady of Argentina
    • Song Included: Don’t Cry for me Argentina
  • Cinderella (1997)
    • Inspired by Gypsy (1993) Whitney Houston approached the producers about starring in a made-for-TV adaptation of Cinderella
    • Development was delayed and CBS (the original network for the project) was no longer interested. Houston felt she had out-grown the role by 1997 and offered it to Brandy, while Houston co-produced and played the fairy godmother
    • The title character of Cinderella was re-written to be a stronger female character than in the original script, and Brandy was the first black woman to portray Cinderella on screen
    • Critics were lukewarm, but the film was a ratings success
    • Song Included: Impossible/ It’s Possible




  • Hedwig and the Angry Itch (2001)
    • Based on a stage musical of the late 1990s by John Cameron Mitchel and Steven Trask; Mitchel also directed and starred in the movie
    • A German boy Hansel undergoes a botched sex change so that he can escape Germany, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall
    • The operation leaves her/him with an “Angry Itch” referring to the flesh between her legs; the movie follows her and her band as they play seafood restaurants
    • Song Included: Wicked Little Town
  • Moulin Rouge! (2001)
    • A Jukebox musical directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor
    • It was the first musical nominated for best picture since Beauty and the Beast in 1991
    • It follows a young poet who falls in love with the star of the Moulin Rouge, a famous Cabaret theatre in France
    • The Moulin Rouge has been a living legend for over 120 years, and was founded in 1889 (11 years before the film takes place)
    • “It isn’t about tired, decadent people, but about glorious romantics, who believe in the glitz and the tinsel–who see the nightclub not as a shabby tourist trap but as a stage for their dreams.”
    • Song Included: Love Medley
  • Chicago (2002)
    • One year after the critical success of Moulin Rouge, Chicago made waves by being nominated for 9 Oscars; This was the kind of musical that reinvented movie musicals
    • A Roger Ebert put it, “Although modern audiences don’t like to see stories interrupted by songs, apparently they like songs interrupted by stories.”
    • Chicago stars Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones as the leads
    • Directed by Rob Marshall, the same director for Mary Poppins returns, this movie was the first musical to win the Oscar for best picture since Oliver! In 1968
    • Song Included: We Both Reached for the Gun
  • From Justin to Kelly (2003)*
    • Won the Golden Raspberry Award for “Worst ‘Musical’ of Our First 25 Years” in 2005
  • Phantom of the Opera (2004)
    • Composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber
    • Based on a newspaper serial by a French writer, Gaston Leroux, in 1909-1910 which was converted to a novel a year later
    • Famous for being the longest running Broadway show of all time
    • The first performance was in 1986
    • There is criticism with how the Phantom has become less scary
    • One reason is because of the disfiguration that has become less horrifying and the mask more stylized
    • Gerard Butler stars as the Phantom
    • Song Included: The Phantom of the Opera
  • Rent (2005)
    • Brings attention to the fact that many people were dying of AIDS and drug addiction. Love, loss, and AIDS
    • Song Included: La Vie Boheme
  • Dreamgirls (2006)
    • Adapted from the 1981 Broadway musical
    • It’s a work of fiction, but strongly influenced by the life of the Supremes
    • Dreamgirls follows the history of R&B music in the 1960s in Detroit.
    • It stars Beyonce, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy
    • Song Included: And I am Telling You I’m not Going
  • High School Musical (2006)
    • No research needed (we’re covering this in a later episode)
    • Song Included: Get’cha Head in the Game
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
    • Known as for being the bloodiest musical in stage history it is now the bloodiest musical in film history
    • Shows the cruel imbalance of Capitalism
    • First came to stage in 1979. The musical is based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond.
    • Song Included: Pretty Women
  • Hairspray (2007)
    • It is not a rule that Edna Turnblad be played by a man, however,  when John Waters cast Divine (Harris Milstead) in the 80’s film and then gave Harvey Fierstien his blessing for the Broadway version it cemented a tradition.  A tradition similar to Peter Pan being played by a woman.
    • John Travolta plays Edna in the 2007 film
    • Portrays the first time a black man and white woman dance together
      • This was of great importance
    • Song Included: You Can’t Stop the Beat


    • Les Miserables (2012)
      • Song Included: Do You Hear the People Sing?
    • Into the Woods (2014)
      • The musical premiered in San Diego, California at the Old Globe Theatre in 1986
      • Twist on stories by the Grimm Brothers
      • Song Included: There are Giants in the Sky
    • La La Land (2016)
      • Song Included: Another Day of Sun
    • Sing Street (2016)
      • Directed by John Carney who also directed Once
      • Song Included: Drive It Like You Stole It
    • The Greatest Showman (2017)
      • Song Included: This is Me
    • Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
      • Song Included: The Place Where Lost Things Go

*Dumbo, Aladdin, Lion King (2019)* Cats (2019) also briefly mentioned*

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