Time for a Sing-Along: A Guide to the Many Movie Musicals of 2021

Time for a Sing-Along: A Guide to the Many Movie Musicals of 2021

Hollywood loves musicals — and so does everyone else.

In the last couple of years, big titles like La La Land and Bohemian Rhapsody have swooped in to steal audience affection and rekindle Hollywood’s belief in the genre.

We may have forgotten our love for a while there, but it never truly faded. It’s partially due to the very thing that makes musicals so joyous — their inherent nostalgia. Everyone has a musical movie they grew up watching and can still skillfully sing along to. They have a childish identity to them because of this. Now, when we picture musicals, we often think of Disney’s singing princesses, or singing animals… or other studios’ singing animals. But musicals are so much more than they seem.

The beauty of the genre is its magical ability to express emotions that can’t just be plainly stated. It elevates everything, turning reality into fantasy and then back again. Why not showcase drama in vibrant, technicolor glory? Why not portray heartbreak in gorgeous sing-song lilts? Why not combine the magic of cinema with the power of music? With this, musicals have endless room to experiment.

There are undeniably a few dominating sub-genres. The musical biopic has become particularly inescapable, given the success of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s not without its virtues — there’s plenty of fun to be had when celebrating a collection of hit songs or the life of a beloved performer. Sure, Bohemian Rhapsody winning Oscars was a bit painful to watch, but if we get a Rocketman every now and then, who are we to complain?

Another popular group is the classic Hollywood remake, birthing films like A Star is Born or the upcoming West Side Story. Formulaic as it may be, A Star is Born was a crowdpleaser for good reason, and West Side Story is very likely to follow.

Recently, a new addition to the club of musicals is the theatrically recorded Broadway performance. While they weren’t entirely unheard of before, the Disney+ premiere of Hamilton broke records. In fact it was so beloved that it even picked up some Emmy nominations. So I guess it counts as a movie. Two musicals are already slated for this treatment, the Tony-nominated Come From Away and Diana: The Musical. We can expect many more to follow.

As a massive musical fan, who still has playbills lining her walls, this is the best of news. The more musicals we get, the better the world becomes. For every 10 that feel a bit repetitive, there’s sure to be a diamond in the rough. And even for the ones that don’t entirely hit the mark — at least we’re promised a fun song and dance show!

Upcoming are musical biopics, Broadway adaptations, and classic golden age remakes. 2021 musicals are delivering on variety, all with their own musical stylings and flair.

Here is a guide to the many musicals of 2021.


In The Heights

Director: Crazy Rich Asians director John M. Chu.

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, Mateo Gomez, Marc Anthony, Olivia Perez, Christopher Jackson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Story: On the tip of Manhattan is the musical neighborhood of Washington Heights, where everyone is doing their very best to pursue dreams of a better life. In The Heights centers on Usnavi, a young bodega owner who hopes to return home to the Dominican Republic, at the cost of leaving his close-knit community behind. Throughout the film, we get a glimpse at the many people who call the Heights home, the dreams they’re striving for and the love that keeps everyone going.

Why You Should Watch: You can read for yourself about why we’re such big In the Heights fans, but in brief — this movie is a burst of joy. For many, it was a thrilling welcome back to theaters, but even if you’re watching from home, In the Heights has a way of infecting the world with its radiance. The raw energy of this movie is astounding, which shouldn’t be surprising with music by Lin Manuel Miranda. For its visual flair and bombastic dance numbers, In the Heights feel like everything great about Golden Age musicals wrapped up into a modern-day celebration of community.

 How To Watch: In the Heights is available to rent or buy on AppleTV+, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, or Vudu. It was once streaming on HBO Max, and is expected to return to the service later this year.

Annette

Director: French director Leos Carax, making his English language debut.

Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Catherine Trottman, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell, Angèle, Kiko Mizuhara, Natalie Mendoza, Rila Fukushima, Laura Jansen, Rebecca Dyson-Smith, Russell Mael, and Ron Mael.

The Story: Stand-up comedian Henry (Adam Driver) and his opera singer wife Ann (Marion Cotillard) are a glamorous couple and, in the spotlight, appear perfect, happy, and healthy. But things are rarely what they seem. The film traces the way their lives are immeasurably altered after the birth of their first child, Annette.

Why You Should Watch: This movie is inspiring a lot of passionate responses, that wildly vary on the love to hate spectrum. Annette has been described as unconventional, mesmerizing, and deeply sad. From the sound of it, the film captures so much of what makes musicals grand — fraught, painful emotions packed into an imaginative, surreal experience. Annette might not be for everyone, but it’s the kind of film you have to experience for yourself.

How To Watch: Annette is currently playing in select theaters, and will be available on Amazon Prime Video on August 20, 2021.

