Last year, the 72nd Tony Awards awarded The Band’s Visit Best Musical. In doing so, it beat out Frozen, Mean Girls, and Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical. And this year, the Best Musical category includes two frontrunners in Tootsie and Beetlejuice, while early contender Pretty Woman fizzled. If you’re paying attention, you may notice that all of these shows are based on films: Frozen and Mean Girls are modern blockbusters, The Band’s Visit is based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name, Tootsie and Beetlejuice are both 80s classics, Pretty Woman is a 90s romantic comedy, and Spongebob, obviously, has two cinematic continuations of the television show. And if that’s not enough, next season boasts the highly anticipated musical adaptation of Moulin Rouge!, obviously based on the 2001 film. While nothing like this trend has happened on this scale in Tony history, there is a grand tradition in the Broadway community of creating musicals based on films, be they straightforward adaptations, tongue-in-cheek, or parodies. And today, we’re going to be taking a look at the best of these shows with the Top Ten Musicals Based On Movies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the best interpretations of popular movies through song and dance. My rules are simple: the show must be based on a film, and it must represent the story through either satire or emotional connection. In short, it needs to embody the original while still being a wholly unique entity. Furthermore, I am only considering adaptations of non-musicals to the stage; movies that already featured singing and dancing are disqualified. This means there will be no Thoroughly Modern Millie, no Footloose, no An American In Paris, no Once, no Anastasia, and especially no Disney. Sorry, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Mary Poppins. Now, to make this list, I looked at a large group of different adaptations for consideration. There’s the shows that upheld the original film’s mature, emotional themes, like The Bridges of Madison County and The Color Purple. Then there’s the shows that embraced the original’s whimsicality, like Groundhog Day, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Shrek. There are a whole lot of shows that kept the original plot but added a layer of magic, music, and theatricality to make the final product shine, like 9 to 5, Catch Me If You Can, The Full Monty, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, School of Rock, Sister Act, and The Wedding Singer. And then there’s my favorite type of adaptation: the scathing. These are the shows that took an off-putting genre like horror and satire, played up the camp, and put on a rousing show. My honorable mentions here include Heathers (which I just saw last week and adored), Evil Dead: The Musical (which is bloody good fun), Silence! The Musical (which is hilariously dumb in all the right ways), and The Toxic Avenger (which embraces the original’s B-Movie roots). And now that we’ve taken a look at the other shows that missed the cut, let’s count down the Top Ten Musicals Based On Movies!
10. Billy Elliot
Billy Elliot: The Musical is a show that can be made or broken based on the staging. I’ll admit I used to be a bit skeptical after my first viewing due to an average cast, but when the cast is on, and the staging is perfect, Billy Elliot is a real master class of storytelling. While its immediate story – a boy who is supposed to learn boxing but has a natural talent for ballet – is fairly simplistic on the surface, what makes the show flourish is the deeper thematic connotations. Billy’s quest to become the best dancer possible, and to use his skill to escape to a better life, plays out against a backdrop of small town life, and more importantly, of the UK Miners’ Strike of 1984. We see how this town is affected by the strike, and of the excessive actions of the constant police presence. Each character is given a chance to tell their life story through a glorious solo, written by Sir Elton John. Each song gives the viewer insight into the societal roles of 80s Britain, the character’s struggles, or the plight of the working man. There are great musical pieces for dance, like “Angry Dance” and “Electricity,” fun outbursts of acceptance and tolerance, like “Born to Boogie” and Billy’s cross-dressing best friend Michael’s anthem “Expressing Yourself,” or pure angry release against a society out to get our heroes, like “Solidarity” and “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher.” Sure, Billy Elliot isn’t quite as emotionally powerful as the film that inspired it, but it does its job well, and it tells a funny, emotional story filled with heart and verve.
