Favorites Friday: Light-Hearted Musicals

Two weeks ago I talked about dramatic, intense, soul-stirring musicals.  Today, let’s talk about the ones that are, well, just fun.  Because sometimes all you really want is a light-hearted story with good songs.

I went through a Singin’ in the Rain phase when I was six or seven.  I don’t remember anymore what I liked about it when I was a kid, just that I made my parents watch it again and again.  I can still quote off large swathes of it.  (Favorite line: “I’m a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.”  But you have to say it in a Lena-voice.)  It’s so fun, and Gene Kelly is so charming and Donald O’Connor is so funny (he might have been what I liked so much as a kid) and the songs are excellent.  And when Gene Kelly goes dancing through the rain…that’s a great moment.  And I can’t say that the light-hearted musicals don’t have deep emotions sometimes, because he does, right there–it’s just happy emotions.

I feel like I have to include Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers en masse.  It isn’t any one musical with them (though Top Hat is my favorite) and it’s more about the dancing than the singing, but nevertheless, en masse they’re simply wonderful.  Absurd, predictable, and escapism at its absolute best.  I had a Fred and Ginger phase as a kid too, and then when I got my wisdom teeth out, I rewatched all of their movies.  They’re like vanilla ice cream or a bubble bath or whatever you use when life gets tough and you need something to tide you over a bit.

Hello, Dolly is fantastically fun.  I mostly know it through the movie, and even though I know Streisand is too young for the part, I love the flair she brings to it.  I think Dolly could do much better than Horace, but I’ll overlook that.  They pretty much have me at “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and did long before WALL-E incorporated the song so brilliantly.  I would be remiss not to mention the presence of a very young Michael Crawford, utterly unrecognizable as the man who will eventually play the Phantom.  But he’s delightful here too, in a totally different role (though there is a bit where something blows up in a basement, and Cornelius Hackl’s big problem is his inability to get a girl…just commenting).  I would love to see a remake, with Streisand reprising the Dolly role (and now the right age) and Crawford as Horace.  I think it would be amazing.

My Fair Lady is another one with an absurd romance (what does she see in him?) but the music…so many good songs.  Even if I don’t see Professor Higgins as a romantic lead, he gets wonderful songs with clever lyrics.  And for a light musical, there are actually quite a few loud and angry songs.  Eliza and Higgins both get some near the end.  Marry Freddy–HAH!

Newsies is the one that’s giving me trouble in my division this time.  It’s also the reason I couldn’t just divide my categories by time.  But it’s tricky emotionally, since it is about dramatic emotions–the underdog fighting the world, the desperate dream for a better life, the working classes standing up, the fight against child labor…but at the same time, it’s so enthusiastic and cheeky and fun that I can’t really put it in the same category as Les Mis or Phantom.  So it’s over here in this list, with all due respect for Cowboy Jack’s yearnings for Santa Fe and the working boys’ fight against the oppressive powers.  I love this one because I just love rally-the-troops songs, and this one has lots.  And I love all that enthusiasm and cheekiness.

That’s funny, after I made the list I realized all of my favorite light-hearted musicals are movies, while the dramatic ones I think of first as plays.  But maybe that makes sense.  The dramatic ones are an event.  The light-hearted ones are a pleasant place to visit again and again, as you can with a movie.

This is a wildly incomplete list, by the way, but I’m trying to keep the length reasonable.  If I was going to make it complete, I’d have to add Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, Mary Poppins, White Christmas, Brigadoon, Camelot, 1776, The Producers, most of Disney (if you’re going to be broad about your definitions of a musical) and…well, that’s a starter, anyway!

14 thoughts on “Favorites Friday: Light-Hearted Musicals

  1. What about including Bugsy Malone in this category? Whenever I’m working late and need a boost, I put on the CD. Singing “We could’a been anything that we wanna’d to be” out loud (I make sure the office is clear!) gets the energy going again. Its lots of fun and very sweet (even the ammunition is icecream and cream pies).

  2. Dennis

    Gene, Debbie,and Donald were all fabulous in Singin’ in the Rain–but let’s not forget the movie would not have been nearly as memorable without the brilliant comedic performance of Jean Hagen, a great actress who, in real life, had a beautiful voice and was nothing like Lena. To get a sense of her wide range as an actress, catch her as the suburban housewife in The Shaggy Dog. She was also very good in Adams’s Rib.

  3. As I said on your previous musical post I’ve barely seen any musical at the theatre however musical films I’ve seen tonnes of! Some of my favourites are Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz, The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The King and I, and last but not least Calamity Jane. Now I’ve started talking about them I want to watch one now 😀

  4. Don’t forget all those great Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals, too. They are good fun when you want some escapism. And Astaire, while great with Rogers, also had a strong career after their pairing was over. One of his best was in the 1950’s – The Bandwagon, with Cyd Charisse. I love the light hearted musicals. Life is serious enough. It’s good to have those as a diversion!

  5. I love some of those — My Fair Lady particularly! Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would also be on my “light” favorites list. I will have to check out Newsies, which I’ve not seen.

    Re your complete list, I’m not sure Fiddler, Oklahoma, Camelot, or 1776 quite fit in the “light” category. Sure, there are light moments, but all of them have very serious sections, and Fiddler and Camelot both end on extremely poignant notes. Seems like there needs to be a category for… well, dramatic is already taken by the really “big” stories, like Les Mis and Phantom. But some sort of category for musicals that combine comedy and more serious elements, without qualifying as an epic, operatic story. — Though come to think of it, what’s not operatic about the storyline of Camelot? Royal court, knights in armor, love, honor, loyalty and disloyalty, treason… But the music wasn’t written to be huge and operatic, which makes the musical feel lighter than a Les Mis or Phantom. Interesting to speculate about what Andrew Lloyd Weber might have done with the King Arthur mythos.

    1. There are definitely some hard-to-define musicals. Some of the less operatic ones are still serious at times, and I love the poignancy of both Fiddler and Camelot. And I would be so intrigued to see a Webber-treatment of the Arthur legend! Hey, maybe it’ll happen…

  6. WALL-E is so great; I love that cute, quirky little robot. If he were actually a person, I’d marry him. He’s cute, sweet, brave, honest, handy, funny, and he likes Michael Crawford and musicals. Whaaaat else can I look for?

    Ohhh, I just saw a bootleg stream of Newsies maybe two weeks ago. It was pretty cute. I’d say yeah, you put it in the right category. Hairspray‘s another one I’d put in here. It’s fun and sweet, but like Newsies, it covers some really deep issues.

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