Oh, how I adore a movie musical. Stage musicals too, yes, of course. And further of course, who doesn’t love a movie made out of a stage musical? Like Rock of Ages, in theaters this Friday, June 15. And one of the best things about almost any musical you care to name is that, more than anything else, the main theme is inevitably True Love.
Now, I am not talking, here, about movies that happen to involve music in their plot: your “Let’s Put on a Show!”-style stories like Fame or Burlesque, where yes, there is singing and dancing, but that’s because the main characters are simply performing their craft. In a true musical, that doesn’t have to be the case, there doesn’t have to be a reason for the music—though often there is, which is why Fred Astaire played the role of so many song-and-dance men throughout his long career. Still, if it doesn’t feature invisible orchestras, plot-furthering lyrics and spontaneous synchronized choreography (especially involving strangers), then the movie is disqualified from consideration here.
And now, on with the show…
10. Bugsy Malone and Blousey Brown
Bugsy Malone (1976)
Played by Scott Baio and Florrie Dugger
While it is more than a little disconcerting to be commenting on a romance carried out by children acting as adults when, as an adult, one now finds it completely inappropriate to consider our titular Bugsy (Scott Baio) even remotely attractive, anyone who ever spent their childhood learning about protection rackets and hookers and Prohibition from this—I must concede—truly bizarre homage to gangster films will surely recall the smooth-talking Bugsy’s immediate attraction to spitfire singer Blousey, and then their rocky road to a Hollywood ending. Also of note in this movie, of course, is a star turn by the precocious Jodie Foster as scheming songstress Tallula. (“My name is Talulla, my first rule of fun…”) And, hey, the bullets are cream pies!
Memorable Songs: “Fat Sam’s Grand Slam,“ “Bad Guys,” “My Name is Tallula,“ “So You Wanna Be a Boxer,” “You Give a Little Love.”
9. Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez
High School Musical 1, 2 and 3 (2006, 2007, 2008)
Played by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens
Speaking of the inappropriateness of finding certain musical leading men attractive, here the floppy locks and perfect grin of a very young Zac Efron are liable to give one a big case of the shame-on-yous as his BMOC basketball star, Troy, falls for both musical theater and brainy beauty Gabriella, in almost equal measure. I get that I will probably be ferociously mocked for stating this here—as I am, I assure you, by all of my acquaintance at any opportunity—but I love this trilogy of musicals, with their peppy pop jingles, their high energy dance routines (occasionally performed with basketballs) and their chaste teen romancing between improbably talented kids, who deal with such earth-shattering issues as parental expectations, summer jobs, prom and choice of college through song. Not to mention the dapper fashions of proto-Kurt Hummel, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), the snarky wit of mean girl Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), and the outright knowing hilarity of such song lyrics as “I don’t dance”, sung emphatically by the too-cool-for-school Chad (Corbin Blue) as he is—you guessed it—dancing! Absolute genius.
Memorable Songs: “Start of Something New,“ “Get’cha Head in the Game,” “Stick to the Status Quo,” “We’re All in This Together”… and that’s just the first one.
8. Harold Hill and Marian Paroo
The Music Man (1962)
Played by Robert Preston and Shirley Jones
Perhaps best known nowadays for spawning one of the most iconic musical numbers ever seen on The Simpsons (“Monorail!”), The Music Man tells the tale of pre-WWI travelling salesman “Professor” Harold Hill, a shyster who rolls into small town Indiana claiming that the only way its upright citizens can save their young folk from the evils that come with the playing of parlor games (“Ya got trouble, right here in River City, with a Capital T, that rhymes with P that stands for Pool”) is the institution of a fictional youth marching band. Along the way, he clashes with the spirited, beautiful and inexplicably spinsterish town librarian/piano teacher Marion (Shirley Jones) and in the end, the love of a good woman—and of her scapegrace younger brother, played by a very young Ron Howard—inspires Hill to put aside his wandering charlatan ways and settle down to teach music, presumably at some point actually learning how to play.
Memorable Songs: “Ya Got Trouble,” “Goodnight My Someone,” “Gary, Indiana,” “Shipoopi,” “Till There Was You,” “76 Trombones.“
7. Christian and Satine
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Played by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman
Rarely does a musical—and especially a romantic musical— end without a passionate embrace from our tonally gifted leads as they look towards a happy ever after filled with beautiful harmonies. But in this case, no. Sadness. Our lovely leading lady, the singing courtesan known as “The Sparkling Diamond” and star of the titular cabaret club in its 19th-century heydey, meets by chance the penniless but talented lyricist Christian, and the two carry on a torrid love affair right under the nose of her wealthy pursuer, anachronistically singing each other songs gleaned from almost every modern musical genre …until, that is, Satine dies of consumption, leaving Christian disconsolate and growing a beard worthy of a mountain man. Damn you, century with no antibiotics! It’s all very sweet, though.
Memorable Songs: “Lady Marmalade,” “Your Song,” “Elephant Love Medley,” “Come What May.”
6. Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Dolittle
My Fair Lady (1957)
Played by Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn
After bragging to a fellow elocutionist that he could turn even the meanest street urchin in to a lady with just some voice coaching and condescension, Henry Higgins ends up with flower vendor Eliza Dolittle living in his bachelor home, discovering her aitches and learning about hurricanes in Hampshire and messing with his ordered existence. In opposition to its source material, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, in the musical Eliza turns down the love of the eminently suitable aristocrat Freddy (Jeremy Brett) in order to cater to her ‘Enry ‘Iggins’s every whim, and while their acrimonious May/December romance mightn’t seem the likeliest of outcomes, given the hurtful power of many of the lyrics the two fling at each other, it is nevertheless very satisfying.