Best Song: “Once We Were Kings” – While many people would assume the best song in Billy Elliot would be dance-based, or one of Elton’s personal favorites, the greatest offering that show has is “Once We Were Kings,” the defiant battle cry in the face of defeat as the miners return to work in the mines. Tragic but hopeful, the tune features a powerful male chorus, their voices echo throughout the theater while they are lowered into the stage while declaring, “We will all go together when we go.” It’s a triumphant moment in the face of sobering reality, and even if you are lukewarm on the show, it is difficult to ignore its power.
It’s incredibly difficult to adapt a film into a musical, let alone one of the most experimental films of all time. And yet that is exactly what the musical Nine sets out to do, adapting Federicio Fellini’s autobiographical, surrealistic 8½ into a coherent, witty, mature look at the creation of art, the meaning of life, and the balancing act of romantic entanglements. Of course, while the film simplifies the surrealist nature of the film, it still maintains certain elements, such as an overture of female voices bursting through the walls of the set to represent the women inside film director Guido Contini’s head to ruin his marriage and his film. However, above all else, Nine is about women: what women mean to men, how they influence the greatest art of all, and perhaps above all else, how men mistreat women, especially in pursuit of their careers. The musical is littered with a litany of great songs by Maury Yeston, each ranging from an insider exploration of the filmmaking process to the psychological inner workings of the many characters. Producer Lilli’s “Folies Bergeres” is an upbeat, fancifully classic musical number about the dawn of performance, while “Guido’s Song” is a funny, insightful look into the main character’s psyche. And then there’s “Be Italian,” a masterful, sexually charged explanation of love from the perspective of a prostitute, and an excellent exploration of young Guido’s understanding of women. Nine takes the self-loathing, self-exploring nature of 8½ and amplifies it into an explosive, musical extravaganza.
Best Song: “A Call From The Vatican” – Perhaps the best number in the show is the witty, sexy number by Guido’s mistress, Carla. Performed as an elaborate rope routine filled with seductive pleas, the show demonstrates the love that Guido takes for granted, all while Guido is treated by doctors, who are baffled by his reaction to a simple “Call from the Vatican,” as Guido claims. The number is stunning to watch, especially the 2003 rendition by a then-up-and-coming Jane Krakowski, and it is a testament to the show’s brains and maturity.
8. Reefer Madness
One of my favorite shows on this list, Reefer Madness is the embodiment of taking a film presented perfectly straight and playing up the camp for satiric purposes. While the original Reefer Madness is a wholeheartedly earnest piece of racist, inaccurate propaganda surrounding the attempted prohibition of marijuana, funded by William Randolph Hearst, the musical is a smart subversion, playing the ridiculous plot points up for laughs and the underlying message for shocks. I mean, the idea of two innocent teens taking one puff and instantly becoming hedonistic, atheistic, cannibalistic murderers is pretty far-fetched, and could not be played straight in any other circumstance. And yet it works, in no small part thanks to the presence of a narrator who consistently places himself into the story to prod the audience to “join his side,” whether he appears as a Five and Dime owner, a Goat Man Demon, or, um, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In between are a smattering of satiric gems, from the aggressively propagandistic opening song “Reefer Madness” to the slow and weak-hearted “The Stuff.” The “Jimmy Takes a Hit” quartet is musically impressive, as is the run-off between Sally and the Goat Man, and there’s a unique silliness to “The Brownie Song.” And I haven’t even mentioned the terribly naïve “Romeo and Juliet,” the antagonistically hilarious “Little Mary Sunshine,” or the most musically impressive song in the piece, “Murder.” Reefer Madness is a work of sarcastic joy, clever in its messaging and hilarious in its musicality.
