A scene from West Side Story (© 1961 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)
I love all of these! They are in no particular order.
1. My Fair Lady (1964)
Audrey Hepburn was always my idol. She's beautiful, smart, a talented actress, and she has a beautiful voice. Imagine my devastation when I realized that Ms. Hepburn could not sing! Marni Nixon, the voice behind many of Hollywood's leading ladies, was responsible for Hepburn's floating soprano voice. Spoiler alert: Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, and Natalie Wood all used Nixon's voice. It makes me really angry that they couldn't just cast the unknown with the beautiful voice. Very few people know who Nixon was!
Nevertheless, this has to be one of my favorite films of all time. I used to watch it with my sister at my grandparents' house. I would put on these big dress-up hats and act like Hepburn when she goes to the race track in that beautiful black and white gown and hat. The costume design is impeccable.
2. Chicago (2002)
Although I'm normally against musicals that cast Hollywood stars as the leads just to rake in money, this time it actually worked. It was partly because Catherine Zeta-Jones had a stage career in the U.K. before coming to the U.S. She was a fantastic Velma. Who I was really blown away by, however, was John C. Reilly. What a voice! And his character is actually my favorite in the show. Poor little innocent Amos that no one recognizes! Reilly captures the essence perfectly.
3. The Sound of Music (1965)
I included this in My Top 5 Musicals because it is truly a classic. I love that it utilizes a leading lady who is actually a Broadway actress. This is how you do a musical movie. The scenery is beautiful, the casting is impeccable, and the music is beautiful. And I mean c'mon, it's Julie Andrews.
4. West Side Story (1961)
This is inarguably a classic of American cinema. So many aspects are executed well. The sets are simple yet perfect, and the choreography is incredible. My favorite part is undoubtedly when they sing "America." Everyone is so animated, and the dancing is phenomenal. I love the girls' bright dresses that swish when they dance and the claps. To me, this is quintessential musical theater on camera and a standard that all musical movies should aspire to.
Sadly, neither Tony nor Maria sang in the movie. Yet again, Marni Nixon subbed in for Natalie Wood. I can't even tell it's the same person who sang in My Fair Lady. She's really good at changing her voice to make it seem like it's coming from the person onscreen. If you search online, you can hear recordings of Wood singing the songs. Personally, I think she has a pretty voice, but Nixon's is definitely stronger.
5. Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Of all the newest musical movies, this one ranks supreme. How refreshing to have leads cast that can actually sing! Emmy Rossum has this clear bell of a voice. She was trained in the opera starting at age seven, so she had the chops to sing Christine. Every note is effortless. And Gerard Butler. Oh, Gerard Butler. He was great singing in P.S. I Love You, but I love the rich, classical voice he uses in Phantom.
The title promises I'll talk about the best, but I can't resist complaining about the worst, as well. There are two musicals in particular that upset me recently: Hairspray and Mamma Mia.
Hairspray had some redeeming aspects. Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, and Brittany Snow were great, but I could not see past the awkward romance between Christopher Walken and John Travolta. I really don't like the way John Travolta sings Edna. This casting was typical Hollywood just trying to put stars in the show.
Then we have Mamma Mia. I can't complain about every aspect of the movie. Amanda Seyfried was wonderful, and I was really impressed by Meryl Streep. What a chameleon of an actress. She's almost 60 and suddenly she pulls out this great voice! "The Winner Takes It All" is really pretty. I was pretty impressed by Colin Firth too. I wish I could say the same of Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard.