Theater films offer thespians a taste of Broadway

Michael Keaton soars in

Michael Keaton soars in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

Contributed photo / Contributed photo

With Broadway theaters continuing to be closed, we look to movies to remind us how thrilling it can be to experience live theater in New York City.

Here are seven of my favorite movies about Broadway.

All About Eve (1950)

Leave it to Bette Davis — in what should have been her third Oscar-winning performance — to remind us why we love the theater in this brittle comedy from writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Davis chews the scenery as an aging actress who fears the passage of time. The dialogue and characters in this Oscar winner are as fresh today as they were 70 years ago.

The Band Wagon (1953)

The legendary Fred Astaire came out of retirement, again, to portray a movie star who heads to Broadway after his movie career slows. Astaire is at his musical best as a performer who continually reinvents what dance can be. He is well matched, in the musical numbers, with Cyd Charisse, and, in the comedy sequences, with Nanette Fabray. Vincente Minnelli directed this MGM classic.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)

Doris Day delivers one of her most heartfelt performances as the wife of a novice Broadway theater critic in this film adaptation of Jean Kerr’s book. With David Niven at his most arrogant, the one-liners fly as this man who loves the theater falls in love with his ability to make theatrical people shake. The result is a delightful family comedy that still entertains.

The Producers (1968)

Only Mel Brooks could celebrate the theater’s weak spot for people with big dreams and massive egos. This Oscar-winning comedy celebrates the ambitions of a producer without scruples and an accountant without principles who try to outsmart the seedy backstage world. And the musical numbers — long before this show actually became a musical — are fabulous.

Star! (1968)

While Barbra Streisand grabbed the attention, and an Oscar, for “Funny Girl” in 1968, audiences ignored a wonderful backstage musical about a magical performer. Julie Andrews delivers one of her most magnetic and layered portrayals as stage star Gertrude Lawrence, a complex woman challenged by her ego and fears. Although the film flopped when first released, it deserves a close look.

Only When I Laugh (1981)

Few people know the theater as well as Neil Simon, the writer of a broad range of hit stage comedies. One of his few Broadway dramas, “The Gingerbread Lady,” became this film starring Marsha Mason who was Oscar-nominated for her devastating look at a stage star trying to rebuild her life after spending time in rehab. Joan Hackett and James Coco were also honored by Academy nominations.

Birdman (2014)

In a film that often parallels “All About Eve,” Michael Keaton surprises with a deeply-felt performance as an aging actor trying to reinvent himself on stage. While this Oscar winner is best remembered for its “one-take” approach from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, it’s the relationships that actually matter on screen. Oscar nominees Keaton and Emma Stone have rarely been better.

So, until Broadway returns, check out these films.

They may make it easier to wait.