Best Song: “Tell ‘Em The Truth” – Like every piece of satire, Reefer Madness is funny until it’s not, and that moment comes in the final song, “Tell ‘Em The Truth.” Having survived their ordeal, Jimmy, Mae, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decide to spread “the good word” across the United States. The rest of the deceased characters emerge as American iconography to help spread the message, tying the ideas of oppression and illegality to patriotism. However, things take a turn as the upbeat message starts declaring people should “turn their neighbors in.” And then the chorus begins a final march, burning all paraphernalia, ranging from drugs to Freud to Darwin to anything that “scares them,” while the narrator proudly states, “When danger’s near, exploit their fears.” It’s topical, haunting, and slightly funny, but above all, it’s original.
7. Kinky Boots
There is an inherent silliness that underlies the musical rendition of Kinky Boots, and it absolutely works to the show’s credit. The story of acceptance and love inside a small English town seems clichéd, but Cyndi Lauper’s fun rock musical keeps things moving in a dumber way than the original film, but no less enjoyable. It follows the story of Charlie Price, the son of a shoe factory owner that kept the whole town employed switching his clientele to the drag community in order to save everyone’s jobs with the aid of a popular drag star named Lola, and it wholeheartedly embraces this idea. There are so many great aspects of the production, I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps I should start with the chorus of talented drag “angels” capable of leaping into the splits and making grown men squirm. Or maybe I should start with Lauren, the charming girl next door who advises Charlie to make a sexy heel that can support a man’s weight, and who dreams in Lauper-esque neurotic fantasies. Or maybe I should start with the long-standing tradition in the theater of letting the villain see the error of his ways, and coming to the stage in the finale to model the boots. All of these are great reasons, but above all, I believe it is the musical score that Lauper has crafted. From the electrifying Lola songs “Sex Is In The Heel,” “Land of Lola,” and “Everybody Say Yeah” to the more somber “Not My Father’s Son,” from the combative and clever “What a Woman Wants” to the triumphant “Raise You Up,” each song builds upon its predecessor, creating a foot-tapping, spirit-lifting experience of goodwill. Kinky Boots is a great interpretation of its filmic inspiration and a testament to what makes musicals great.
Best Song: “The History Of Wrong Guys” – The most fun, most Cyndi Lauper-esque song in the entire show is “The History of Wrong Guys.” Performed by Lauren as she realizes that she is developing a crush on her very taken manager Charlie, the song reflects on a woman trying to repress her feelings as another in a long line of problematic guys in her past. Equal parts funny and heartbreaking, the song is performed with panache by whichever actress is in the role (my personal favorite is original star Annaleigh Ashford). While one of Lola’s songs may be more fitting, there are few songs that bring down the house, or sum up Lauper’s abilities as a writer, than this energetic anti-love song.
6. Legally Blonde
Legally Blonde as a movie is silly, funny, smart, and empowering. So it only makes sense that Legally Blonde: The Musical is all of those things, times ten. Written by Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin, and Heather Hach, Legally Blonde comes from the school of thought that a good musical adaptation takes the best scenes in the movie and builds musical numbers around them (see Heathers showstopper “Dead Gay Son”). While I’m fairly lukewarm on this notion (I prefer character-based songs, or emotion based songs more), Legally Blonde does it perhaps the best out of anyone. From the humorous “Serious” recreating the movie’s iconic breakup to the fantastic Elle Woods-centered numbers “What You Want” and “So Much Better” (her mocking fake orgasm in the latter is perhaps my favorite part of the entire show), from a musical presentation of Brooke Wyndham’s “Whipped Into Shape” workout video (a stunning jump rope based routine) to the required makeover montage in “Take It Like A Man,” each song brings iconic scenes from the movie to life, creating the same sense of fun buoyancy that made Reese Witherspoon’s classic tale of a so-called “ditzy” blonde overcoming preconceived notions and sexism to become a successful, powerful attorney in her own right. This is a show that bears powerful, emotional moments like Paulette’s wonderful “Ireland” and Emmett’s “Chip On My Shoulder,” as well as laugh-out-loud funny moments, like the iconic “Bend and Snap” or the humorous “There! Right There!” It has great roles like the immortally pink Elle Woods, the cynical Emmett, the douchey Warner, the lovable Paulette, and the great Brooke Wyndham, as well as a Greek Chorus of Sorority Girls to narrate the story. From beginning to end, Legally Blonde captures the magic of the original film, and brings its own flair and theatricality to Broadway the same way Elle brought pink and fun to Harvard Law.
Best Song: “Omigod You Guys” – The best way to declare your musical’s talent is to give it a kick-ass opening song. And nothing gets you in the mood for Legally Blonde like “Omigod You Guys.” To quote Stefon for a moment, this musical number has everything: it’s got Valley Girl speak to establish Elle’s starting location. It shows Elle’s supportive group of friends, who set the scene like…well, like a Greek Chorus (which they eventually become). It has a demonstration of Elle’s intelligence as she outsmarts the obnoxious, judgmental sales clerk. And it has a fun, bouncy electric rock score that adheres to traditional musical standards while simultaneously establishing this show as something all its own. It is not only a Broadway gem; it is also a great song in its own right.
5. Monty Python’s Spamalot
It’s no secret that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is considered one of the greatest comedies of all time. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that their first (and so far only) musical on Broadway, Spamalot, would be just as wonderful. Taking the moments that made the film so great – the Killer Rabbit, the Black Knight, the Cart, the French Knights, and the Voice of God (as well as many, many more great moments), the show contains the absurdism of the comedy classic while also evolving the material to spoof and satirize the very format of the Broadway musical. Sure, the show uses songs from the films to appease the fans – “Knights of the Round Table” serves as a real crowd pleaser, “Brave Sir Robin” is just as funny on the stage as it is on film, and “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” comes along to steal the show in the second act (as the cast remains lost in a Dark and Very Expensive Forest). But don’t be fooled: this is a show that loves the Broadway tradition and wants to spoof it, in form and in execution. Classic scenes like the “Finland” opening and “Not Dead Yet” become big song-and-dance sequences, while the show adds a flamboyant cabana number as Lancelot is outed and a full-on Fiddler on the Roof spoof as Sir Robin explains to King Arthur that their musical would fail because “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews)” (Also, yeah, this isn’t the most PC musical, but at least the comedy is warm-hearted and punches up). And perhaps most important of all, the show adds the one thing the film was sorely lacking: a female voice, here represented in The Lady Of The Lake, a spoof of belting Broadway leading actresses, and perhaps the funniest character in the entire show. She’s capable of performing a knockout power ballad like “Find Your Grail” as well as the comical Evita spoof “Diva’s Lament.” Meanwhile, continuing with the tradition of the film, the show also provides the actors the opportunity to play several different roles – Sir Galahad doubles as Prince Herbert’s Father and the Black Knight, Lancelot doubles as Tim the Enchanter and The French Taunter, and the Narrator, Herbert, and Not Dead Fred are all played by the same actor, just like the original film. Spamalot captures the surrealistic nonsense of its cinematic predecessor, all while adding a theatrical send-up that’s fun for the whole family.
Best Song: “The Song That Goes Like This” – Perhaps the flat-out best song on this list, “The Song That Goes Like This” is next-level in its brilliance, its execution, and its general design. A spoof of Andrew Lloyd Weber power ballads, the number sees Sir Galahad and the Lady of the Lake enter the stage on a small gondolier while a chandelier is lowered, Phantom of the Opera-style. What follows is a perfect send-up to Weber, from its overly dramatic musicality to the gradually rising key changes (“Now we’re into E…that’s awfully high for me”) to the eventual threatening the orchestra for the general length of the song, the song is a true showstopper in its own right. It allows the actors to take a break from the straight-out comedy and actually focus on the musical talent they possess, while never sacrificing the jokes. And when they hit their final notes and “accidentally” bring down the chandelier, it’s a hilariously spot-on spectacle.
4. La Cage aux Folles
Known in America as the French inspiration for The Birdcage (also amazing in its own right), La Cage aux Folles is a perfect interpretation of the film of the same name, for countless reasons. Written by Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, the show manages to use its new format as an ingenious twist on the adaptation: instead of using musical numbers to recreate the film’s classic moments, or amplify the themes, La Cage keeps the major structure the same, and solely uses its songs to allow the characters to reveal their innermost emotions. Not only is this the perfect demonstration of the purpose of musical numbers – tradition dictates that the purpose of a musical number should be when the characters have so much pent-up emotion that the only outlet is to sing – but it gives us insight into characters that may otherwise just be campy divas and hilariously stuck-up villains. “We Are What We Are” introduces the audience to the flamboyant drag artists of the La Cage aux Folles, while “Song of the Sand” shows us the beauty of Albin and Georges’ relationship. “Look Over There” demonstrates how much Georges and Jean-Michel love the latter’s surrogate “mother,” while “Masculinity” serves as a comical satire of masculinity (toxic or otherwise, and complete with the phenomenal line “Try more of John Wayne and less Brigitte Bardot”). And “The Best Of Times” serves as many things at once, particularly a parody of the torch song and an in-depth look at Albin’s personal philosophies and zest for life. Relentlessly optimistic and eternally happy in an era where homophobia was rampant and AIDS was eliminating a generation, La Cage is a powerful, entertaining, uplifting showstopper that both served as an inspiration for a generation and a proper tribute to its source material.
Best Song: “I Am What I Am” – Of course, if La Cage is known for any one particular theme or song, it is the 80s anthem, “I Am What I Am.” Written by Herman after being inspired by a line Fierstein had written, the song serves two purposes, one in the play and one in the greater context of the decade. In the play, the song serves as both a personalized callback to the opening song, the “La Cage’s” signature hit “We Are What We Are” and an admonishment by Albin towards his family for their attempts to silence his sexuality and personality. However, while they certainly intended the song to have larger resonance than the halls of the play, there is no way either the writer or the composer could have guessed the way the song would take on greater meaning in a decade that ravaged a community. Proudly declaring a desire to be who you were born to be, “I Am What I Am” is an anthem covered by Gloria Gaynor, Marti Webb, Shirley Bassey, Ken Page, and more as it gave a voice to a generation.
3. Little Shop of Horrors
Perhaps my favorite show on this list, Little Shop of Horrors is the perfect example of what can happen when a musical adaptation combines complete reverence and utter parody for its source material. Written by two unknown comedic composers named Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (the team that Disney would hire to launch their personal Renaissance), Little Shop took a low-budget satirical horror from the 60s that many had forgotten and rewrote it as a Faustian parody of 60s B-movies. The writers used only the bare bones of the original, rewriting aspects like the sadistic dentist, Seymour’s relationship with Audrey, Audrey’s entire personality, and more to create a hilariously scathing satire of the “Greed Is Good” 80s. Meanwhile, to give the audience a narrator to move things along, Ashman and Menken also created Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronette, a send-up to girl groups like The Supremes who belt out great song after great song. And speaking of songs, each ditty is better – and funnier – than the last. The girls’ songs “Little Shop Of Horrors,” “Ya Never Know,” and “Skid Row” all balance witty satire, clever world-building, and weighty thematic relevance with the musicality of true bops. “Dentist” is one of the funniest character/villain introductions in musical history, while “Suddenly Seymour” ranks among the greatest musical theatre love songs. And when Audrey II, the killer plant, finally gets his Motown-inspired voice, he enchants, entices, and intimidates the audience with such classics as “Feed Me (Git It)” and “Suppertime.” I’ve gotten this far into this write-up and haven’t even mentioned the groundbreaking Audrey II puppets the show created – that’s the level of brilliance, and adaptation, on display in Little Shop of Horrors.
