Don Hewes (Fred Astaire), a Broadway star, is out buying Easter presents for his sweetheart, starting with a hat and some flowers ("Happy Easter"). Then he goes into a toy shop, and buys a cuddly Easter rabbit, after persuading a young boy to part with it and buy a set of drums instead ("Drum Crazy"). He takes the gifts to his dancing partner, Nadine Hale (Ann Miller). She explains that she has had an offer for a show, which would feature her as a solo star. Don tries to change her mind, and it looks as if he has succeeded ("It Only Happens When I Dance With You"), until an old friend of Don's, Johnny (Peter Lawford), turns up. Nadine reveals that she and Don are no longer a team. It becomes obvious that Nadine is attracted to Johnny.
Angry, Don brags that he does not need Nadine and that he can make a star out the next dancer he meets. That turns out to be a girl named Hannah Brown (Judy Garland). She performs a duet, singing a musical number with a member of the band (Norman S. Barker) on trombone, "I Want to Go Back to Michigan." The next morning, Don tries to turn Hannah into a copy of Nadine, teaching her to dance the same way and buying her dresses in a similar style. However, Hannah makes several mistakes and the show is a fiasco.
Hannah meets Johnny, who is instantly attracted to her and performs "A Fella With An Umbrella." Don realizes his mistake and starts over from scratch, creating routines more suited to Hannah's personality. Hannah sings "I Love A Piano", and she and Don work out a dance routine that proves much more successful than their earlier performance. The duo also perform "Snookie-Ookums", "The Ragtime Violin", and "When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam".
At an audition for Ziegfeld Follies, where they perform "Midnight Choo-Choo", they meet Nadine, who is starring in the show. Hannah learns that Nadine is Don's former dancing partner, and demands to know if they were in love. Don hesitates, and Hannah runs out of the rehearsal, where she encounters Johnny. They go out to dinner. Back at the hotel, Don reveals that he has turned down the Ziegfeld show - Hannah and Nadine do not belong in the same show. At dinner with Johnny, after a comical routine by the waiter, Johnny reveals that he has fallen in love with Hannah, but Hannah says that she is in love with Don; she even admits to deliberately making mistakes when they rehearse so that she can be with him longer.
Meanwhile, Nadine's show opens, and Don goes to see it ("Shakin' The Blues Away"). He is the only member of the audience who seems unimpressed. Hannah goes to dinner at Don's, only to have him suggest a rehearsal. She is upset and tells him that he's "nothing but a pair of dancing shoes" and that he doesn't see her as a woman, but as a dancing aid. Hannah is particularly annoyed that Don doesn't notice her new clothes and all the effort she has made for him. She turns to walk out, but Don stops her as he finally realizes that he loves Hannah and they embrace. The couple take part in a variety show, with a solo by Don ("Steppin' Out With My Baby"), and then the most famous number in the film ("A Couple of Swells"), in which Don and Hannah play a pair of street urchins with vivid imaginations.
Don and Hannah go out to celebrate after the show, and end up watching Nadine perform. Nadine is mad with jealousy when the audience gives Don and Hannah a round of applause as they come in. Nadine is the star dancer in "The Girl On The Magazine Cover". The song features an ingenious stage act, in which women appear against backdrops that look like the covers of contemporary magazines. Nadine herself appears on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. Afterwards, she insists that Don perform one of their old numbers with her for old times sake - "It Only Happens When I Dance With You (Reprise)". When Don reluctantly agrees, Hannah becomes upset and runs out.
She ends up at the bar where she and Don first met. There she pours out her troubles to Mike, the bartender ("Better Luck Next Time"). Later that night, Don tries to explain that he was forced to dance with Nadine, but Hannah will not listen. She thinks Don used her to make Nadine jealous and win her back. Don tells her that he'll wait all night for her to forgive him, but just as Hannah opens the door, Don is kicked out of her building by the doorman, who has heard his yelling. Eventually, Don's apologies reach her and she arrives unexpectedly at his house the following morning, as if the argument had never happened. She brings gifts as well, including an Easter rabbit inside a new top hat. Don is a little confused by this turn of events, but is persuaded by his valet that he should just listen to Hannah and go out. As they walk in the Easter parade, photographers, echoing a scene with Nadine from the beginning of the film, take their pictures and Don proposes to her ("Easter Parade").
|Academy Awards Record|
|1. Best Musical Score - Johnny Green, Roger Edens|
|Writers Guild of America Awards Record|
|1. Best Written American Musical - Sidney Sheldon, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett|
One musical number, a seductive performance of "Mr. Monotony" by Garland wearing the top half of a tuxedo and nylon tights (a style of dress which would become something of a trademark in later years after she wore the same outfit in 1950's Summer Stock), was cut from the film as it was deemed too risqué for a film supposedly set in 1912. Audiences finally got to see this number in the 1990s when an edited version was included in the 1994 compilation film That's Entertainment! III. The complete number was first seen as part of the extras on the VHS and Laser Disc special edition versions the following year. When Easter Parade was released to DVD, several minutes of outtakes, raw footage, and alternate takes of this performance were included in addition to the footage previously released.