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14 musicals to stream while you wait for ‘In the Heights’

Bethonie Butler

If you love Broadway musicals, this is a week to celebrate: “In the Heights,” the Broadway smash from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes arrives on the big screen (and HBO Max) Friday in an adaptation directed by Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”).

As Miranda recently told The Washington Post, it’s been a long time coming. “I am finally getting to see the movie of this thing that really began because I desperately wanted a life in this business and didn’t see the roles for me,” he said.

In honor of this cinematic event, we’ve put together a list of classic, beloved or otherwise notable musicals (not exclusive to Broadway) that you can stream in the meantime.

Miranda’s Tony Award-winning epic about one of America’s Founding Fathers serves as an obvious streaming prelude to “In the Heights,” which features Anthony Ramos — known to “Hamilton” fans as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton — in the lead role. The film, recorded from performances in 2016 and released in 2020, found a new life on-screen. Miranda has described the wildly popular musical, which features a predominantly Black and Latino cast, as “a story about America then, told by America now.” (Streams on Disney Plus)

‘Fiddler on the Roof’
A Jewish milkman grapples with change — in his family and his village — in this iconic adaptation from director Norman Jewison. It’s required viewing for musical lovers. Better yet, it’s tradition. But hurry up: The sun sets on the 1971 film’s time on Netflix on June 30. (Streams on Netflix)

‘School Daze’

A movie about colorism and how it manifests among the students of a historically Black college would be interesting enough without musical interludes, but “School Daze” is a Spike Lee joint, ya dig? The director, one of Morehouse College’s most famed alumni, puts his singular spin on this complex topic in his 1988 film — which marked memorable early roles for Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito and Tisha Campbell.

To top it off, this is the movie that gave us “Da Butt.” (Streams on Showtime)

‘Guys and Dolls’
Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine are the marquee names in this 1955 adaptation of the Broadway (and high school theater) classic about gambling enthusiasts rolling the dice on love. (Streams on Amazon Prime; also available to watch free with ads on YouTube, Tubi and Pluto TV)

‘Funny Girl’

Barbra Streisand won a best actress Oscar (alongside Katharine Hepburn, in a rare tie) for her showstopping turn as Fanny Brice in this beloved 1968 musical. She began her acceptance speech with a joke befitting the comedian she portrayed: “Hello, gorgeous.” (Streams on Amazon Prime)

‘Little Shop of Horrors’
There is a lot to love about Frank Oz’s 1986 dark comedy/horror about a florist who discovers one of his shop’s plants is out for blood. Rick Moranis. The way Audrey (Ellen Greene) says “Seymour.” The way Audrey II (voiced by Levi Stubbs) says “Seymour.” The songs. Tisha Campbell’s film debut (alongside her future “Martin” co-star Tichina Arnold). Steve Martin giving Bill Murray “a long, slow root canal.” Maybe don’t watch before you visit the dentist? (Streams on HBO Max)

Jennifer Hudson earned a best supporting actress Oscar for her star turn (alongside Beyoncé, no less) in Bill Condon’s 2006 adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical about Motown’s heyday. But as The Washington Post’s Amy Argetsinger once argued, the film — which also stars Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Anika Noni Rose — was robbed of a chance to win best picture. (Streams on HBO Max)

‘West Side Story’

This 1961 film offers a decidedly American take on the tragic star-crossed lovers theme at the center of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” New York City is the famed setting where Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) fall into a doomed romance.

Rita Moreno, one of the few actors in the film actually of Puerto Rican descent, won a best supporting actress Oscar for her indelible performance as Anita. The classic musical is set to get a remake — courtesy of Steven Spielberg — later this year. (Streams on Amazon Prime)

Not all remakes are created equal, but this 2007 take on John Waters’s 1988 cult classic is pretty solid. Nikki Blonsky made her film debut as the pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad alongside a slew of established stars including John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron and Queen Latifah. (Streams on HBO Max)

‘Singin’ in the Rain’
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s 1952 musical starring Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Kelly himself is a classic among classics. The movie didn’t premiere to legendary status but is now considered to be among the best musicals ever made (if not the best). (Streams on HBO Max)

‘A Star is Born’
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Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in the 2018 iteration of “A Star is Born.” (Warner Bros./Everett Collection)
You can stream multiple versions of this tragic (or should we say bad) romance. Pick your favorite couple — Judy Garland/James Mason, Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson or Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper — and swoon. You can’t go wrong, especially if you watch them all and then debate the grim throughline. (Streams on HBO Max)

‘Mamma Mia!’
This beloved musical combines Abba’s lively pop with a healthy dose of camp. It also features an ensemble cast — Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski and Stellan Skarsgard — worthy of the exclamation point in the film’s title. The equally beloved sequel (appropriately subtitled “Here We Go Again”) is available to rent on your platform of choice. (Streams on Peacock Premium)

‘Across the Universe’
Julie Taymor’s 2007 romantic drama, which uniquely incorporates scores of Beatles songs and threads of ’60s revolution, bombed in theaters. But perhaps it’s not the box-office numbers or reviews that matter here. Taymor told Oprah the film earned the approval of Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, and in a 2018 Vulture retrospective, star Evan Rachel Wood called it “one of the best experiences” of her life. (Streams on Hulu)

‘The Greatest Showman’
If you use a superlative in your movie title, it has a certain responsibility to live up to. Whether this 2017 musical starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum achieved this is up for debate — with fervent believers on both sides. Despite middling reviews for the actual film, its music appears to have done a fine job, though, with an Oscar nomination for best original song and a Grammy win for its soundtrack. And only one thing matters anyway: Zendaya. (Streams on Disney Plus)
Tags: 1961 film
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