Best Song: “Somewhere That’s Green” – Of course there was only one song that I could pick for the best in Little Shop, and it’s the best song in the Menken-Ashman songbook. A song so good, the duo couldn’t escape it for the rest of their careers – they essentially just rewrote it for The Little Mermaid. And Beauty and the Beast. And Newsies. And Aladdin. And then Menken did it alone in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And Hercules. And Tangled. And then got it parodied in Book of Mormon. That’s right, it’s “Somewhere That’s Green.” Always sung perfectly by whichever actress performs it (it even sounded great in my high school’s production when I was a freshman, and high school productions never sound good), but never better than Ellen Greene, “Green” is the epitome of the “I Want” song, a song where the protagonist sings of their dream life, far from the horrors of their modern existence. Of course, “Green” isn’t just a sweet “I Want” song, despite the utter adorability of Audrey’s fantasies – it also has some bite. Her dream, as is understood by a modern-day audience, is a false perfection sold to her by the American Dream. It’s a fantasy made up of appliances advertised as “necessary to be a good mother/wife.” It’s a false notion built on greed (a great laugh line is how she’ll have a “big enormous 12” screen). It’s laced with irony, but its sweetness is sincere; the perfect combination for a perfect song.
2. The Producers
There were always two musicals I knew would have a shot at the top spot, and one of them was the record-holder for the most Tony wins in history. That show, despite all the odds, is Mel Brooks’ incomparable The Producers. The show that never should have worked, incidentally, is based on a film that never should have worked: the story of two men, a failed producer and his nebbish accountant, who realize that they can con a series of elderly women into giving them millions of dollars and then swindling the money when the show inevitably flops. The 1968 classic broke all the rules when it burst onto the screen, so it makes sense that the musical would do the same thing. And honestly, no musical has better exemplified its original’s “no sh*ts given” attitude. Like any great Brooks spoof, the show lovingly mocks the tropes of its format. Only instead of mocking the format of the Western, or turning The Force into the Schwartz, here Brooks uses his film to parody the tropes of Broadway musicals. There’s the two-man duet in “We Can Do It,” the I Want song in “I Wanna Be A Producer,” the Big Tap Dance in “Along Came Bialy” (performed by a series of ravenous little old ladies), the flamboyant extravaganza of “Keep It Gay,” the powerful love ballad in “’Til Him,” and more. Along the way, the actors play their roles in particular Brooksian fashion: Franz Liebkind and Roger De Bris go Big and Broad, Leo Bloom goes small and neurotic, and Max Bialystock (played perfectly onscreen by Zero Mostel, and brilliantly onstage by Nathan Lane) follows in Brooks’ footsteps and winks at the audience through fourth wall breaks. It’s a musical that knows what makes its creator’s works so brilliant, and translates it to the stage. And it’s one of the funniest accomplishments in Broadway history.
Best Song: “Springtime For Hitler” – Yes, yes, I’m cheating by picking a song originally written for the original. Shut up. But honestly, how can you talk about The Producers and not talk about “Springtime For Hitler?” It’s the crux of the show. Plus, the song does something inspiring that no other movie musical adaptation has dreamt of doing: it has expanded the song, adding an entire new portion that rewrites an entire character with a diva portion. Don’t get me wrong, the original material is there: a group of Germans still sing about the glories of The Führer with such horrifically gaudy lines as “Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Winter for Poland and France,” “We’re marching to a faster pace/Look out, here comes the Master Race,” and “Don’t be stupid, be a smartie/Come and join da Nazi Party!” (the latter line still belted to this day by a recording of Brooks himself) And the song still ends with the actors gathering in a makeshift swastika and marching around the stage, reflected by a mirror. But the song moves forward from there in glorious fashion. Now, Roger DeBris comes to the stage as a fully flamboyant Hitler, and gives a performance that has and will win any performer to try it a Tony. Featuring allusions to Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman, and Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, De Bris’ Hitler is released of all menace and honor to be portrayed in pompous flightiness. It’s the type of humor the show does well, and demonstrates the art of adaptation in brilliant manner.
