Top 10 Male Casting Choices in Movie Musicals

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Washington D.C. Columnist

If you’re a performer like me, there’s nothing you love more than a well done movie musical. Movie Musicals can be an incredible piece of art or just another failed film, no one knows which until the finished product is put before the public. The one thing that can lift a musical film over the edge is the casting. Casting for musical films can be very stressful because you have to take many things into account that aren’t usually factors in a regular casting process.

For example you must ask questions like “Can this actor sing/dance well?”, “Can they believably portray a beloved character from a classic musical convincingly?” “Will they be taken seriously once they burst out into song?”, and so on and so forth. Some of the best casting choices ever made came from casting roles in movie musicals. These actors and casting directors can sometimes be overlooked due to the industry not always taking movie musicals as seriously as other films, even they deserve just as much respect. If not more.

So, today I thought I would share my opinions on the 10 best male casting decisions from movie musicals. Keep in mind; I’m not ranking the films, just the performances mentioned. I’m taking into account the success of the role, the lasting impact of the character, the believability in an adapted role to that of it’s original and the irreplaceably of an actor in a role, adapted or original.

Honorable Mention: Adam Pascal in Rent

This one is a little unfair as he did originate the role for the stage and then just transferred to the screen, like most of the cast. However, this performance can’t be over looked, he totally embodies the character of Rodger and gives the part everything he’s got and manages to outshine his cast mates, which in a film with this much star power is impressive.

10. Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls

This role was absolutely perfect for Murphy, he was able to show his quick tongued humor and jazzy vocals as James Early in this film. While most casting directors would have overlooked Murphy for usually only being known as the “funny guy” and for not having many vocal credits up to that point, Eddy was given the role in this film. The film took him all the way to the Academy Awards, receiving his first nomination for an Oscar.

9. John Cameron Mitchell in Headwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig is one of the more divisive musicals I’ve come across, most people either like or they don’t. I personally am not a huge fan of the musical, however I recognize a great performance when I see one. This role really calls for severe dedication from its protagonist and Mitchell delivers it, making Hedwig a staple in the movie musical genre.

8. Ryan Gosling in La La Land

While many may argue Emma Stone gave a superior performance in the film, I must say I feel like you could replace Stone and still have a solid film. However you could not replace Gosling, this part is just tailor made for him. Sebastian allows him to show off every angle of his talents, including drama, comedy, music, dance, etc. Also I bet when you think of La La Land you almost immediately think of Goslings big number, not Emma’s.

7. Sacha Baron Cohen in Les Misérables

This will probably be the one you disagree with the most but I feel it was an astonishingly great casting choice. Every part of Cohen’s demeanor screams this role, be it his tall lanky body or crazy facial hair, he just fits. His sinister and comedic vocals also fit the character perfectly, making a small part become one of the most memorable in the film. He is the master of the house.

6. Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

While TRHPS definitely has its controversy, one thing that isn’t controversial is that Tim Curry makes this film. I can’t even begin to place another face or voice on Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and I’m guessing you couldn’t either. I feel this show/film could not have turned into the cult classic it is now without Curry and his interpretation of the role. It’s his most famous part and for good reason.

5. Rick Moranis from Little Shop of Horrors

Like Murphy, Rick Moranis didn’t really scream movie musical actor at first glance, but he was able to fit into this role beautifully. He definitely looked the part, and turned out had some impressive vocals as well. When I picture Seymour in my brain is Rick who shows up, every time. He conveys the central themes of loneliness, greed and lust fantastically throughout the show.

4. Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music

There are few movie musicals as well liked and decorated as The Sound of Music, and with good reason. This film is iconic, not only for its music and historical depictions, but also for its amazing cast. Holding your own against Julie Andrews is no east task, but Plummer manages to go toe to toe with her on vocals and acting. I watch this film every year and every year I am still inspired by Plummer and his work on this movie musical.

3. Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This one should be no surprise. Wonka is one of the most beloved and in my opinion, complex, characters in cinema history. Like others on this list, Gene Wilder could have been easy not to cast in this role, as The Producers was his only other major credit but thank goodness he got the part and was able to give off one of the greatest screen performances of all time. While I enjoy Johnny Depp’s take on the character, nothing can compete with Wilder. May he rest in peace.

2. Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain

Similar to Curry, Singin’ in the Rain owes all its success to Kelly. He is the definition of an iconic movie musical actor. It was between the two Genes for me for the number 2 spot on the list and what put Kelly over the edge was his dance skills. The man could move. Singin’ in the Rain is usually number 1 on almost every best movie musical countdown and Kelly is the major reason why. May he rest in peace.

1. The Male Cast in Chicago

This is kind of cheating but in my opinion Chicago is the best cast movie musical, not necessarily the best movie itself but the whole thing was perfectly cast. John C. Riley gave an Academy Award nominated performance as Amos and really captured his whole character and songs perfectly. Richard Gere also gave a marvelous performance as Billy Flynn, giving perhaps the most entertaining performance in the whole. Even Taye Diggs stood out, without ever singing.

So there’s my list. I hope you agree with some of my pics and I’d love to hear you’re picks as well so feel free to comment and share! Also keep an eye out for my 10 Best Female Casting Choices in Movie Musicals, which will be out next week!

How Movie Musicals Can Connect Generations

Jennifer Butler

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

For as long as I can remember I have always connected with people who are much older than I am. The shows that I enjoy the most are ones with the music considered before my time. The same goes with movie musicals. Nothing beats Meet Me in St. Louis, Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris, Guys and Dolls or Our Town. The movie musicals of the 50’s are where many classics lie and I can assure you that I would much rather watch those movies than pretty much anything on television these days.

Over the last couple of years I have been spending time with my cousins and taking care of my Uncle Bill who is now 91 years old. More recently, while visiting Uncle Bill, he and I got to talking about the theater and the shows that I am currently working on. One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I told him that I was going to bring an old movie musical for us to watch. I don’t think he believed me but for my next visit I walked in with An American in Paris and a laptop for us to watch it on.

I was watching it as a theater person because I know of the Broadway adaptation An American in Paris and some of the other movie musicals such as White Christmas. But he knows them as the originals. He can remember when they were originally released. Even though he said he wasn’t a movie guy, he was able to remember the stories of the actors that were in An American in Paris and the other projects these actors were apart of during that time. He repeated a number of times during the movie how great a pianist Oscar Levant was. But when we originally watched them doesn’t matter, what matters is that we laughed at the same parts, both sang along to “I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise,” created cherished memories for the two of us, and gave us something to talk about.  

Now, I don’t need these classic movie musicals to talk to him. I could sit and listen to him for hours, but I do appreciate the conversations and the stories that they led him to share.  He not only talked about the actors, but he told me about his favorite music, the records that he used to collect and even told me stories of life in general when he was growing up and of his time in the Army during World War Two. 

It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to sit and chat with him about his early life but when I do, I hear stories that I plan to cherish for as long as I can. And just as I re-watch these movies with him, I plan on sharing them with both my future children and grandchildren.

Though these movie musicals are like the ones made today, only now with the advancement of technology, they are still one of a kinds and are something special because after all these years these movies are still connecting people, connecting families, and most importantly connecting generations. 

13 Halloween Movies For Theatre People

Aaron Netsky

  • New York Columnist

Every theatre person has horror stories about the theatre, but they are rarely made into movies. And they, arguably, rarely involve monsters, and hopefully even more rarely involve murder. As Halloween 2016 approaches, some show business people will have parties to go to, some will be getting ready for trick-or-treating, some will keep running for President of the United States, but some will want to just kick back and enjoy a night in with a movie that gets the spirit of the season and that has a connection to the theatre world we all love.

