Defending Meryl Streep's right to sing in 'Mamma Mia'

Ms_lOver 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? 

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  • Marie-Claire

    I thought her singing in “Postcards From the Edge” was terrific, especially the final number, “I’m Checking Out”. Additional Fun Fact: When Oliver Stone was set to direct the film of “Evita”, the top contenders for the lead were Streep and Michelle Pfeiffer.

  • Sally in Chicago

    I wanna see this!

  • Beth

    The only other Meryl-related musical thing I can think of, other than the ones you listed, is her narration on George Winston’s piano music to “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Probably doesn’t really count, but nonetheless. I can’t wait to see her in this. Whatever proficiency she may lack will more than be made up for in her enthusiasm.

  • Michael H.

    Meryl Streep seems quite capable of doing ANY role – MAMMA MIA is a bit of fluff but I think it will be a perfect summer film and she’ll be fantastic!
    She also sings in HEARTBURN… duetting with Jack Nicholson and also singing solo to her babies…

  • Michael H.

    She sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in character as a new mother so it’s not exactly on the same scale as MAMMA MIA.

  • Scott

    Seriously? Are there people who AREN’T excited by Meryl singing and bringing the quality of a fluff musical up a notch or ten? I think it’s (and she’s) going to be great! Musicals don’t often require perfect pitch 100% of the time (witness Helena Bonham Carter playing a great Mrs. Lovitt while not exactly singing the score to its full operatic potential). Great acting in a musical can trump a not-perfect singing voice (as long as the tune can be carried at some level) every time. And great acting is what Meryl does almost every time.

  • Lola

    I’ve heard her singing on the radio to promote “Prairie Home Companion”- her voice is lovely.
    –read my blog at

  • Ceballos

    I enjoyed this post, but, your family notwithstanding Christine, I don’t think you should have to defend Meryl Streep’s right to do anything.
    I think she’s proven over the years that she can do (and succeed at) whatever the hell she wants.

  • Ryan

    I burst out laughing when I remembered that opening scene from Death Becomes Her. She does sing well, but the song is so (intentionally) cheesy. If I remember correctly, it was a musical adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth. While Mamma Mia isn’t my favorite musical by any means, I figure Meryl Streep starring will get me to see it. Honestly though, I’m more interested in hearing Lilly Kane, I mean Amanda Seyfried, sing.

  • Josh

    Here’s the real deal guys…. Meryl is WAY too old for the part. One of the larger plot points in the play is how her character gave birth at a very young age. She is supposed to be a young woman that all the boys still want, not some 60-something gray-haired mature lady. She got the part soley because she is Meryl Streep.

    • Shannon

      In response to Josh’s comment – I completely agree with you Josh. Meryl IS too old for her role – a 59-year-old woman plays the role of a 40-year-old woman (Donna) – it just shows in every way: her looks and her moves.

      For those who defend Meryl – she is one of my favorite actresses too…I also think that she goods great for her age, she is a good actress, she sings beautifully…..etc…it is impressive, amazing, etc. that she could do all that singing and dancing in the movie considering someone who is an actress and at her age……

      BUT, it’s all irrelevant here because we are talking about whether she’s the right person for the right role…and I definitely think that she is not. In fact, she doesn’t think so either:

  • Lori

    Meryl sings “Gartan Mother’s Lullabye” on the 1991 Disney CD “For Our Children” – a nursery staple of ours when our daughter was a baby. It’s a beautiful song on a beautiful CD. Meryl is going to tear “Mama Mia” up!

  • eva eutsler

    I’ve seen every one of Meryl Streep’s movies and I have heard her sing. I think she is perfect in every role she does. I love her. As for her voice, its not always on key, but she does a great job anyway. So Meryl sing on. she will be an asset to Mama Mia. She and Lily Tomlim were wonderful in Prairie Home Companion. So sing on Meryl. Love you. Eva from Virginia

  • Michael H.

    To Josh – Streep is NOT too old for the part… (and for the record, she’s only 58 so not quite “60-something”).
    Maybe you’re a purist for the original material but source material such as books or plays are almost ALWAYS tweaked for their film versions.
    And I’m sure there are still plenty of men (and/or boys) that want her!

  • Ceballos

    Michael H. is right. I’m 25 y.o. and I WANT Meryl Streep!

  • C

    Check out this other trailer (which I believe is from the UK). It’s longer and it shows more of the movie AND more of the singing. Streep sounds (and looks) AMAZING. I can’t WAIT for this to come out!

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