Our 11 Favorite Performances by Women in Movie Musicals

We're celebrating our favorite onscreen ladies- from Stockard Channing to Julie Andrews and everyone in between!

By: Mar. 07, 2021

Happy Women's History Month! To celebrate, BroadwayWorld put together a list of some of the best performances by women in movie musicals. This list is by no means comprehensive, and it didn't feel right to rank them. They're just the performances we have on the brain this month.

Please let us know which wonderful women gave your favorite performances in movie musicals! Until then, let's talk about our picks.


The 1961 film adaptation of "West Side Story" is considered one of the best movie musicals of all time, in no short part due to Rita Moreno's Academy Award-winning performance as Anita. The moral center of the story, and the audience surrogate for a lot of pain and grief, Moreno commands the screen as an actor while also singing and dancing beautifully and memorably. It's no wonder the legendary actress is one of only 16 people to achieve the distinction of EGOT - the winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award.


Imagine it's the before times, and you sit down at a community theatre production of "Little Shop of Horrors," and the well-meaning actress playing Audrey comes out of the gate attempting a squeaky voice and a distinctive, New York drawl. That's because once you've seen Ellen Greene's iconic turn in "Little Shop," it's hard to imagine playing Audrey any other way - or see anybody else play Audrey. She plays the musical's edgy silliness to perfection, and with impeccable comedic timing.


It was impossible to choose between these two Queen Latifah performances, which each stand out in their own right. Latifah is a larger-than-life performer who takes that energy into the passionate Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray and the formidable Matron 'Mama' Morton in Chicago. These women are both powerful in the face of very literal, structural adversity - Jim Crow-era racism permeates both stories, in Baltimore and Chicago, in the 1960s and the 1920s. Not only does she sing beautifully, she makes an excellent case for the establishment of a matriarchy.

Stockard Channing - GREASE

In a musical as frivolous and silly as Grease, it's a wonder that a performance as dynamic and interesting as Channing's even exists. But Channing's turn as Betty Rizzo - the prototype for the complicated mean girl - hits the same spot today as it did over 40 years ago. Everyone has known someone like Rizzo at some point or another, someone who masks hurt and pain with a tough-as-nails veneer. That's what makes "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" into this perfect moment of vulnerability from an otherwise stone-faced character.

Barbra Streisand - FUNNY GIRL

There's rarely an actor catapulted to movie stardom from the moment they open their mouth for the first time in their film debut. Barbra is a rare actor, though - that "Hello, gorgeous," said with all the hope and irony in the world, introduced audiences to someone singular. It's no wonder she parroted her own line when she took home her Academy Award for playing Fanny Brice, and there's a reason very few actresses have felt prepared to play the role in subsequent stage productions. There's just no one like Barbra Streisand.

Jennifer Hudson - DREAMGIRLS

Speaking of the Academy Award, Husdson's unforgettable turn as Effie White in the 2006 film adaptation of "Dreamgirls'' was deservedly awarded. Her voice knocks you out. She carries the whole star-studded movie on her back and comes out of it unscathed. While the ensemble cast of "Dreamgirls" (including Beyonce! Eddie Murphy! Anika Noni Rose! Jamie Foxx!) gives an incredible performance across the board, Hudson is the one we're still talking about for a reason.

Diana Ross - THE WIZ

If "Dreamgirls" is a fictionalized version of the story of Diana Ross and The Supremes, it feels right to prop up Ross's iconic movie musical performance alongside it. Ross had the incredibly difficult position of taking the mantle of Dorothy Gale from the venerable Judy Garland, and she absolutely nailed it. "Home" wouldn't be nearly as iconic without her powerhouse vocal performance behind it. It's a really amazing thing to consider in retrospect; that the incomparable Diana Ross found her light in the framework of an American classic, and that she is now inextricable from that American classic.

Judy Garland - MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS

"Meet Me in St. Louis" is a three-hour movie where nothing happens. It's memorable for two distinct reasons: its gorgeous visual language created by director Vincente Minnelli, and its leading lady, Miss Judy Garland, at the tip-top of her power. There are so many wonderful Judy Garland performances in movie musicals - it was difficult not to choose "The Wizard of Oz" or "A Star is Born" for this list. But, as Esther Smith in "Meet Me in St. Louis," Garland has the opportunity to do everything that made her so special onscreen in one evening. She's a comedienne; she plays gorgeous, melancholy moments; and she uses her powerful, emotive voice through it all.

Liza Minnelli - CABARET

And speaking of the dynamic duo of Minnelli and Garland, let's talk about Liza in "Cabaret." This performance is as much about Liza Minnelli, the icon, as it is about Liza Minnelli, the performer. Not only does she prove herself a bonafide triple threat in this beloved film adaptation - she proves that she, herself, has a place in Hollywood, and a seat at the table her parents created for her just by nature of their combined star power. Liza is captivating in "Cabaret," and I'm not convinced there's any other actor who could have played Sally Bowles as well in that moment or any moment.

Julie Andrews - THE SOUND OF MUSIC

When Christopher Plummer died, I revisited "The Sound of Music" for the first time in several years, and I was charmed once again by this gorgeous performance from Julie Andrews. She won her Academy Award for "Mary Poppins," but I think Maria deserved a similar accolade. Culturally, Dame Julie has become a symbol of prim and properness - probably because of all those times she played a Queen. But "The Sound of Music" is Julie Andrews letting loose, being playful, and showing audiences just how much she can do.

Carol Burnett - ANNIE

There is probably not a single movie musical performance that had as much of an impact on me as Carol Burnett's Miss Hannigan. She was the first bad guy I ever laughed at; she's so over-the-top and ruthless, and, even as a six-year-old, listening to her sing "Little Girls," I understood her. This performance works because Carol Burnett plays a real person, not the caricature of human evil Miss Hannigan absolutely could be. It's an absolute delight.


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