Respect

Director: Stage director Liesl Tommy making her directorial debut.

Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Skye Dakota Turner, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Mary J. Blige, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Tate Donovan, Kelvin Hair, Heather Headley, Lodric D. Collins.

The Story: Respect is a classic, old-school musical biopic, recounting the life of a musical legend. The icon in question is none other than Aretha Franklin, with the film detailing her rise to fame. Respect covers Franklin’s life from a childhood of singing in her father’s church to the international superstardom that got her crowned the “Queen of Soul.”

Why You Should Watch: This is the role Jennifer Hudson was born to play. Hudson has told the story many times before, of Franklin seeing her on Broadway during her run of The Color Purple. Afterward, she received a call and Ms. Franklin said “I’ve made my decision, and it is you young lady who I want to play me.” Who could possibly cast the role better than the Queen herself? Like any biopic, Respect takes some liberties with the actual details of Franklin’s life but remains true to the superstar behind the work, using Franklin’s songs and stories to guide viewers along.

How To Watch: Respect is available in theaters starting August 13, 2021.


Cinderella

Director: Kay Cannon, the writer behind Pitch Perfect and director of the hilariously raunchy Blockers.

Starring: Camilla Cabello, Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Nicholas Galitzine, Minnie Driver, Pierce Brosnan, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, James Acaster, James Corden, Romesh Ranganathan, and Missy Elliott.

The Story: Blah blah blah, a tale as old as time: girl meets prince, runs away, drops glass slipper, falls in love, and lives happily ever after. This Cinderella is just an update on the classic tale you’ve seen a million times before. The key details remain the same, fabulous ball and all, but with some slight alterations: the fairy godmother is nonbinary and played by Broadway legend Billy Porter and though the prince (Nicholas Galitzine) is plenty charming, he’s not the apple of Ella’s eye. Camilla Cabello‘s Cinderella hopes to become a fashion designer with her very own clothing line — Dresses By Ella.

Why You Should Watch: You can never go wrong with a classic… I hope.

How To Watch: Cinderella will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video on September 3, 2021.


Come From Away

Director: Tony award-winning stage director Christopher Ashley.

Starring: Original Broadway cast members Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, and  Sharon Wheatley are joined by De’Lon Grant, Tony LePage, Emily Walton, Jim Walton, and Paul Whitty.

The Story: Following the tragic events of 9/11, 38 planes were instructed to land in Canada’s small Newfoundland town, Gander. This is the touching story of the residents who cared for and sheltered over 7,000 strange passengers.

Why You Should Watch: Come From Away tells the story of people processing tragedy with love, laughter, and hope. When the production opened on Broadway in 2017, it received seven Tony nominations and was praised not just for the stunning production, but the musical’s hopeful spirit. It’s been lauded as a heartening reminder of the capacity for kindness, even in the darkest of hours — something we can always welcome more of. This filmed version of the stage production is also an opportunity to see the show as it was performed on Broadway.

 How To Watch: Come From Away starts streaming on AppleTV+ on September 10, 2021.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Director: Making his feature-length debut, Jonathan Butterell, who also helmed the stage production.

Starring: Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Richard E. Grant, Lauren Patel, Ralph Ineson, Shobna Gulati, Adeel Akhtar, Samuel Bottomley, and Sharon Horgan.

The Story: 16-year old Jamie New (Max Harwood) is a British teen who dreams of becoming a drag queen. While everyone else makes dreary career plans, Jamie envisions a fantastical, vibrant future where he lives out his dreams in the spotlight. Despite discouragement from his unsupportive father and ignorant classmates, Jamie continues to hold out hope and makes moves to step out of the shadows and into a better future

Why You Should Watch: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie showcases exactly the kind of joy that makes musicals so beloved. The stage musical that inspired the film was heralded for being both bodies courageous and wildly outrageous — and this iteration follows in those glittering red footsteps. Based on the trailers, the music whisks us away into Jamie’s stunning fantasy land, and gives him the space to fully come into himself and be unabashedly queer.

How To Watch: Amazon Prime Video is dominating the streaming world of musicals! Everybody’s Talking About Jamie starts streaming on September 17, 2021.


Dear Evan Hansen

Director: The Perks of Being a Wallflower writer-director, Stephen Chbosky.

Starring: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, DeMarius Copes, Liz Kate, and Isaac Cole Powell.

The Story: Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is a high school student with social anxiety whose therapist recommends he try writing letters to himself (hence the title). But when one of Evan’s letters is stolen by classmate Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), who later commits suicide, Evan gets wrapped up in a lie that wins him affection — but threatens to hurt everyone he cares about.

