Especially in recently years, the modern musical has gotten a bad rap, and a certain recent release (*ahem* Disney) hasn’t exactly helped things. But musicals haven’t always had such dismal reputations. There a select few stories that are actually improved by people singing and flailing around (but not many), and the following are the exceptions, the rarities. That’s right: musicals that aren’t terrible.
The Music Man (1962)
There are a lot of musicals from this era that promise heart and exceptional music to match, but only a few deliver and this is one of them. The story of Harold Hill’s con to swindle a Midwestern town by promising to teach their children to play music is a terrific romp with a score that is both engaging and impossible to forget. A good American jaunt should have a healthy helping of sinister whimsy, small-town pluck and a perfect chance for redemption.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
A conventional musical this is not, and perhaps that’s the first reason why it’s so good. The story of a lowly florist seduced by a blood-thirsty plant in the slums of New York is a strange, baffling treat. Of course, the villain is a sadist biker dentist (played by Steve Martin), of course a giant plant croons at Rick Moranis, of course you’re going to watch this soon!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Leave it to Tim Burton to adapt the gruesome story of an English barber on a murderous rampage of revenge with this kind of zeal. The atmosphere is glorious gloom, the music is surprisingly enthralling, and low and behold, Johnny Depp can sing. This one marks an era prior to certain misguided ventures Burton took in Wonderland. Sure, this story is not your average song and dance, but it’s a bloody good time.
I simply couldn’t make this list without including this undeniable staple. Never before or since has a state been immortalized in such an endearing way. This one is so embedded in our collective subconscious, you likely know the words to these songs, even if you haven’t seen it. Filled with classic lines and quintessential players, Oklahoma! might come off as a little over-the-top, but that’s only because it’s a relic of an era when you went big or you went home. And if you haven’t seen it, rest assured, it goes big.