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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.

Live from New York – SNL’s Best Hosts

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Hard to believe, but this weekend marks the start of the 37th season of “Saturday Night Live.” It’s seen good casts and bad casts, times of national relevance and times when it seemed out of sync. Through it all, the key ingredient that elevated an episode to brilliance was the host. Here’s a look at the best ones.

STEVE MARTIN

I’m not sure SNL would have survived beyond the first few years without Steve Martin as a frequent host, great as that early cast was. Martin’s popularity was phenomenal, and his appearances on the show were electric. He was one of the Wild and Crazy guys, Theodoric of York and, of course, King Tut.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

NBC would do well to pay this guy whatever it takes to keep him hosting an episode every season. He’s that good. Here’s a recording and film star who’s willing to dress like a cup of soup and an omelette and then just nail a sketch. That’s when he’s not doing a spot-on Robin Gibb impersonation, filling in as the musical guest and starring in digital shorts such asĀ  “D**K in a Box.”

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN

Walken is sublime when he hosts. In some sketches, such as “The Continental,” all you have to do is point the camera directly at him and let him work. My goodness – “Cowbell,” “The Census Taker,” “The Walken Family Reunion” – just amazing.

CANDICE BERGEN

Bergen set the perfect tone for the 1970s version of SNL. She was comfortable in her own skin, yet more than willing to be controversial. Most viewers remember her as the intrepid host of “Consumer Probe” opposite Dan Aykroyd’s Irwin Mainway, and for the endearing way she dissolved into laughter during a sketch with Gilda Radner.

TOM HANKS

He actually could have been a cast member of the show, judging by the way he consistently commits to his characters in sketches. On SNL he’s gone from “Mr. Short Term Memory,” to parodies of stand-up comedians and nerds to doing a hilariously dumb version of himself in a “Jeopardy” sketch.

DANE COOK

Speaking of stand-up comics, the much maligned Dane Cook has given SNL a couple of jolts of needed energy in recent years. Cook’s absolute exuberance, plus his ability to turn the opening monologue into a comedy gem, earn him a spot on the List.

JOHN GOODMAN

Kind of an unsung hero of the show. Goodman was the perfect team player when he hosted, as well as when he appeared in cameo bits on other episodes. My favorite Goodman SNL sketches? His impersonations of Linda Tripp (during the 1990s Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal), of course, and his obnoxious businessman from the “Bill Brasky” sketches.

BUCK HENRY

Buck Henry was this absurd, intense, subversive force packaged in the body of a little guy with glasses. He didn’t have to do funny voices when he hosted SNL; he just delivered cutting, intelligent lines amid the craziness of skits such as John Belushi’s “Samurai” epics. For a while, it was customary for Henry to host the last show of the season. As for the last person on this List, it’s…

ALEC BALDWIN

He’s the King of All Hosts. Baldwin has headlined the show more than anyone else (this weekend’s opener is his 16th appearance as host), and he clearly loves it. His work in the “Canteen Boy” and “Schweddy Balls” sketches is classic, but I think I laughed just as hard at Baldwin’s crazy impression of Charles Nelson Reilly. Bravo, sir.

Enjoy the new season, everyone.