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West Side Story (1961)
The trendy 2020 Broadway revival is closed and Spielberg's new movie version won't arrive until later this year, but Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's Oscar-winning original film (directed by Robert Wise) will make you like to be in America. Rita Moreno steals many scenes, and Natalie Wood is terrific as the Puerto Rican Juliet of Hell's Kitchen.
Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu, Starz, Verizon on Demand
Les Misérables (2012)
Hugh Jackman first hit the big time as a Broadway singer, not as the Wolverine, and he's magnetic as the 19th-century French prisoner Jean Valjean, haunted and hunted by implacable sleuth Javert (Russell Crowe). Not everyone was wild about Anne Hathaway's performance as factory worker Fantine, whose daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), Jean looks after. But you'll never forget that soaring Jackman voice.
Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes
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John Travolta outdoes himself as agoraphobic Edna Turnblad, the plus-size mother of Tracy (Nikki Blonsky), who yearns to go on Baltimore's teen-dance TV show and winds up integrating it — to everybody's exhilaration. Wonderful tunes, sly John Waters humor and killer performances by Christopher Walken as Mr. Turnblad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Allison Janney and Jerry Stiller. A total feel-good musical.
Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, Fandango Now, Verizon on Demand
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Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon have a blast in the witty Broadway hit thriller about a Broadway playwright (Caine) whose career tanks, so he decides to steal a masterful play by his ex-student (Reeve) — who, unfortunately, he'd have to kill — while his excitable wife (Cannon, a genius comedian) freaks out. You won't outguess it, and the characters are richer than any of Agatha Christie's.
Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu
F. Murray Abraham became a star (and earned one of this smash hit's eight Oscars) playing Salieri, the composer who bitterly resents the childish, vulgar Mozart (Tom Hulce) for his superior musical gift. So he impersonates a patron and hires Mozart to write the exhausting Requiem — destroying his life. Get the director's cut if you can — it's got 20 extra exquisite minutes.
Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango Now, Verizon On Demand, Vudu
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Christopher Hampton's stage smash was so popular that it inspired two movie versions, but this one is even better than 1989's Valmont, which stars Annette Bening and Colin Firth. Glenn Close is unbeatable as a gorgeous, horrid 18th-century noblewoman who wants to get even with her boyfriend (Keanu Reeves) for acquiring a new squeeze, Cécile (Uma Thurman). So she plots with her jaded ex (lizardlike John Malkovich) to have him seduce and ruin the virginal Cécile — and also do the same to Michelle Pfeiffer's virtuous Madame de Tourvel, just for the mind-game fun of it. A nasty treat.
Where to watch: HBO on Demand, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu
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It's hard to say who deserved their Oscar most in this classic musical set in a Berlin nightclub circa 1930: director Bob Fosse, whose choreography captures the decadent, Nazi-menaced period atmosphere; Liza Minnelli, whose amoral chanteuse is as cinematically riveting as anything her mother Judy Garland ever played; or Joel Grey, whose creepy master of ceremonies role will chill you to the bone.
Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu, Microsoft, Verizon on Demand
If you haven't heard Jennifer Hudson belt out “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going,” you haven't lived. In a musical very loosely inspired by the Supremes, she's the singer who loses her boyfriend (Jamie Foxx) and her place onstage to the skinnier, prettier, Diana Ross-ish Beyoncé Knowles. Eddie Murphy came back to stardom as James “Thunder” Early, the James Brown-like star the girls back up.
Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, TNT, TBS, Fandango Now, Vudu
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Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
The much-missed Rick Moranis is hilarious as a Skid Row flower shop owner who acquires a man-eating plant named Audrey II. Steve Martin is even better as a sadistic dentist. Besides wonderful tunes and menacing Muppets, this musical boasts an amazing cast: Bill Murray, Jim Belushi, John Candy and Vincent Gardenia (no relation to Audrey II).
Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu, Verizon on Demand
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Tim Burton's macabre comic imagination made him ideal to direct Sondheim's musical masterpiece about a homicidal 19th-century London barber with no repeat customers. Johnny Depp proves he can sing as the shell-shocked killer, as can Helena Bonham Carter as the baker who adores him — and loves his effect on the quality of her meat pies. (If you crave better singing, the best versions of Sweeney Todd are available on Blu-ray and DVD: the Broadway production with Angela Lansbury and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert, with Patti LuPone and Neil Patrick Harris.)
Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu
If you liked Renée Zellweger in Judy, she sings a lot better as boyfriend-murdering Roxie Hart, who bonds behind bars with an even better singer, Catherine Zeta-Jones as husband-murdering vaudevillian Velma Kelly. Richard Gere started out on the musical stage, and he's tops as Roxie's slick lawyer. Queen Latifah is better yet as their cunning warden, and John C. Reilly has the most affecting tune, “Mr. Cellophane."
Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu, Verizon on Demand