Despite having the singing skills of a potato, I want nothing more than to live in the world of a musical. Imagine being at the DMV or something and being overcome with the need to sing about the wait. Then the bored workers join you for the chorus, completely nailing the complex choreography. Am I the only person who thinks that’d be totally awesome? Even though I absolutely love musicals, I realize they exist in a weird world. You can suspend all your disbeliefs and musicals can still get really weird sometimes (did you know there’s a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera?). I scratched the strange surface and spotted these four in our collection.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
I’m someone who holds The Beatles sacred, so I think I’m more critical of this movie than any other on this list. After catching the ear of a big-time Hollywood record producer, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band leave behind their small hometown of Heartland, USA (seriously), quickly becoming stars while experiencing the splendor and sleaze of the music industry. There’s also a plot to destroy their hometown thrown in because bad covers of Beatles songs can only last so long. I know that Across the Universe, another musical using Beatles songs has its detractors, but it looks like Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story and The Sound of Music combined in comparison. Did I mention this stars, among others, the BeeGees? Watching them strut around with more hair on their face than I have on my entire body while “singing” Beatles songs was certainly jarring and seeing George Burns talk-sing through a lethargic rendition of “Fixing a Hole” was cute and sad, like how seeing a turtle trudge through tar is cute, but also sad. The movie also features blasphemous covers by Alice Cooper before he was shilling Apple Watches and Aerosmith before Steven Tyler looked like a jack-o-lantern left outside two weeks after Halloween. If you’re a fan of musicals or a hardcore Beatles fan, I’d recommend checking it out just so you can say you experienced the insanity. If you value your mental facilities, watch literally other film on this list, like …
Streets of Fire
As this film opens a title card informs us that what we’re about to see takes place in “another time” and “another place…” Billed as a “rock & roll fable”, Streets of Fire opens with a motorcycle gang, led by Willem Dafoe, kidnapping a famous singer, played by Diane Lane. To rescure her, her agent, played by Rick Moranis contracts her ex-lover, played by Michael Pare (who?), a soldier-for-hire who happens to be passing through town. The ragtag group hijacks a doo-wop group’s bus and eventually track the singer down. This is the movie that actually inspired my journey into the world of weird musicals and it’s objectively a terrible movie. The acting is wooden, the dialogue is stilted but I unapologetically love it. Everyone plays their parts so straight that it just makes it seem like a ridiculous fever dream of the Regan years. It looks like it takes place in the alternate 1985 from Back to the Future Part II and I’m pretty sure every major scene took place under a bridge or in a tunnel. Do you want to know how much of a relic this is from the 1980s? Dafoe—in only his fourth film role—gets billed after Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan, but before Bill Paxton. Not to mention that the songs sound like the lovechild of Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler. The only thing that could have made this movie more awesome would have been to have Dafoe sing a show-stopping ballad while riding a motorcycle. But I guess if 1984 was exposed to that the world would have probably imploded under the weight of this movie’s awesome terribleness.
Phantom of the Paradise
This and the next film are both from 1974 and they’re both a trip. What was happening in the early-1970s that inspired these kinds of films? Apparently director Brian De Palma was inspired to make this after hearing a muzak cover of “A Day in the Life”. This is essentially a rock opera remake of The Phantom of the Opera, with a little Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray thrown in. A record producer (played by one-half of the team that wrote “Rainbow Connection”) is opening a club—The Paradise—and needs new music to accompany the opening. When he hears the music from an obscure composer, he steals it and frames the composer for drug dealing. In an attempt to avoid capture, the composer gets horribly disfigured. Later, he escapes prison and hides out in The Paradise, waiting for the perfect moment to exact revenge on the producer. Also, The Phantom’s lover is in danger, or something. I guess there’s a message in the movie about how the business and corporate side of things can destroy art, not unlike Sgt. Pepper, but Phantom of the Paradise is just so weird you might forget that there’s even a message to be had. When it was released, it flopped but has since gained a cult following.
The Little Prince
Sadly, this is not a Purple Rain prequel or some kind of Prince: Origins movie, may he rest in power. Based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and with music and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe—the songwriting team behind An American in Paris, Brigadoon and My Fair Lady—I imagine this movie is what being on all the drugs in the early 1970s was like. It opens with a pilot played by Richard Kiley making an emergency landing in the Sahara Desert. As he spares no expense trying to fix his plane, the titular Prince appears. The Little Prince has been on Earth for a while, after a perilous and low-tech journey through the solar system. He recounts his tales to the pilot, giving special attention to his encounters with the Fox (played by Gene Wilder, trying to out-Gene Wilder himself) and the Snake (played by Bob Fosse, who you may have never heard of, but we’ll come back to him in a minute). I’ve never read the original novella, but this movie is cute and creepy, like the movie version of a banded piglet squid. Seeing Wilder and Fosse dance and sing around this poor kid gives the film a really weird vibe. And speaking of weird, remember Fosse, the man who won eight Tony awards for choreography throughout his career? Okay, so maybe you’ve never heard of him, but his dance moves probably look more than a little familiar. Take a look:
Nothing is original and everything is a remake of a remake. While we’re on that subject, a gorgeous-looking computer-animated remake of The Little Prince was supposed to come out in March, but a week before its release date, Paramount dropped the film. The good news is that Netflix picked it up.
Is your favorite musical a bit on the weird side? Let us know in the comments below.
2 responses to “Misfit Musicals”
Might I nominate Rocky Horror Picture Show? It’s both weird, wonderful, and amazing. And for children, perhaps Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…
Ross – I have long believe that life would be more pleasant and less strife filled if we all regularly broke into song or dance! I think that’s why Steven Bochco’ Cop Rock, Glee, and the current Girl Crazy appealed to me.