Last month, legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim passed away at 91. Known for being the creative genius behind “West Side Story,” “Company,” “Gypsy,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” and “Into the Woods,” Sondheim was credited for reinventing the American musical, and his legacy lives on. With various movie musicals released in 202I, I predict that this genre will dominate this year’s Oscar race.
Annette: Henry, a stand-up comedian with a cult following (Adam Driver), and his opera singer wife Ann (Marion Cotillard) are a successful and glamorous couple who shock the public with their fast engagement. After Ann gives birth to their peculiar daughter, Annette, the couple’s marriage begins to suffer; Henry grows resentful as Ann’s singing career flourishes while his stand-up routine fails, and Ann starts to realize she may not know her husband’s evil side.
Based on reviews of “Annette,” you’ll either love or hate this strange and dark psychological musical. I found it to be creative, visually surreal, and Adam Driver is in his best element, which is off the rails and weird. (Stream on Amazon Prime)
Tick, Tick… Boom!: This is a movie made by and for people who love musical theatre. Lin-Manuel Miranda, making his movie directorial debut, and screenwriter Steven Levenson conducted extensive research to capture the story of composer, lyricist, and playwright Jonathan Larson, who died at 35 in 1996, the day his best-known show “Rent” was set to premiere.
The movie tells the story of Jon (Andrew Garfield), an inspiring composer who begins to feel an urgency to hit a milestone in his artistic career as his 30th birthday looms. The original “Tick, Tick Boom!” was an autobiographical one-man show. This movie is less of an adaptation and more of a mix of stage performances, excerpts from the original show, and scenes capturing Larson’s relationships and personal struggles while writing and composing “Superbia” and “Tick Tick… Boom!”
The musical numbers are inventive and tons of fun, and Andrew Garfield, who learned how to sing for the part, gives a charming and energetic performance, possibly the best of his career. Despite Larson’s premature death, “Tick Tick…Boom” is optimistic and full of life. (Stream on Netflix)
In The Heights: After Disney+ released a live stage performance of the 2015 Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton” last year, fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda (man, is this guy busy or what?) eagerly anticipated the film adaptation of his first musical, “In The Heights.”
Directed by Jon M. Chu, whose career took a positive turn after the success of his 2018 rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians,” “In The Heights” is adapted from Miranda’s 2008 stage musical, written with playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes. After a delayed release due to covid restrictions, viewers’ burning question is “In the Heights” as good as “Hamilton?” Maybe not. Despite this, it’s still visually spectacular and everything a movie musical should be. (Stream on HBO Max and read Camille’s full review on our website)
West Side Story: The 1961 movie based on Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein’s 1957 broadway musical about the tension between the Jets and Sharks in a New York neighborhood is a classic, but the movie isn’t perfect. Richard Beymer makes a bland Tony. Neither he nor Natalie Wood did their own singing. With the exception of the sensational scene-stealing Rita Moreno as Anita, most of the Puerto Rican characters are portrayed by actors in brown makeup.
Is another adaptation of this “Romeo and Juliet” style love story needed? Probably not. Still, Steven Spielberg, who is notably anti-streaming services and makes movies intended for the big screen, took this classic and gave it some much-needed updates, and while long, this “West Side Story” is truly a movie for lovers of the Broadway show.
Ansel Elgort as Tony is still bland, but the rest of the cast is fantastic. Breakout star Rachel Zegler shines as Maria, Ariana Debose gives Anita a new emotional depth while also emulating Rita Moreno’s sensational energy from 60 years ago. Just turning 90 last week, Moreno famously joins the cast as drugstore owner Valentina. Overall, Speilberg’s film is a visual treat that manages to feel old-fashioned and fresh at the same time, even giving the show’s most skippable number, “I Feel Pretty,” a fun chorographical makeover. (In theatres now)
Dear Evan Hansen: One of the main criticisms of this movie adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical was the casting of 28-year-old Ben Platt, who also originated the role on Broadway in 2017. Platt has a phenomenal voice, and I highly recommend the show’s original cast recording. However, while actors in their 20s can get away with playing teenagers on stage, in 2021, Platt is simply too old to play the timid, gawky, and awkward 18-year-old Evan. Plus, it would have been nice to see a fresh face play the part.
The Dear “Evan Hansen” movie was met with mixed reviews, and this story of a young man who fabricates a friendship with a classmate may prove that some tales may be more effective on the stage. The release of the live stage performance of “Hamilton” made the case to why more broadway musicals should be released in this format, and “Dear Evan Hansen” would have been perfect. (Purchase on Amazon Prime)
Other Movie Musicals Released in 2021- “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (Amazon Prime), “Diana: The Musical (Netflix), “Cyrano” (In Theatres Dec. 31st), and “Cinderella” (Amazon Prime).