It is naturally assumed that the order of quality (i.e., the editorial estimation of same) in Entertainment Weekly‘s 25 Greatest Musicals rundown is indicated by numerical sequence. And so #1 is The Wizard of Oz — agreed, fine with me. And yet the lowest ranking (#25) is given to Once, one of the great genre-redefining musicals of all time? A movie with more straight-from-the-street soul and real-deal emotion in its left earlobe than Chicago (which EW has ranked seventeenth) has in its entire splashy-glitzy body?
John Travolta in Grease, which (believe it or not) came out 30 years ago.
And Robert Wise ‘s West Side Story (’61), which inexplicably won a Best Picture Oscar for having lacquered, stodgified and suppressed the New York spirit of one of the most electric-profound Broadway stage musicals of all time, ranks as the second greatest? Did the EW editors and writers really hash this list out? Because anyone who says with a straight face that West Side Story is the second greatest musical of all time has a serious internal problem.
Singin’ in The Rain, Cabaret…fine, deserved. Wait, Mary Poppins is ranked fifth? I don’t dislike it as far as Disney musicals go — the bright. slap-happy mood of it, the mix of animation and live action, etc. — but what about the Dick Van Dyke curse (i.e., any film that toplined Van Dyke during his brief star status reign in the mid to late ’60s loses more esteem with each passing decade)? And what about those revoltingly cute kids? It should been ranked…I don’t know, 15th or something.
Grease is ranked fourteenth. I remember vividly how I felt after first seeing it in ’78, coming out into the bright light of West 55th Street and ragging on it with a lady I was seeing at the time. We both felt the insipid gloss and plasticity factor trumped the Travolta-Newton John charisma element. And then it became hugely popular, of course, and then a massively successful Broadway musical, and so EW, obliged to kowtow to the commercially powerful cult of old-school rock nostalgia, has to pay tribute.
Bjork in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark
Hairspray, which boasts a vaguely similar musical attitude, is right behind Grease at #15. What can anyone who truly loves musicals say? Standards are sinking, cracks are appearing in the foundation beams, the world is slowly going to hell and EW is leading the charge…tah-rah, tah-rah.
EW has further determined that Lars von Trier‘s Dancer in the Dark, easily the equal of Bob Fosse‘s Cabaret in terms of presenting a musical in startling new terms, doesn’t rank at all among their top 25. How very deep of them. Dancer had a story and a scheme that gave a new sense of realism to the idea of breaking into song (i.e., the singing and dancing is happening inside the head of a dreamer who can’t deal with life and is therefore a kind of neurotic escape). And then Von Trier delivered on the escape-from-life idea by dramatizing (and musicalizing) the darkest imaginable result.
[HE reader “btwnproductions” has acccurately pointed out that Herbert Ross‘s Pennies From Heaven used the same idea back in ’81 or thereabouts.]
And speaking of tragic musicals, where is Henry King‘s Carousel? It’s not that great a film — Gordon MacRae‘s performance as Billy Bigelow almost single-handedly sinks it — but the basic idea behind the material (i.e., an attempt by an angry and bitter ghost to express the love and kindness he was unable to summon when mortal) is quite devastating, and the final ten or twelve minutes is an emotional grand slam.