Memorable Songs: “Why Can’t the English?,” “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?,” “Just You Wait,” “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “Without You,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
HONORABLE AUDREY HEPBURN MENTION: Funny Face.
5. Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane
Calamity Jane (1953)
Played by Howard Keel and Doris Day
As much as it is a Western, and supposedly based on the exploits of real historical figures, this movie is far more a soap operatic exploration of infatuation, friendship and the benefits of a really quality makeover. Calamity “Calam” Jane is a dirty-faced, leather-clad markswoman with a hot temper and a shameless crush on local soldier Danny (Philip Carey). But when Danny, along with Calam’s best-friend, the whip-cracking crack shot Wild Bill, fall in love with new girl in town, Katie (Allyn McLerie), Calam comes to realize that if she would just put on a dress, damn it, then maybe she could catch a man, too! Okay, so it’s not the best message of female empowerment ever committed to screen. But when Calamity and Hickock come to realize that, “Hey, Danny and Katie aren’t the stars of this movie! We are! We’d better hook up!,” it is a fine example of the Lovers of Friends trope, marked especially by the Academy Award-winning mega-hit, “Secret Love,” one of the finest love songs ever penned and performed immaculately by a Doris Day at the height of her ephemeral powers.
Memorable Songs: “The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away!),” “Just Blew in from the Windy City,” “A Woman’s Touch,” “Secret Love.”
HONORABLE DORIS DAY MENTIONS: On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Tea For Two, No, No, Nanette, The Pajama Game… oh, just all of them!
4. Maureen and Joanne
Played by Idina Menzel and Tracie Thoms
Rent, I don’t mind telling you, is my favorite, favorite musical of all time, and while I adore the stage show much more than the filmed version—and am devastated it closed on Broadway, so that I might not get to see it there for a twelfth performance—I like the (admittedly heavily-adapted) movie version just fine, in particular due to Idina Menzel’s riveting rendition of flirtatious counter-culture performance artist Maureen, a role she originated on stage. Free spirit Maureen is the bane of her straight-laced girlfriend Joanne’s existence, and their tempestuous relationship never appears easy, but it is absolutely compelling—and is the only one in the story not to involve tragic imminent death from AIDS—and so deservedly belongs on this list. Not to mention, their big duet may be the cleverest break up song ever recorded.
Memorable Songs: “Seasons of Love,” “Rent,” “Tango: Maureen,” “La Vie Boheme,” “Take Me or Leave Me,” “I’ll Cover You.”
3. Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont
Top Hat (1935)
Played by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Tap dancer Jerry Travers is in London rehearsing his routine when he awakens the ire of a very annoyed neighbor, Dale Tremont—with whom he falls in immediate love. Mistaken identities, European travel, language-challenged Italian fashion designers, meddling valets and sumptuous dance numbers—including probably the most famous of all duets, the “Cheek to Cheek” single-take routine—ensue, resulting at last in a chastely successful courtship… and yet more dance numbers. Yay!
Memorable Songs: “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” “Cheek to Cheek.”
2. Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Played by Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds
Replete with one of the most adorable “meet cute”s in musical history, this deceptively simple film tells the tale of the early days of “The Talkies”, when silent movie stars had to make the leap to modern-day cinema—often not entirely successfully. One of those stars is Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), whose first attempt in the new medium is a complete disaster, until he, his mobile friend Cosmo (Donald O’Connor), and his new love interest, aspiring actress Kathy, help turn it into a musical… much to the disgust of reigning screen siren, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who wants both Don and the credit for Kathy’s pleasing speaking voice all for herself. But, no, sorry, Lina. Sucks for you.
Memorable Songs: “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Make ’Em Laugh,” “You Were Meant for Me,” “Good Morning,” “Would You?” (All of which had previously appeared in other musicals!)
HONORABLE GENE KELLY MENTIONS: For Me and My Gal, The Pirate, Anchors Aweigh, An American in Paris.
1. Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsen
Played by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
My childhood was pretty much defined by repeated viewings of this movie, the tale of good girl Sandy and bad boy Danny and many grown up concepts it was not given to the 8-year-old me to understand. (How did Rizzo get the baby in her? Why did Sandy hit Danny when he was trying to cuddle? What does “flog your log” mean? This movie is really not appropriate viewing for youngsters, in retrospect.) After a summer idyll, these two oldest-looking high school kids in the world—she, a wholesome immigrant from Australia; he, a founding member of leather jacket-wearing greaser gang The T-Birds—discover that they now attend the same school, and manage to navigate the 1950s social whirl of pep rallies, soda fountains, soc hops, drive-ins and carnivals while at the same time coming to a mature understanding that their profound differences in temperament and outlook make them fundamentally incompatible—or, wait, no, they each try to change to become more like the other, which for one means joining the track team, and for the other means spray-painting on a catsuit and taking up smoking. (Yeah, I really shouldn’t have been watching this as a child.) Then they both take off in a flying car. Of course. It’s magical!
Memorable Songs: “Summer Lovin,’, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Greased Lightning,” “Sandra Dee,” “O Sandy," “You’re the One That I Want,” “We Go Together.”
HONORABLE OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN MENTION: Xanadu.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Rachel Hyland’s previous Top 10 Film Romances:
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.