Visit Dendy to see musicals such as Chicago, All That Jazz and 42nd Street

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rene Zellweger in Chicago. Picture: David James
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rene Zellweger in Chicago. Picture: David James

The film musical is a genre that just goes on singing. It wasn't around until the sound film, for obvious reasons, and it's never again reached the popularity it once had. But, like the western, another once-ubiquitous genre, it's stubbornly survived.

In November and December at Dendy Canberra is The Show Must Go On, a series of film musicals. All are available on home entertainment formats but the spectacle and sound are worth experiencing on the big screen. Here are some of the highlights.

42nd Street (G, 1933, November 5 and 8): The archetypal backstage Depression musical, it deals with the pressures and problems of putting on a show, from the director who needs a hit to the newcomer who must go on after the leading lady suffers an injury.

Busby Berkeley's choreography and the songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, such as You're Getting to be a Habit with Me and the title number, are among the best-remembered elements of the film, which was, fittingly, later turned into a Broadway musical.

Singin' in the Rain (G, 1952, November 6 and 7) is one of the most highly praised and beloved of all musicals. With songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, it still works its magic. The script isn't always a priority in musicals but this one by Betty Comden and Adolph Green is full of funny lines and situations.

Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain: (1952). Picture: Supplied

Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain: (1952). Picture: Supplied

The film sends up the transition from silent to sound films as star Don (Gene Kelly) and her screechy-voiced co-star Lina (Jean Hagen) try to adjust, while Don is falling in love with would-be actress Kathy (Debbie Reynolds). Donald O'Connor also scores as Don's friend Cosmo. It's full of classic songs and dances but the title number is one of the all-time great movie scenes.

All That Jazz (1979, M, November 6 and 11): Director/choreographer/co-writer Bob Fosse's semi-autobiography movie focuses on Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), a director-choreographer who's juggling stage and screen projects and women while drugs and cigarettes are endangering his life. Sometimes criticised as self-indulgent but also praised and honoured, it won five Oscars and the Palme d'Or at Cannes among other awards.

 Roy Scheider and Jessica Lange in All That Jazz. Picture: Supplied

Roy Scheider and Jessica Lange in All That Jazz. Picture: Supplied

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (M, 1975, November 13 and 18, December 11) : Perhaps THE cult movie, the film is based on the 1973 stage musical The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien. The movie was not not a mainstream hit but soon developed a following that just kept getting bigger. Innocent young couple Brad and Janet (Barry Bostick and Susan Sarandon) knock on a castle door seeking help when their car breaks down.

They quickly get caught up in the bizarre world of Dr Frank N Furter (Tim Curry), self-proclaimed "sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania". Australian Jim Sharman directed the movie, which often attracts audience members who dress in costume, recite dialogue with (and to) the characters, and perform various rituals at screenings. The songs include Science Fiction/Double Feature and The Time Warp.

Oliver! (G, 1968, November 7 and 10): Lionel Bart's stage musical based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist was filmed by Sir Carol Reed. In 19th-century England, orphan Oliver (Mark Lester) falls in with a group of boys taught to be pickpockets by the rascally Fagin (Ron Moody).

It's sometimes criticised for scrubbing the story clean, but Oliver Reed's menace as the dangerous Bill Sikes and the poignant loyalty of his girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis) give the film some emotional weight. The score includes Food Glorious Food and As Long As He Needs Me. Oliver! won six Oscars including best picture.

Calamity Jane (G, 1953, November 12 and 15): While suspiciously similar to Annie Get Your Gun, this original movie musical stands up well on its own. Doris Day plays the title character, a tough-talking, sharp-shooting woman who has to become more feminine - like wearing dresses instead of pants - to win her man. But is Mr Right Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey) or her longtime frenemy Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel)?

The songs by Sammy Fain and Paul Webster include the Oscar-winning Secret Love. That song has been read by some lesbian audiences as having queer undertones as have other aspects of Calamity Jane. But anyone can enjoy the film.

Hello, Dolly! (G, 1969, November 13 and 14): This adaptation of the Jerry Herman musical set in 19th-century New York cost so much it lost money and was one of the last of the large-scale musicals of the era. While a bit young for the matchmaking widower Dolly Gallagher Levi, Barbra Streisand makes up for it in talent.

Dolly is supposed to be finding a wife for "well-known half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) but has her eye on him for herself.

Meanwhile, Horace's employees plan their own day of fun. Louis Armstrong steals the show singing the title song, which gave him a hit.

Rocketman (M, 2019, 121 minutes, November 11): This film's director, Dexter Fletcher, finished up the pretty conventional Freddy Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. This is the more imaginative movie, though, a fantasy inspired by the life of singer-songwriter Elton John (well played by Taron Egerton), using his songs in sometimes surprising ways.

Moulin Rouge! (M, 2001, 128 minutes, November 14 and 17): Baz Luhrmann's jukebox musical is typically flashy, a bowerbird collection of music and influences (including La Boheme, La Traviata) that looks stunning but rings emotionally a bit hollow. Ewan McGregor scores with his sincerity as the poet who falls in love with a courtesan (Nicole Kidman).

This story Musicals magic on the big screen first appeared on The Canberra Times.