To Dub or Not to Dub in Musicals

So today I read an article from Vulture about the need to go back to dubbing in musicals. It used to be a standard practice for studios to dub over an actress if they did not feel their singing voice was up to snuff. At the same time the person actually doing the singing often did not get on screen credit for their effort. Now a days we are seeing times where an actor was cast in a part even though their singing voice might not have been the best. There are plenty of times that I have been disappointed in the casting choice due to the singing voice. At the same time a few bad choices does not mean that we need to go back to dubbing over voices. The article in particular seems a little bit overly critical of people who are mainly actors and actresses who do their own singing.

Cast Correctly in the First Place

Rent Movie PosterNow the first point to make is why should we return to a time where people’s singing voices were dubbed over instead of just casting appropriate people in the parts in the first place. I mean the movie Rent is an amazing example because most of the people cast were the original actors anyway. What better way to cast a musical then to get the people who had done it from the start.

An example of a pretty egregious error was casting Gerard Butler as the phantom in Phantom of the Opera. We hardly see the phantoms face so it really did not matter who it was and yet Gerard Butler could not hit the full range of notes needed for the part. So they rearranged the music so that he could pull it off. This just seems uncalled for when there are actors and actresses who could have pulled it off.

Big Name Does Not Mean Lack of Musical Talent

Into the Woods Movie PosterI think my biggest beef with the article is there seems to be some level of animosity to big name actors and actresses doing musicals over some known theatre name. At the same time many big name actors and actresses were involved in theatre and musical theatre at that. I think one of the biggest examples of being overlooked is Anna Kendrick. Having recently read her autobiography I know that she grew up in musical theatre and how can you watch her in Camp or Pitch Perfect and not think that she has the chops to sing. Now they call out Into the Woods specifically and I thought she was good. There is a balance in a movie between the acting and the singing ability and it needs to be a balance of both sides.

Big Name Not Needed

Now the other piece that I think more studios need to get a handle on is that the actors name does not necessarily equate to people seeing the movie. The content of the movie still has to be interesting enough for people to want to see it. In todays world the name of the main star does not seem to matter as much. It means that more and more studios can explore using lesser known actors in their films. Especially when it comes to a musical I think it is important to explore the possibilities and really not cast someone because of their name without knowing whether they can sing. Actors who cannot pull off their parts in the movie versions of musicals can be particularly painful.

At the same time there is no reason that they should need to resort to dubbing over, instead just cast correctly in the first place. It is also good to remember that every performance of a musical is going to have its own nuance to it that brings out a different aspect. Personally the realism of Anne Hathaway’s performance was brilliant even if it wasn’t considered a perfect music performance, but that was not what they were going for in that scene. There are so many aspects to consider when examining the results of a movie musical that it is not just about the singing performance.

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5 responses to “To Dub or Not to Dub in Musicals

  1. Yep, I agree….the need to find the Julie Andrewses of the world, actors and actresses who can carry a tune AND act. In Disney movies I always liked it the best if the speaking voice and the singing voice was the same. Same is true for live action movies.

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    • That’s one of the things that made Frozen so great – same voices speaking as singing. So they’re still aiming for that it seems! What’s funny is that it seems like it would be easier to pull off dubbing in an animated movie than in live action – easier to sync up!

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      • Not necessarily…voice acting is really an underrated art. For example Matt Damon is a great actor, but he is a pretty sh… voice actor. You wouldn’t believe how much Spirit improves in the German dubbing where his part is spoken by a professional voice actor. Normally it doesn’t matter that much, but in this case it does because the whole movie hinges on this one voice.

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