Why You Should Watch: Dear Evan Hansen is based on a deeply polarizing but critically acclaimed Broadway musical. Despite fraught debates surrounding the plot, the musical went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Actor for Platt, who reprises his starring role in this film. And sure, he’s now a 27-year-old man playing a teenager, but makeup hides wrinkles! No one will ever know! If the allure of seeing Platt reprise the role he originated isn’t enough, consider the beloved soundtrack for this musical. The songs come from the award-winning songwriting team  Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, who are also behind La La Land and The Greatest Showman. So at the very least, come for the music, stay to see how the deeply uncomfortable plotline concludes.

How To Watch: Dear Evan Hansen is slated for a theatrical release on September 24, 2021.


Diana

Director: Stage director Christopher Ashley (with his second entry on this list!)

Starring: The original Broadway cast, Jeanna de Waal, Roe Hartrampf, Erin Davie, and Judy Kaye.

The Story: Not only is this story well known, but it’s getting a ton of attention lately. Between an upcoming film, the stage musical, and the current era of The Crown, it’s safe to say that we’re all super familiar with Princess Diana’s story. This musical version is yet another take on Diana’s struggle to find her voice once trapped in a loveless marriage to Prince Charles.

Why You Should Watch: She’s called the People’s Princess for good reason — Diana is widely beloved. More than that, she’s become a topic of fascination, so if you’re itching for more exploration of her life, Diana will deliver.

Until recently, filmed stage performances were a little niche. They were most appreciated by theater lovers who were already fans, but unable to see the Broadway performances. Then, in 2020, Disney+’s Hamilton was a phenomenon — so maybe history will repeat itself. Should stage performances of Diana resume this year, they won’t be any more accessible than before (and in fact, more dangerous because of the Delta variant). This is another safe opportunity to see the magic of the stage onscreen.

How To Watch: Diana is coming to Netflix on October 1, 2021.


Tick, Tick… Boom!

Director: Making his directorial debut, it’s Hollywood’s new favorite musical man, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vanessa Hudgens, MJ Rodriguez, Bradley Whitford, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Joanna P. Adler, Noah Robbins, Ben Levi Ross Beth Malone, and Joel Grey.

The Story: Jon is an aspiring composer living in New York in the 1990s, just when the AIDS epidemic is wreaking havoc on the artistic community. Between that and the approach of his 30th birthday, Jon launches into an early midlife crisis as he questions his decision to work in the arts and contends with the reality that he hasn’t yet achieved his dreams. This semi-autobiographical musical is based on the life of Rent playwright Jonathan Larson and the Off-Broadway musical of the same name.

Why You Should Watch: Andrew Garfield is singing! How is this not the movie’s best selling point? Can’t say I’ve ever heard him singing, but he’s incredibly charming, so surely he’ll be great! In all seriousness, Tick, Tick… Boom! is a gem. Musical theater fans will delight at the chance to see Jonathan Larson honored onscreen and everyone else gets the joy of experiencing his music for the first time. At its heart, this show is all about what we do with the time we have left and celebrates life with the stunning music and raw emotion that made Larson famous.

How To Watch: Tick, Tick… Boom! is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on November 12, 2021, and arrives on Netflix on November 19, 2021.


West Side Story

Director: Academy award-winning director and king of nostalgia, Steven Spielberg.

Starring:  Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Josh Andrés Rivera, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James, Rita Moreno, Ana Isabelle, Curtiss Cook, Ben Cook, and Maddie Ziegler.

The Story: Could it be? Yes, it could! West Side Story is based on the 1957 Broadway musical, previously adapted into the Best Picture-winning 1961 film of the same name. This reimagining once again tells the story of young lovers Tony and Maria whose budding relationship is threatened by their loyalty to feuding street gangs, The Jets and The Sharks.

Why You Should Watch: Because Spielberg’s name is on the poster. Them’s the rules.

How To Watch: West Side Story is slated for theatrical release on December 10, 2021.


Cyrano

Director: Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina director Joe Wright.

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Hayley Bennett, Ben Mendelsohn, Brian Tyree Henry, and Kelvin Harrison Jr.

The Story: The story takes after Edmond Rostand’s 1987 play Cyrano de Bergerac, centering on a cadet in the French army. Despite being a gifted poet and accomplished swordsman, his extremely large nose is a source of self-doubt so intense, he can’t declare his love for the beautiful Roxanne.

Why You Should Watch: We have yet to see any footage from this upcoming musical, so it’s hard to know what to expect, but the names behind Cyrano are very promising. Peter Dinklage always gives a magnetic performance, and the same can be said of his co-stars, Hayley Bennett, Brian Tyree Henry, Ben Mendelsohn, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. The music comes from The National’s Bryce Dessner, Matt Berninger, and Aaron Dessner, who recently produced music for Taylor Swift’s Folklore.

How To Watch: Cyrano is set for theatrical release on December 25, 2021.

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