And finally, we reach our #1 spot, and I can think of no better musical adaptation of a movie than Hairspray, based on the film by John Waters. Conceived by Margo Lion after watching the film on TV, and developed after Marissa Jaret Winokur stole American Beauty as the Mr. Smiley’s Girl, Hairspray has become the newest Great American Musical – the heir apparent to regional, touring, and high school staples like Oklahoma!, Annie, Guys and Dolls, Cinderella, and Grease. The reason I chose Hairspray for the top slot is simple: not only did it carry on the spirit of both the original and its campy director, but it also expanded the world of the original, finding new ways to explore the themes of acceptance and love.. Does it tone down the harsher aspects of the story, like the Von Tussles trying to bomb the Miss Auto Show, or Penny’s parents literally trying to brainwash their daughter against interracial dating? Sure, but don’t think for a second that writers Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan lose Waters’ original comedy or its acerbic core in their adaptation to the stage. The end of Act I features a race riot. An unnamed Authority Figure shows up in multiple roles to abuse our heroes for their different views. The show literally opens with the optimistic Tracy greeting both a drunk and a flasher. They even maintain the Drag tradition of the film by casting Tracy Turnblad’s mother with a man – a touching homage to original star Divine, as well as a way of including homosexuality in the list of Others who will fight back over the course of the show (including being overweight, being black, and more). And don’t get me started on the songs, which provide a mix of 60s flavoring, Menken/Ashman tribute, Elvis, classic Broadway, and Motown. The opening “Good Morning Baltimore” is one of the greatest musical openings of the modern era. “The Nicest Kids In Town” is a hilariously perfect send-up to 60s variety shows. “Mama I’m A Big Girl Now” is a hilarious statement of female pride during the angst-ridden pubescent years. “I Can Hear The Bells” is both lovely and witty at the same time. “Without Love” is a properly cheesy 60s love ballad. And “Welcome to the 60s” is an empowering song of progress, although not quite as empowering as the show-stopping Motormouth Mabel solo “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Hairspray is an intelligent, modern musical disguised as a classical Broadway piece, and in terms of both capturing the spirit of the original, expounding on its themes, and properly capturing the spirit of Broadway, no show has done it better.
Best Song: “You Can’t Stop The Beat” – I tried to shy away from choosing the final songs as the Best of the Show, but it’s hard to pick anything else for Hairspray. “You Can’t Stop The Beat” just sums everything up so nicely, and builds in such a creative, fun way, that it’s hard for anything else in the show to top it. First, you have Tracy reclaiming her voice and taking a stand for her rights. Then you have Link finally taking a stand on the side of justice. Then you have Penny and Seaweed joining them to demonstrate interracial love. Then Edna Turnblad (usually portrayed perfectly by Fierstein) triumphantly takes the stage, proud of her body (and subtextually of her Queerness) to sing about “liking the way I am,” and how “If you don’t like the way I look/Well, I just don’t give a damn!” Then Motormouth brings it home to declare that progress will always move things forward, and the evils of the past will never come back (an apparently idealistic statement from 2003, but I like the sentiment). However, what’s most exciting about the song – and the show itself – is the sense of both redemption and change. During the song, not only is The Corny Collins Show integrated, but the villainous Von Tussle women are invited onstage to share in the excitement, changed and converted by the upbeat, infectious power of the song. Even Penny’s mother, abandoned and disgraced in the film, rushes to the stage to give her daughter and Seaweed her blessing. This is a fun, happy, infectious song, and it defines what Hairspray does so well, as a show and as an adaptation.
Well, that concludes the Top Ten Musicals Based On Movies! I hope you enjoyed the list. Let me know in the comments if you agree, or even how wrong you think I am, and I’ll see you all this Sunday, June 9th, for the 73rd Tony Awards, hosted by James Corden.