Rob Marshall almost single handedly revived the movie musical genre with the rousing razzle-dazzle of Chicago—and then nearly killed it again with the laborious snooze that was Nine. His upcoming adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, then, understandably inflicts a bit of schizophrenia on fans of movie musicals.
There’s the first inclination to stage a production number complete with jazz hands and kick lines to express our excitement. But then reality quickly sets back in and our memories jogged, as we remember that Marshall is almost single-handedly to blame for the trend of casting big movie stars in musicals, even if they have the vocal skills of a dying cat, just because they’re famous. (Renée Zellweger in Chicago quickly gave way to Rosario Dawson in Rent, Uma Thurman in The Producers, Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia!, Alec Baldwin in Rock of Ages, and the wildly miscast quartet of Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, and Sophia Loren in Nine.)
So there’s plenty of reason to be wary now that the cast list has been almost finalized for Into the Woods, the dark mash-up of classic fairy tales with the notoriously tricky Stephen Sondheim score. Among the movie’s players: Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, and more. As we size up the cast list, let’s play a quick game of “soprano or screeching cat”—in other words, can they really sing?
Meryl Streep as the Witch
Streep will star as the Witch, a role that’s been played on stage by the likes of Bernadette Peters, Vanessa Williams, and Donna Murphy, and which will require her to pull off both a powerful belting showcase (for “Last Midnight”) and a sweet lullaby (“Children Will Listen”).
But can she sing? Fools. It’s Meryl Streep. Whether she can sing is irrelevant, as all she needs to do is cough in tune and we’ll cry hysterically during “Children Will Listen.” But “Winner Takes It All” from Mamma Mia! proved she can pull off a strong belt and a pleasing, soft lilt. Plus, she managed to find raw emotion in an Abba song—no easy feat.
Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife
Though Streep will get top billing as the Witch, the Baker’s Wife is the true lead and the heart of Into the Woods. It’s also a role saddled with some of Sondheim’s most complicated songs.
But can she sing? As an actor, Blunt couldn’t be more perfectly cast, and she’ll nail the blend of dry wit and devastating pathos the role requires. But worries surfaced after a clip of Blunt singing drunk karaoke came out and Blunt replied by saying, “I’m not the greatest singer in the room by any means, but I’ll have fun trying.” More comforting however, is this clip from the TV movie Gideon’s Daughter, in which Blunt shows off a pleasing, tuneful—if not the most powerful voice. Verdict is cautiously optimistic on this one.
James Corden as the Baker
The Baker needs to be played by a talented character actor and Corden, who won a Tony for his expert clowning in One Man, Two Guvnors, will certainly pull that off. It’s also a role, however, that requires the actor to sing the score’s most emotional song, “No One Is Alone.”
But can he sing? Most of the clips online that show Corden singing are tongue-in-cheek, though his voice does come off as serviceable. We’re betting that when he goes all in as the Baker, we’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Anna Kendrick as Cinderella
Cinderella, perhaps more than any of the other characters in Into the Woods, requires an actress with a legit voice. I mean, just listen to Laura Benanti sing the role. If your ears could hear what butter tastes like, that’d be it.
But can she sing? At age 12, Kendrick was nominated for a Tony for her performance in the Broadway musical High Society. At age 17, she belted the Broadway standard “Ladies Who Lunch” in the movie Camp. Last year, she starred as an a cappella singer in the film Pitch Perfect, and next year she will play the lead in the adaptation of The Last Five Years. Oh, and her Pitch Perfect single, “When I’m Gone,” is currently No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Yeah, she can sing.
Johnny Depp as the Wolf
Unsurprisingly, as Depp’s been cast, the plan is to beef up the role of The Wolf for the movie. Hopefully, however, that doesn’t mean more songs for the character (see below).
But can he sing? Sadly, no. But, as he proved in Sweeney Todd, he’s good at pretending that he can.
Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince
Cinderella and Rapunzel’s princes are basically bit-part comic relief in Into the Woods, save for the duet they sing, “Agony,” which requires some big, manly Broadway voices.
But can he sing? Well, kinda … we think. In a straight-to-DVD movie seen by probably three people, he strummed a guitar and crooned a twangy impression of a country singer that came off as, well, an actor doing a twangy impression of a country singer. That’s hardly indicative that he can handle the baritone belting of “Agony.”
Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince
The question for a lot of people probably is not “can he sing?” but “who is Billy Magnussen?” Well, he’s made a career of flaunting his abs on stage, first in Broadway’s The Ritz and then in his Tony-nominated performance in last season’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. He’s also appeared in As the World Turns and Boardwalk Empire.
But can he sing? Better than Pine, it seems. And, based on this clip, infinitely better than Jake Gyllenhaal, who was up for the role before (mercifully) backing out at the last minute.
Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel
Another “who?” casting. Mauzy is a Broadway actress who has worked in the musicals Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, and A Tale of Two Cities. She also starred for two years in the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.
But can she sing? It’s hard to hear over screeching American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis in this Bold and the Beautiful clips, but it seems like she has a nice sets of Broadway pipes.