Here are 13 Halloween movies for theatre people:

13: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, 2016): I had to start with the most obvious, for a few reasons. First, because it is the monster movie that theatre people most often make a habit of re-enacting, while it is playing up on a big screen behind them, around Halloween. Second, because on Thursday, October 20th, a group of theatre people are going to do just that on live television (Fox), including Reeve Carney, Annaleigh Ashford, Ben Vereen, and the original “sweet transvestite” himself, Tim Curry. Oh, and one mustn’t forget Laverne Cox, who will be putting a new stamp on Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

12: The Phantom of the Opera (1925, 2004, etc.): For all the romance and beautiful music, The Phantom of the Opera is, at its heart and soul, a monster story. Over the years, the Phantom has worn many masks and many faces, and if you want a frightening ghoul peeking out from behind the mask, you might want to go with Lon Chaney’s rendition over Gerard Butler’s. However, if you prefer your Phantom with “far too many notes,” the 2004 adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical is your movie, with music recorded by a one-hundred-piece orchestra, sweeping visuals that give you a real sense of life at an opera house, and some truly fun performances from the cast. With Phantom, you always have many choices, just don’t try his patience.

11: Little Shop of Horrors (1986): For a more monstrous singing monster, there’s Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors. The giant automated, singing, growing plant character was created by puppeteers who had worked for Jim Henson’s company, including Henson’s son, Brian Henson, who was one of the operators. The throwback rock and roll score is performed by such comedic luminaries as Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, as well as the original (and most recent in a major New York production) stage Audrey, Ellen Greene, her voice at once powerful and delicate. For some extra viewing fun, try to track down the original, hour-and-twelve-minute long Roger Corman-directed version, and see if you can spot Jack Nicholson in one of his first screen roles.

10: Sweeney Todd (2007): Probably one of the most terrifying musicals (for all the right reasons, anyway) to ever play on Broadway, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was adapted for the screen in 2007 by Tim Burton, because who else was going to do it right? It features an abbreviated score (but so did the 2005 Broadway revival), and some very creepy performances by Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman (though it leaves out the judge’s very disturbing self-flagellation song, perhaps the creepiest song in the score), and a hilarious turn as Mrs. Lovett by Helena Bonham Carter, one of at least three actresses who were part of the Harry Potter movies to have played that role. Of all the movies so far listed, the most blood and guts and gore are in this one. Come to think of it, of all the movies so far listed, Phantom is the only one that doesn’t involve eating people.

9: Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008): Speaking of blood and guts and gore, Repo! The Genetic Opera started out as an evolving musical stage production, but hit its stride when Darren Lynn Bousman (writer and director of the Saw movies) turned it into a musical movie. The idea, not uncommon in a certain circle of films, is that replacement organs can be purchased on a payment plan, like homes or cars, but getting them repossessed is arguably worse than with either of those two other two items, and far less merciful. Yes, it has Paris Hilton in it, but she’s actually pretty good. More importantly for theatre people is the presence of Sarah Brightman, the original “angel of music” (depending on who you think truly deserves that title) from The Phantom of the Opera, as Blind Mag, the voice of GeneCo, the company that produces the organs, and godmother of the head Repo Man’s daughter.

8: Freaks (1932): I include Freaks on this list for a few reasons: the first is that while it is not about theatre or based on a stage production, it is about a branch of show business, albeit one far out on a limb. A more appropriate reason, it stars many of the inspirations for characters represented in the freak show in the musical Side Show, including Josephine-Joseph, the half-woman-half-man, little people Harry and Daisy Earles, Olga Roderick, the bearded lady, Frances O’Connor, the armless girl, and, of course, Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Siamese twins about whom Side Show was written. And then there are the fascinating figures not featured in Side Show, like Johnny Eck the half boy, who ran around on his hands, and Prince Randian, the living torso, who rolled cigarettes using only his mouth. Even if it’s not directly related to theatre, it is about backstage drama, and features some truly creepy scenes without exploiting its cast.

7: The Prestige (2006): Again, not explicitly related to theatre, though much of it takes place in performance spaces of various sizes. Featuring Broadway regulars Hugh Jackman and the late David Bowie, The Prestige is about the darker driving motivations behind performing, and the sometimes horrific stagecraft that we’re usually not supposed to see. This movie features Andy Serkis in a non-motion-capture role, as the assistant to Bowie’s Nikola Tesla, and Christian Bale plays a magician in an ongoing game of one-upmanship with Jackman’s character. There are also black cats and halls of horror. I really don’t want to give too much away with this one.

