Rooster Revue #2 • To Dub or Not to Dub
Why LIVE singing matters and a review of "Hairspray."
Welcome back! This week Mary does a deep dive into Netflix’s musical catalog, Jeffrey justifies why Hairspray is the best movie musical, and Mandrews gets dubbed.
• The Queen's Gambit is headed to Broadway. [Variety]
• Trailer released for Netflix's faith-based summer camp musical, A Week Away. [People]
• A first look at the Apple TV+ musical comedy series, Schmigadoon! [Deadline]
• Best Summer Ever, a new musical from Zeno Mountain Farm, created by people with & without disabilities in front of & behind the camera, can be seen next week at SXSW. The festival is online this year and anyone can buy passes. Here’s a clip to get your beak wet.
• Rebecca Alter argues there are only two musical endings that matter. Do you agree? [Vulture]
Some of Mary's favorites currently streaming on Netflix.
Les Miserables [Netflix]
This star-studded epic musical movie featuring live singing leaves you wondering what can’t Hugh Jackman do?
The Muppets [Netflix]
Jason Segel’s dream of a movie with the Muppets is as entertaining and meta as it is heartwarming. Will be swooped up by Disney+ soon so catch it before it leaves!
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga [Netflix]
With two comedic all-stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in the wild (very real) world of the Eurovision Song Contest singing powerful electro-pop anthems, you can’t go wrong.
Fiddler on the Roof [Netflix]
One of the most beautiful movie musicals ever made. Fun fact: Topol was only 30 years old. Crazy, right?
Over the Moon [Netflix]
An original movie animated musical celebrating Chinese culture that may have been overlooked. It’s great.
Holy Camp [Netflix]
A spanish language musical comedy with only a few originals and a whole lotta Whitney Houston.
Opening Night [Netflix]
This is a musical I haven’t seen but Im putting it here so I remember to watch it. If you’re missing theatrical stage productions like we do, let Topher Grace and former NSYNC-er JC Chasez remind you of the madness behind the scenes.
The Prom [Netflix]
Ryan Murphy and an all-star cast (Meryl Streep anyone?) bring the razzle dazzle of this stage musical and its infectious tunes to life!
Been So Long [Netflix]
Michaela Cole stars in this off-Broadway adaptation with great songs and innovative dance sequences, despite some unsatisfying story lines.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [Netflix]
Every musical genre is represented in the often comedic, fully committed song list born from musical theater bred Rachel Bloom.
Ryan Murphy’s jukebox musical high school drama gave your favorite top 40/classic rock/you name it tune the show choir treatment.
Hairspray (2007) - The movie musical based on the musical which is based on a movie.
Screenplay by: Leslie Dixon
Music & Lyrics by: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
Directed & Choreographed by: Adam Shankman
At The Barn we have a specific kind of movie musical in mind to make. We’ve even written a manifesto about it and Hairspray breaks most of the rules. But I forgive all of it and here’s why.
I don’t like “performances” within a musical, as they typically make an excuse for the musical to have songs and more often than not stop the momentum of a story.
But in Hairspray, even when songs are being performed such as on the Corny Collins show, there are character dynamics and conflicts playing out at every moment. There’s no wasted spectacle. There’s never a moment where I space out waiting for the dance number to finish (as I often find myself doing in movies like Pitch Perfect and TV shows like Glee).
The lip syncing is always the hardest for me to look past, but something about this movie makes it ok. There’s a hyperreal style to this musical. It’s not “authentic” and it’s not trying to be. It leans into the comedic over-the-top nature of musicals while still grounding itself in character motivation.
The actors are uniformly delightful and I have no problem believing they have the strong feelings they do about the rather absurd premise of the show.
It’s an adaptation of a broadway show, and we’re only interested in musicals crafted for the screen. But with that said, the original source material is a film and I would argue this is one the rare musicals better on screen than stage. The jokes, the movement, the everything is enhanced by the camera. It leads us in close when we need to and out far when we need perspective and spectacle. The production design, costumes, lighting, sound, and every department in-between got the same memo. Everybody’s on the same page.
Finally, the thing it does best is furthering the story through song.
For example, “Good Morning Baltimore” sets up the whole world, almost all the characters, and gets Tracy to school. From Tracy climbing the garbage truck on her way to school to the little moves the high school students (AKA professional dancers in their mid twenties) make while sliding into their chairs just before the bell rings. Every move has a purpose.
Maybe COVID has given me a new appreciation for “feel good” movies, but right now I think Hairspray is the best movie musical ever made, streaming now on HBO Max.
I recently discovered a YouTube channel called Lost Vocals that replaces the dub tracks of some of the most famous movie musicals with the original vocals recorded by the actors. From the 30’s to the 60’s, dubbing in Hollywood musicals was common practice. It’s understandable why studios chose to dub—they needed hits. These huge budget musicals had too much money at stake to risk subpar singing. The most famous of these Hollywood dubbers was perhaps Marni Nixon, having covered Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (much to the actor’s dismay), among many others.
But listening to some of these original tracks is absolutely refreshing. They’re filled with nuance and character that had been lost in the dub. A particular highlight is the voice of Leslie Caron from Gigi. She’s just so god damn charming. And check out Ava Gardner in Show Boat. Are you kidding me? On the other hand, Natalie Wood singing in a Puerto Rican accent is quite painful. Luckily they dubbed her with an actual Puerto Rican singer—oh wait, no, that was also Marni Nixon.
In recent years, we’ve seen a strong push in the opposite direction highlighting the best and worst of our generation: the pursuit of authenticity—using the original actor’s voices—and the cult of celebrity—hiring big-name actors that can’t sing or are just horribly miscast. After watching Les Miserable (2012), Marni Nixon stated “I would have rather had it dubbed. In some places, it was too distracting.” In response to Beauty and the Beast (2017), a vulture article argued that if we’re going to keep putting movie stars in musicals, it’s time to bring back dubbing. I don’t necessarily disagree with either of them.
Bad singing is distracting, and so is lip synching, and so is dubbing. One of the tenets of The Barn’s manifesto is to always record vocals live to allow for discoveries to be made on set, and to emphasize performance over polish. As far as we’re concerned, the answer is obvious: cast actors that can sing. And while big studio films may not have that luxury, we certainly do.
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Rooster Revue is edited by Matt Andrews, Mary Bonney, and Jeffrey Simon with contributions from the entire team at The Barn.