Musings on Musical Movies

Earlier in November the first trailer for the Mean Girls Musical Movie was released. Sadly, the trailer did not give any indication it was going to be a musical so it just sort of looked like a shot for shot remake of the original with modern updates. If you know that it's a musical you can see where the songs are in the trailer but they flash so quickly you really have to be familiar with the production to notice them. This is not the movie to hide that it's a musical. The original Mean Girls is still heavily adored and on a lot of peoples yearly watch list, October 3rd is Mean Girls day.  So why hide the musical-ness of a musical? The answer might be different depending on who you ask but, my personal opinion is the general public can find musical movies to be a bit too much or far enough outside their interests to enjoy. Studios want to appeal to the widest audience possible and musical movies don’t always cast a wide net. A recent example of diminishing the musical aspects of a musical movie is Dear Evan Hansen While there were a lot of issues with this film, they cut a lot of songs, and the first 30 minutes of the movie go by without a musical number at all. It was poorly constructed and struggled to find a general audience, even the pre-existing fanbase wasn’t interested with reviews and word of mouth being bad. If you're going to make a musical movie lean into it, the theater kids will come. Make it a fun spectacle event to capture a general audience, we are sorely lacking in movie fair that's fun and engaging and if the Barbie movie taught us anything it's deeply wanted by the movie going crowd. 

While I have high hopes for the Mean Girls the Musical movie I've been scorned before. I can hyperfixate with the best of them and musical cast recordings are some of my favorites. If one catches my interest I will listen to it on repeat for months, do not ask me how long I listened to Hamilton and nothing but Hamilton for. If I have the ability to I will see the show live or desperately search the internet for a bootleg that you can hear and see. For me nothing ruins a movie adaptation of a musical more than cutting songs, especially if the movie ends up being longer than the original stage show. Maybe this time I won't be let down by a movie adaptation and won't seethe with rage when my favorite song gets cut or maybe Mean Girls will go onto my list of musical movies I'll never be able to watch again. We'll find that out in January. 

The like or dislike of musicals and their movie adaptations is entirely subjective, we can all have strong opinions on this that don’t agree and that’s okay. My point is that studios making these movies should embrace the musical fully and give it the treatment that would make a theater kid obsessed. Mamma Mia! is the perfect example of a movie musical adaptation done right! A killer cast (even if not all of them are the best singers), a spectacular set design, and keeps all the fun and camp of the musical, which itself is an adaptation of various ABBA songs. It was so fun and well received that it got a sequel, Mamma Mia! that wasn’t based on a stage production. 

Here are some hot takes about what musical movies I think were done well or not done so well in regards to their source material. You’ll either agree with them and want to be my best friend or you’ll hate them and want to be my sworn enemy. 

Fiddler on the Roof

My 7th grade music teacher made us watch this movie and learn all the songs. While the rest of my class was making fun of him for it I was secretly loving it! Fiddler is a classic, and while not my favorite or one I revisit often I credit it as being the musical that made me obsessed with musicals because it opened the door to all the possibilities beyond Grease and High School Musical. 

Les Misérables

I know this might be controversial to say but I love this movie, I saw it twice when it was in theaters because I was that obsessed. This was my first introduction to this musical and I have found that if you see the movie first and have never listened to a cast recording it is harder to find faults with the film adaptation. (see Rent as well) 


Next to Mammia Mia this might just be one the best movie musical adaptations. It’s fun, well casted, and created a new life for this musical that lives beyond just the stage. I saw the movie first and when I did actually see a staged version I struggled to enjoy it because the movie lives rent free in my mind. 


I feel like everyone grows up watching Grease, but maybe that was just me and my childhood friends. While not the best musical and with newer offerings captivating audiences more Grease still remains an iconic musical adaptation, and dare I say it, is more well known and beloved than the actual stage production. 

West Side Story

Two of these exist and I haven't seen the original so I can’t speak on that. I also am not the biggest fan of this musical in general, the music doesn’t do anything for me, but the 2021 Steven Spielberg affair was a lot of fun with immaculate set design that really felt like a musical and a movie at the same time. Enjoyable and I would definitely recommend a watch if you've not seen it. 

In the Heights

I had such high hopes for this movie, maybe they were too high because it failed to get a second watch from me. Don't get me wrong it had some spectacular looking numbers and had good reviews and was generally well received but, I'm picky and the cutting of characters, songs, and story changes were aggravating to me. 

The Phantom of the Opera

Yet another movie I watched before actually knowing anything about the musical at all and I love it. I did get very into Phantom in general after this and the Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall recording is also fantastic but there is just something about how Gerard Butler sings as the phantom that I love, it’s very pleasing to my ears and makes me wish I could mash his singing as the phantom and Sierra Boggess singing as Christine. 

Don’t let my strong opinions about musical adaptations keep you from liking and enjoying the ones we don’t agree on. I’m not an expert, just a girl with an interest and a lot of opinions. So let's be friends (or enemies) but I think we can all agree that Cats was awful and even Taylor Swift could not save it. 

-Mary Leibold is a Cataloging Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.