6: Theatre of Death/Blood Fiend (1967): Theatre of Death (also known as Blood Fiend) stars Christopher Lee as a fiendish director of a Paris theatre dedicated to the Grand Guignol style. The style is a type of French performance specializing in naturalistic horror shows, which is part of the reason that when people start to be murdered in the vicinity of the theatre, the theatre is thought to be involved. Necrophilia, cannibalism, and vampirism are all featured in this movie that might just make you feel better about your relationship with your director.

5: Theatre of Blood (1973): I can’t say I’ve had the privilege to be in a production in which I got such a bad review I wanted to murder the critic, but that’s more from lack of opportunity than special talent on my part. That’s what happens, though, in Theatre of Blood, in which horror staple Vincent Price uses William Shakespeare’s passages as inspiration for his murder spree following a round of bad reviews. Like the previous movie, this is probably one to make you feel better about your own theatre exploits, which were not SO bad that they ended bloodily. Theatre of Blood got a stage adaptation in 2005. I hope the critics were kind.

4: Monster Mash (1995): The movie Monster Mash is based on the song “Monster Mash” and the musical I’m Sorry The Bridge is Out, You’ll Have to Spend the Night, both by Bobby Pickett (and others, in the case of the musical). The movie features Dracula, his wife, the Wolf Man, The Mummy, and Dr. Frankenstein and Igor (and who’s to say the Invisible Man is not there), who each have designs on the attractive young couple, Mary and Scott, that pulled up to the mansion they are all hanging out in just before the bridge to the front door was made impassable by the storm that drove them there in the first place. Nothing screams Halloween like an assembly of movie monsters. Current co-host of The View and star of Fuller House, Candace Cameron Bure, starred as Mary, and The Mummy, who is really Elvis Presley trying to restart his career with the help of some virgin blood, was played by Pickett himself.

3: Scream 2 (1997): Representing not only itself but its prequel and sequel, Scream 2 is the Scream movie in which heroine Sidney Prescott is a theatre major in college, in rehearsal for the play Cassandra, when Ghostface returns from her past to try, once again, to kill her. The Scream movies are good for theatre people, as they are for film people and authors, because they are kind of “philosophy of story telling” seminars, with examples to go with each idea. The movies deconstruct the horror genre, what goes into a slasher movie/sequel/threequel/etc., but the lessons could be applied to playwriting or putting on a show. Just hope your production doesn’t face the kind of setbacks Sidney’s does.

2: Stage Fright (2014): There have, understandably, been a few theatre-themed horror movies called Stage Fright, but the one I here recommend is the 2014 movie about a summer theatre sleep-away camp. Minnie Driver, who played Carlotta in the 2004 Phantom musical movie, plays a Broadway diva who once starred in a Phantom-ish musical called The Haunting of the Opera, after the opening of which she was killed in her dressing room. Ten years later, her daughter wins the role she once played for a Kabuki staging of Haunting at the theatre camp. Then someone starts killing people around the camp (wearing a Kabuki mask). Here, “the show must go on” becomes a desperate plea in the face of death. Meat Loaf co-stars as the head of the summer program.

1: The Gallows (2015): In a similar vein, The Gallows is about an attempt to put on a play called The Gallows at a high school 20 years after an accidental death during a production of that play at that same high school. The sets are built, the lines are learned, everything is ready. Then a group of kids decide to break into the school late at night and vandalize the set. Soon things start to go very wrong for them as they are locked in with an apparent supernatural presence. Even if you are brave about jump scares and the suspense that leads up to them, you may find yourself cringing at the abuse the sets and backstage fixtures suffer at the hands of the high school kids.

I want to give an honorable mention to Once More With Feeling, the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which, though an episode of a television show and not a movie, really fits the bill. And I’m sure there are plenty of others out there as well. Happy viewing, Happy Halloween, and remember: your hands at the level of your eyes.

Aaron Netsky writes about musicals (http://366days366musicals.tumblr.com) and books and culture (http://cantonaut.blogspot.com) on his personal blogs, and has written a yet unpublished musical theatre novel. His writing can also be seen on AtlasObscura.com, TheHumanist.com, ThoughtCatalog.com, and Medium.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronNetsky

Why It Sucked : "Into the Woods"

Chris Peterson

It's been almost a year since Into the Woods was released. While I myself was excited to see it, I admit I was anxious about the results, especially given Rob Marshall's products since Chicago.

