Does Meryl Streep harbor a secret desire to be a singer?
by Jazz Tangcay
Earlier this week Meryl Streep — mother, wife, three-time Academy Award winner, 18-time Academy Award nominee, and human being capable of doing anything — turned 65.
She’s showing no signs of slowing down. In August, Streep will appear alongside Jeff Bridges in The Giver. She reunites with Hope Springs co-star Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman. On Christmas Day, Into The Woods opens where she plays the Evil Witch. She’s just signed on to appear in the new Jonathan Demme film, Ricki and The Flash (she’s currently learning to play the bass guitar for this role), and she’s also been cast in HBO’s film version of Terrence McNally’s Tony-winning play, “Master Class” — based on the life of opera singer Maria Callas.
With the exception of The Giver, the other three forthcoming films all have a music theme, and in two of those we’ll hear La Streep exercise her vocal chords. It won’t be the first time we hear Streep sing, and it probably isn’t going to be the last.
This week, Awards Daily takes a retrospective look at Streep’s onscreen musical moments.
In the first clip, we’re going all the way back to 1977, when a very young Streep appeared in Arthur Miller’s Secret Service. This was shown on TV, take a listen to Streep demonstrate her talent as a Soprano singer.
When Streep made Alice At The Palace in 1981, she had already won an Oscar for Kramer V Kramer, but the world was yet to take her seriously. This was a musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, and yes, Streep plays Alice, as a 7-year-old with curly hair, clad in pink overalls.
Silkwood was our first real opportunity to hear Streep sing. Here she played Karen Silkwood, and in a touching moment executes a goosebump-inducing version of ‘Amazing Grace.’
In Nora Ephron’s Heartburn we’d hear Streep sing again. OK, granted it’s a nursery rhyme — ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’– but still, it’s Streep singing. FYI: The redhead child to whom she sings in this scene is Mamie Gummer, Streep’s eldest daughter.
In 1987, Streep flexed her vocal chords in Ironweed. ‘He’s Me Pal’ is a magnificent number. Her character, Helen, sings this to a small crowd who give her a strong round of applause. It gives her character a new-found confidence, but we know the sad reality about this scene… Cue another Oscar nomination.
In 1988, the small matter of the musical Evita was finally set to come to the big screen. The Weintraub Entertainment Group financed the film, Oliver Stone was all set to sit in the director’s chair. Ms. Streep auditioned for the role, and in typical Streep fashion left producer Robert Stigwood blown away. Stigwood says she had made a recording that consisted only of her vocals and simple piano accompaniment and it was “just mind-boggling what she had achieved… She has a marvelous voice.”
Streep had been confirmed to play Eva Peron, and Argentina’s national heroine. Problems in Argentina and with the W.E.G caused delays to the production and we all know what happened after that…
The film eventually got made with a new director and a new leading lady…
Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, Streep was filming back to back movies, She-Devil and Postcards from The Edge.
The latter film treated us to two musical numbers; the first, ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ is a slow tune that her character Suzanne Vale performs during the film, but it’s the end number, ‘I’m Checking Out’ that blows everyone away.
‘I’m Checking Out,’ comes as the end credits play. It completes the perfect arc for Vale, who’s finally stepping out from the shadow of her mother, superbly played by Shirley Maclaine. But getting back to Streep’s performance, not only is she really having fun with this song; it’s the perfect showcase for her vocal talents, showing off her ability to belt out a country/blues song with depth and soul.
Interestingly enough, as our own Ryan Adams notes, “It was almost as if Mike Nichols had given Meryl Streep a chance to wreak revenge on the collapse of a system that had snatched a dream project right out from under her.”
The song earned a Best Original Song Academy Award and rightfully so…
Streep followed that outstanding number with a Broadway-esque diva tune from Death Becomes Her, ‘I See Me.’ The song opens the film as her character, Madeline Ashton, A-List screen and stage star, performs. Watch the clip, it’s easy to picture Streep on stage belting out a big Broadway number isn’t it?
Carly Simon wrote the theme song for Marvin’s Room, ‘Two Little Sisters’ and Streep simply added in her backing vocals on this track, but if you haven’t heard it, it’s worth listening to Streep hold her own alongside Simon.
Streep won a Primetime Emmy Award for her role in Angels In America playing several characters in the mini-series. Her character here sings in Yiddish….
Streep adopted yet another accent for A Prairie Home Companion. She goes country again, pairing up with Lily Tomlin. It’s rather fantastic…
Three years later, Meryl Streep would finally star in a bona fide musical, Mamma Mia, an original stage show filled with ABBA’s music catalogue. Streep would play the lead, Donna Sheridan, and James Bond star Pierce Brosnan would play her leading man, Sam.
Streep was on screen at last belting out those ABBA songs we all love, ‘Dancing Queen,’ ‘S.O.S’ (we won’t comment on Brosnan’s singing capabilities on this duet), ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All.’ Sitting through two hours of Streep singing those songs, it’s clear to see she was given full rein to sing, dance and let her hair down with the role. And she showed off her agility too. At the time of shooting, Streep was in her late 50’s and there’s one scene, mid-dancing where she does the full splits. No stunt doubles were used for that. Streep says, ‘I just did the splits on instinct. That’s what always happens with my acting.’
Mamma Mia went on to become one of Streep’s biggest hits to date, earning over $600 million worldwide.
The world will next see Streep take on the Evil Witch in Sondheim’s Into The Woods.
Just last week, it was announced that Streep will play opera singer Maria Callas for HBO. Interestingly enough, the young Streep took opera singing lessons when she was a child.
Does Streep harbor a secret desire to be a singer? Maybe, we should rephrase that question to Is there anything Meryl Streep can’t do? We know now for a fact that Streep can certainly belt out a tune, be it a nursery rhyme, a country tune, a Broadway tune, and all those ABBA hits.
There’s much anticipation surrounding Streep’s turn in Into The Woods. Sondheim wrote a new song for the movie, and if the buzz is anything to go by, it’s going to receive an Oscar nomination. Will we see Streep get up on the Dolby Theater stage and belt out this song? Sadly, no, ‘Over my dead body,’ she replied when asked if she’d ever perform at the Oscars.
Excitement is also high for Streep as Callas, because we all know her ability to transform herself for a role -– think Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher. Let’s not forget, as a young child she also had opera singing training.
Given Streep’s singing ability, why hasn’t anyone offered her a recording contract yet? If she doesn’t win a Grammy in this life, Streep already has her eyes set on winning one in her next incarnation. Speaking at the University of Massachusetts, when asked what she wants to do next, she joked, “In my next life, I want to be a musician.”
For the encore, we’ll leave you with this: Streep singing on stage with Cher, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Olivia Newton John.