Defending Meryl Streep's right to sing in 'Mamma Mia'
Over the holidays, I chatted with a number of people who, like me, saw the trailer for July’s Mamma Mia! (pictured, right) — the sexy, salty Mediterranean love story scored with vintage ABBA hits. Unlike me, however, most were unenthused — if not baffled by — the thought of Meryl Streep starring in a musical.
But here’s the thing. I’ve always harbored this suspicion about Meryl: She loves to sing! (In character, that is. Though she reportedly studied singing as a child, she suffered acute nerves when asked to perform songs at the Hollywood Bowl while promoting 2006’s A Prairie Home Companion.)
You can hear Streep’s singing voice making cameos in 1983’s Silkwood, 1987’s Ironweed, 1990’s Postcards from the Edge, 1992’s Death Becomes Her, 1998’s Dancing in Lughnasa — and she not only played a professional singer in Prairie (left), she danced (uncredited) in a big production number opposite Greg Kinnear in 2003’s Stuck on You. As the star of Mother Courage and Her Children in a 2006 production for NYC’s Shakespeare in the Park, she belted out Brecht. And I’ve even heard her sing the blues, while riding in the car with my nephew, on the 2004 children’s CD Philadelphia Chickens (fun fact: other singers on the Grammy-nominated album include Natasha Richardson, Eric Stoltz, Scott Bakula, and Kevin Kline). Streep’s warbling may be frequently breathy and occasionally faltering, but she can carry a tune, and it’s evident she relishes the art of interpreting a song.
After all that dabbling, it may be Streep’s finally gotten what may have been her dream all along: the lead in a musical. Meryl and Mamma Mia! may be a better fit than anyone expects — certainly, the quality of the acting can make a musical theater number flop or soar. I’m totally looking forward to a performance which, if not perfectly in tune, will probably be full of joy. Meanwhile, how many of you PopWatchers remember other forgotten examples of Streep singing over the years, in a movie or elsewhere?