When it opened, the opinion among musical theatre fans was divided. Some loved it and others hated it. Initially, I felt somewhat negative about the film as a whole. But with its release on DVD,  I decided to give it another chance. Did I like it the second time around? Not at all. In fact, I found a lot more wrong with it now then I did before. Here is what was so wrong about the Into The Woods movie. 

Rob Marshall

Some would think that Marshall would be the perfect person to take Into the Woods from stage to screen. I had my reservations. Other than Chicago, Marshall hasn't made a "good" film. From Memoirs of a Geisha to Nine to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Marshall's films are all style with hardly any substance. So I was justifiably nervous about him taking on Sondheim's most popular work. 

Looks like I was right. We forget that first and foremost, Marshall is a choreographer and when doing a movie with no choreography, his flaws as a filmmaker are only heightened. There were confusing edits, cuts in songs, and of course plot changes that the director is squarely to blame for. And considering very little was changed in Chicago, Annie and even Nine, it makes what he did here even more egregious. With his announced intentions of doing Follies next, needless to say I'm a bit worried. 

Obvious Auto Tune

For the most part, all of those cast in the film could actually sing. So it's beyond confusing why, especially James Corden, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine, are so heavily auto tuned? The main issue with Les Miserables was that not all of the actors could actually carry a tune, so mixing was desperately needed on that film. But here, it wasn't needed all that much. Most of the cast had already proven either on film or on stage that they didn't have to be auto tuned this heavily.

Cut Characters & Songs

I'm all for editing a piece for time issues. But there were characters and songs cut from the movie that made no sense because having them included wouldn't have changed the time duration of the film all that much. 

For instance, I don't understand why they cut the role of the Mysterious Man/Narrator only to include most of his dialogue and the scene where "No More" should have been. This is another cut I don't understand, if they're going to include the scene where the song would've taken place, then why not include the song? It was a confusing choice. 

Another confusing cut was loosing the second verse of "No One Is Alone" which starts with "You move just a finger." Again, another edit that wouldn't have made the movie much longer. 

Finally, two of my favorite songs are "Ever After" and "So Happy", so you can imagine my confusion and disappointment seeing that they were cut but that the scenes where they would have been were included and spinets of the songs themselves, were in the score. Again,  if you're going to include the scene or score, why not include the song. I had the same feeling about not including the opening song to Sweeney Todd in that film. 

The Wolf

It's amazing how the treatment of such a small role in the overall piece can be handled so incorrectly. Let's start with the obvious, costuming. Colleen Atwood is one of the great costume designers of our time, so I am beyond confused that if the movie takes place in the 18th-19th centuries, why is the Wolf in a Zoot Suit from the 1940's? Complete with a pocket square and wallet chain?!?!?!  

They were probably going for an homage to the 1943 Little Red Riding Hood Disney Cartoon,  but it just doesn't make sense in this movie. I found myself very distracted over this incredibly dumb move. 

The other problem with the role is Johnny Depp. For someone who is usually so reliable when it comes to charisma, his performance is so terribly flat and "mailed-in", it's maddening. Depp has certainly been on a down swing as of late and this performance didn't help. 

The Rapunzel Debacle

After watching the film again, the choice still makes little to no sense to me. It only points to the fact that Disney didn't want children to see one of their Princesses die.  

What was even more disappointing, was that throughout this entire process, Sondheim himself didn't stand up for his work. The changes did nothing to elevate the original piece. So why was Sondheim so agreeable and supportive of Marshall and Disney tearing his masterpiece apart?

Well money makes us do strange things. 

The Dangerous Precedent Set With "Into the Woods"

The Dangerous Precedent Set With "Into the Woods"

There are some positive aspects to the Into The Woods movie It's beautifully shot with a cast that sings each note(with Auto-Tune's help) almost perfectly. But what frustrates this writer, along with many other fans, is that it could have been the greatest and the reason why its not, makes me afraid for future movie adaptations.

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