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Actors You Don’t Expect to See in a Hollywood Musical

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Later this year, we’ll see dramatic tough guy Russell Crowe singing his way through a role in the movie version of “Les Miserables.” That got the staff here at The Jimbo List thinking: how many other unexpected actors have popped up in Hollywood musicals? See what you think.

ALBERT FINNEY IN “ANNIE”

Who could forget Finney as Daddy Warbucks? As I recall, it was something of a shocking choice back in 1982. The movie did okay at the box office, and I thought Finney brought a full-bodied energy to the character – even if he wasn’t necessarily a gifted singer or dancer. And he looked good with the chrome dome.

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN IN “HAIRSPRAY”

Here was some inspired casting, having the sublimely strange Walken play the husband of John Travolta-in-drag. Walken’s warbling isn’t great, but it works fine in this situation. He’s being ironic, sarcastic and yet somehow real, all at once.

CLINT EASTWOOD AND LEE MARVIN IN “PAINT YOUR WAGON”

This casting, on the other hand, did not work. Listen, I love Clint, but his singing sounds like a guy with a mouth full of Saltines trying to hail a cab. Marvin, meanwhile, has a voice so rumbling it needs to be measured by a seismograph. Luckily, the story is funny and bawdy enough to make the singing seem like comic relief.

RICHARD GERE IN “CHICAGO”

Gere deserves plenty of credit for his terrific work in the terrific movie version of “Chicago.” He can’t dance and can’t sing, yet he’s very effective as shady lawyer Billy Flynn. How is this possible? Movie magic, I tell ya.

SUSAN SARANDON IN “ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW”

It’s easy to forget how daring Sarandon’s performance was in “Rocky Horror” in 1975. She played Janet, who went from demure to devilishly sexy during the course of the movie. “Rocky Horror,” of course, became one of the greatest cult films of all time, while Sarandon went on to fame as a dramatic actress.

ROD STEIGER IN “OKLAHOMA”

Hard to picture, isn’t it? Steiger, the sturdy, intense dude from “The Pawnbroker,” as bad guy cowpoke Judd in “Oklahoma”? It’s true, though. Surrey with the fringe on top, indeed.

THE CAST OF “EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU”

Woody Allen assembled perhaps the most unlikely cast for any musical of any era: Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Alan Alda, Goldie Hawn and Allen himself. That was the gimmick, actually – the absurdity of these serious people just breaking into song.

JIMMY STEWART IN “BORN TO DANCE”

Later in his career, Mr. Stewart got a lot of mileage out of his crummy crooning in 1936’s “Born to Dance.” He sang a song called “Easy to Love,” and it’s so bad it’s sort of cute.

CHRIS COOPER IN “THE MUPPET MOVIE”

Oh, this is a bad bit of rap. Cooper is a wonderful actor, and he gets props for attempting this, but it’s painful. He plays a bad guy who expresses his greed and low-down ways in a rap song that is best experienced via the fast-forward button.

TREAT WILLIAMS IN “HAIR”

Williams gives this one his all, and I liked his performance. My gripe with the movie is that although it is well made, it was oddly dated by 1979, when it played in theaters. It was a story rooted deeply in the anti-war, hippie culture of the late 1960s; it seemed like a period piece a decade later.

JOHNNY DEPP IN “SWEENEY TODD”

In a movie that surprised audiences with its stylized, graphic violence, Depp does some amazing work. He plays a deranged barber who takes out his grievances with a straight-edged razor. He also does one hell of a lot of singing. Depp doesn’t shy away from a single note.

PIERCE BROSNAN, COLIN FIRTH AND STELLAN SKARSGARD IN “MAMMA MIA!”

I know this was Meryl Streep’s movie, but who in the world gave the green light to Brosnan, Firth & Skarsgard? That trio couldn’t carry a tune even if you spotted them the first two verses and the melody. They’re so bad, in fact, that I developed a new respect for their bravery as performers. We’ve all got to hope there’s never a “Mamma Mia II.”

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Crowe.

2 Responses »

  1. Take a look at Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love. Burt Reynolds (before the Chicken Ranch!), Cybill Shepherd, John Hillerman, Madeline Kahn, Mildred Natwick and Eileen Brennan, most of whom were non singers in their films. But, like Crowe and Sarandon and several of the others you note, they began, as most kids do, in their high school musicals, and, in the course of acting training, most actors do study voice. Makes for funny looking casting but in the end makes perfect sense.

    Reply
    • Great example and wonderful insight, Carla. I completely forgot about “At Long Last Love” and the song stylings of Burt Reynolds.

      Reply

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