Feb 12, 2001

The Bottom Line There are so many great musicals that I included 12 in my top ten. I wanted to include 20. Unfortunately, this genre is disappearing from the big screens.

I came across this category several weeks ago and was surprised that there were only six
or seven epinions written about The Top Ten Musicals. One writer wrote a fine epinion
but stated he or she could only think of six great musicals. This, plus the small number
of epinions is really not so surprising given the state of musicals in Hollywood and
everywhere else. The only musicals of major importance are now animated. This is
disappointing to me because musicals used to be a great contributor to our culture. Oh,
well, such is life.

With that rambling aside, this was another topic that was extremely difficult for me. This
is not because I could not remember ten musicals; it is because my wife and I
remembered over thirty great musicals and I'm sure that I am missing some others that I
loved. As with my other epinions on Sci-Fi and Horror films, I rate only movies that I
have seen and remember. I mention this only because one comment took me to task for
not including two films I'd never seen.

At first I "narrowed" my list down to 15 musicals but I did not want to bore any readers
of this to death so now I have twelve top ten favorites. How's that for new math?

Before I list my favorites, I want to list my honorable mentions all of which are great
AND AMADEUS. It really hurts to not write about each of these classics but I had to
narrow the list down. So, here's my top "Ten":

Tied for tenth are the following:


I really didn't want to see this movie. We went to a theater in Austin that shows
foreign films but the one we wanted to see was sold out so we "settled" for this gem.
Two hours later we emerged believing that this was the best musical of the '90's. It is the
story of a middleaged businessman in Japan who is burned out with his work and family.
He spots a beautiful lady in the window of a building as he sits in his commuter train and
decides to find out who she is. This decision changes his life. The beautiful lady is a
ballerina turned ballroom dance instructor. The businessman played beautifully by Koji
Yakusho takes the dance lessons and starts out like a bull in a china closet. The movie is
filled with humor and great dancing and shows the cultural differences between East and

10b. THE MUSIC MAN (1962)

I won't write as much about this film because if you like musicals, you've seen it.
Robert Preston is the music man and he is absolutely perfect for the role of the conman
who saves a town from mediocrity. Shirley Jones, Buddy Hacket, Paul Ford and little
Opie (Ron Howard) all show us a beautiful musical and comical time of a bygone era.
Great tunes with none greater than "Trouble".

10c. ALL THAT JAZZ (1979)

Not exactly a feel-good musical, Bob Fosse directed this story of his life in a none-
to-complimentary way. Roy Scheider plays choreographer Fosse with all his strengths
and glaring weaknesses. Scheider is incredible as is the rest of the cast which features
Jessica Lange as a ghostly presence and Ben Vereen as the host of Fosse's afterlife. The
dancing is amazing throughout the film and two numbers in particular stand out: The
opening number featuring George Benson's "On Broadway" and the last number "I Think
I'm Gonna Die" which Vareen sings for several minutes. Dark in the telling, the acting
and dancing and singing were superb.


Inspired by the expatriate black musicians who could find more freedom and respect
oversees (specifically Bud Powell and Lester Young) Dextor Gordan plays a sax player
with a drinking problem who is befriended by a fan of his (Francois Cluzet) and their
relationship helps them both. Gordan, of course, had some substance abuse problems of
his own and he plays this role to perfection. His voice is the melodic guttural sound of
many musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis and he speaks with the
rhythms that he plays. Director Bertrand Tavernier is obviously a jazz fan as this is a
tribute to the great players of the '50s and beyond.

8. FUNNY GIRL (1968)

Let's see now. A girl from Brooklyn stars in her very first movie and wins an Oscar
for playing Fannie Brice. Nice start, wouldn't you say? Barbra Streisand is this movie
although there is an excellent cast including Omar Sharif and Walter Pidgeon. The great
William Wyler directed the film which was criticized for not being true to the life of
Brice but featured great music and singing by Barbra. The score includes "People",
"Second Hand Rose", "My Man" and the final song sung on a tugboat "Don't Rain on My


The story of a man trying to maintain the traditions of his small Russian village
during turbulent times, Norman Jewison directed a masterpiece here. Topal plays the
main character, Tevye, who attempts to hold on to Jewish traditions. In fact, the song,
"Traditions" is a highlight of the film. "Do You Love Me" is another beautiful song sung
by Tevye and his wife. Although the movie is three hours long, it never drags and seems
like a history lesson set to music.


Released after the more Oscar-awarded Amadeus, I believe this musical biography of
Beethoven is a far superior movie. Gary Oldham should have won an Oscar for Best
Actor but I don't thing he was even nominated. The London Symphony plays the
maestro's music and the tale is told with many flashbacks. Oldham is simply amazing in
this movie. Bernard Rose directed and wrote the film which was criticized again for not
being entirely accurate but just listening to the great music and seeing Oldham's
performance makes this great viewing.


O.K., this is quite a switch from Ludwig Von but this was a revolutionary film.
Richard Lester directed this view of a day in the life of the Beatles. He produced a visual
and musical masterpiece. There may have been predecessors, but I believe this is the
prototype to many of the music videos we now see. The songs are great from "A Hard
Day's Night" to "Can't Buy Me Love" and the wild camera angles and fast-moving action
is a joy to watch.


Who'd a thunk it to quote the old phrase of yesteryear. Let's take a man who has
played bad, tough guys for years and turn him into a song and dance man. Never work,
right? Well, it did here with James Cagney winning an Oscar for his depiction of George
M. Cohan. An all-star casts backs him, but Cagney is magnificent as the man who gave
us so much great music. Check out the scene where Cagney dances on the tables; it's a
visual delight.


Man, these last three are killers for me because each of them has a special place in
my heart. I was a teenager in West Texas when I saw Bernstein's musical update to
Romeo and Juliet. Were it not for some questionable casting, this might have been my
first choice. I really liked Natalie Woods but not in this role. She obviously was not
Hispanic and she didn't sing a lick. The almost never seen again Richard Beymer was not
exactly an inspired choice either. But the music and the dancing were truly marvelous.
Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins directed the film which included some of the greatest
songs ever written: "Tonight", "America", "Maria" and "Something's Coming".

The Jets and the Sharks represent the two warring factions the scene in which they
all appear at a community dance is one of the finest in cinema history. Humor is also
present in the interaction with the city kids and the local cops. But it is that music and
the best ever group choreography that makes this a masterpiece.

2. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

As I wrote, this part was so hard for me to rate because I absolutely love this film.
Victor Fleming directed one of the greatest ensembles ever singing and dancing to the
music of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Starting out in a drab Kansas black and white,
we are whisked away to the technicolor land of Oz. I don't have to write much more as
this is probably the most frequently seen musical of all time but thank you Judy Garland,
Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan and the nasty witch Margaret Hamilton
for making all our lives better. Click your shoes together and say "There's no place like


Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Conner, Gene Hagen, Cyd Charisse! Who
could ask for anything more. Directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen direct this classic set
in Hollywood during the change from silent films to talkies. No one can ever forget the
title cut performance by Kelly with umbrella, rain and absolute perfection in his
innovative dancing. While "West Side Story" had greater ensemble dancing, no movie
has ever equalled the individual performances in this film.

Well, that's all folks. Took me a long time to put this list together and I hope it is useful
in helping you find some gems that we no longer get to see.

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