Even Melissa Barrera Didn’t Know ‘Wonka’ Was a Musical, as Hollywood Tries to Hide Its Latest Genre Offerings

“Wonka.” “Mean Girls.” “Joker: Folie à Deux.” “The Color Purple.” Hollywood might not be loud about its recent uptick in big-budget musicals — remember those stories about audiences not realizing that recent “Mean Girls” remake was, in fact, a musical? — but that doesn’t mean the classic genre isn’t still whirling its way through movie theaters.

Actress Melissa Barrera got her own Hollywood start with Jon M. Chu’s dazzling “In the Heights” — very, very much a musical — but she still sees the odd ways in which the industry obscures and outright hides what kind of films they’re making.

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“I feel weird about it, I’m not going to lie, I feel weird about this rejection to musicals, because before, every movie was a musical and [audiences] loved them and they were great, and I don’t know what happened that the tide turned and there’s this rejection,” Barrera said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “Maybe it’s a quality thing. Maybe the quality diminished, and then people started not liking them, and then that’s why they judge now everything that comes out.”

One thing that’s not helping things? A bent toward hiding that certain films are musicals in their marketing. Barrera pointed to Todd Phillips’ upcoming “Joker” sequel, a musical follow-up to his Oscar-winning smash hit, as further proof of some very weird intentions from Hollywood brass, the kind that further rile audiences.

“Right now, ‘The Joker’ sequel, they’re trying so hard to say that it’s not a musical when, dude, it is. Come on!,” she said. “We already know how many songs there are in the movie. It’s a musical, so this fear, like the trailer is not including any songs and stuff like that, … I think also audiences reject the idea of feeling manipulated, and so I think that makes it worse. They release a trailer where there’s no music, and you’re like, ‘What is that? What even is that?’ and then they release the last trailer a week before it comes out, and then they have music in it, and everyone’s confused.”

Even Barrera herself has found herself confused about some of the genre’s recent offerings. Asked about recent musical hit “Wonka,” and Barrera confessed: “I had no idea it was a musical. I had no idea.” Still, the film was a smash hit, so she’s got some hope for the future. (She’s also “very excited for ‘Wicked,’ obviously.”)

MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 8: Actress Melissa Barrera is seen at the "Abigail" special screening at Silverspot Cinema - Downtown Miami on April 8, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)
Melissa BarreraGetty Images

“I love musicals,” Barrera said. “I would just do musicals if there was that opportunity. I love them that much, and I trust that there’s going to be a resurgence, and I trust that they’re going to become popular again with the right creative voices behind them and the right production, execution, and the right talent. I just feel like it’s got to be a combination of everything. Before, in the golden age of Hollywood, even in the golden era of Mexican cinema, everything was a musical, but every actor was a triple threat. Every actor could sing, they could dance, they could act, and they were great at it, and they were charming. I think we need to invest on talent.”

And Barrera herself is eager to get back into the musical game, and has got some ideas for possible dream roles, like Giuseppe Verdi’s classic tragic opera, “Aida,” which has been adapted for the screen a handful of times, but not in the contemporary age.

“I want to do more musicals. One of my favorite musicals that I think would be such an incredible movie is ‘Aida,'” she said. “That was my senior show in high school. I played Ameris, and I just think, imagine that show, visually, just spectacular. I just think that it would be incredible, and the story, the music, everything about it.”

Barrera has some other ideas, too, including a very funny mash-up of her comedic dreams and a wink at some of Hollywood’s most successful musicals.

“If we’re talking about what I would want to do, I just feel like I would want to do something different than I’ve done, so I’ve done musicals, and I’ve done horror, and I’ve done more dramatic stuff,” she said. “I would love to do a straight comedy. Would love that.”

She paused to laugh, seemingly combining her two big desires into one wicked little idea. “You know what I actually would love to do? What my dream is?,” Barrera said. “I would love to do a movie like ‘Grease,’ where I am 35, playing a 16-year-old, and everyone is in their thirties, playing high school. That’s what I want.”

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