Hollywood has never seemed to understand that when it comes to adapting a Broadway musical to film, it is integral that if the formula on the stage works, then keep it intact. However, producers commonly fear marketing issues and how to gain the attention and interest of a wide film audience to maximize profits.
The typical solution to this “dilemma” is replacing key stage actors in exchange for bigger name Hollywood actors for the sake of name-recognition. This so-called “solution” allows for producers to market the film with the Hollywood actor being the headliner to the film. For instance, just in this last year Meryl Streep was cast in the role of “The Witch” in Disney’s Into the Woods, to which all promotional materials and marketing for the film heavily featured Streep. Thankfully Meryl Streep managed to uphold the expectations and standards put on her and granted audiences with a surprisingly superior performance.
However, this unfairly snubs the Broadway actors who took the time to establish and become the characters, only for a big-name Hollywood actor to take hold of their foundational work and claim it as their own to a bigger audience. In many scenarios, such Broadway actors were awarded Tonys for their work, classifying themselves as more worthy of playing the part on film. However, many studios ignore this notion and opt for the bigger-name actors, which commonly backfires because the actor was not qualified to do the performance.
Below are ten examples of disastrous Broadway to Film miscasting decisions:
1. Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables (2012)
Before you all pounce on me, there is a reason behind this! Jackson excelled in his performance as Jean Valjean, but he had a single flaw in the performance that was fatal. The pinnacle song for the character is “Bring Him Home,” a song that truly captures the goodness and sacrifice Jean Valjean embodies. The song is supposed to come from the heart and be a plea to God to spare the life of his daughter’s lover. While Jackson could sing the lyrics, they did not come from the heart. Instead, the song is practically bellowed and lacking any form of precious sentimentality. Jackson’s regurgitation of the song is almost cringe worthy to watch, thus forever tainting his performance.
2. Elizabeth Taylor in A Little Night Music (1977)
Replaced: Glynis Johns (Won the Tony)
It is clear Taylor had no clear understanding of the character she was playing other than the similarities with her own life. Her singing and acting is mundane and lacks any of the melancholy Johns initially provided for the performance. Also watch out for Taylor’s fluctuating weight that the director never bothered to edit around.
3. Michael Douglas in A Chorus Line (1985)
Replaced: Robert LuPone (Nominated for a Tony)
Playing the role of “Zach”, the difficult and precise director of a Broadway production, was a integral character to the Broadway musical since he continually challenged the motivations of those auditioning for him. While the film was already a disaster for eliminating most of the original music in exchange for more retro 80’s music to make the film current, casting Michael Douglas, who was fresh off his Romancing the Stone success, was done to grab more tickets. Douglas failed at being a convincing director within the film, which was the final flaw that made this film flop.
4. Madonna in Evita (1996)
Replaced: Patti LuPone (Won the Tony)
Yes, she won the Golden Globe for her performance. And yes, Patti LuPone was too old by this time to do the film. However, neither justifies the poor casting choice of Madonna in one of Broadway’s greatest roles. The role of Evita Perone is supposed to be that of a determined woman behind closed doors, who was publicly beloved and was seen as the savior of the Argentinian people. Madonna over-sexualized the performance, and while she did have the vocal range to sing the difficult lyrics from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, it lacked any of the musicality, mystification and power Patti LuPone offered to audiences. The true test of a Broadway actor is to be acting while singing. Such a talent was clearly outside of Madonna’s capabilities as an actress.
5. Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! (2008)
To be fair, the entire cast in this film was awful. Yet Pierce Brosnan was a special kind of awful who succeeded in making audiences cringe in revulsion whenever he sang. In fact, whoever convinced producers Brosnan could sing ought to be fired and blacklisted from ever casting a Hollywood film again. It wasn’t exactly singing even; It was more like him shouting the lyrics at some unknown tempo. It at least provided some great unintentional laughs in an otherwise poor film. Sadly enough, Brosnan achieved the impossible with this role: People no longer associate him as the fifth James Bond in the Bond franchise. No, Pierce Brosnan is now associated with his horrible singing, which has spawned a series of memes and gifs that are used at the actor’s expense. See here for yourself.
6. Lucille Ball in Mame (1974)
Replaced: Angela Lansbury (Won the Tony)
When promoting this film on The Johnny Carson Show, she flippantly admitted “I can’t sing,” and proceeded to explain that producers begged her to do the film even though she had repeatedly said she couldn’t sing. Well, she was right; She couldn’t sing. In all fairness, even if she could have sung somewhat decently, it wouldn’t have saved this disaster of a film that was so disjointed that one must wonder if the director was asleep behind the camera during filming.
What made Fierstein incredible on the stage version of this musical was his ability for you to forget he was a male in drag throughout the performance and made you fall in love with the character. Fierstein’s performance embodied the very notion of beauty coming from within and not to care what others think of the outward appearance. John Travolta was never able to achieve that with the character because of the actor’s clear awkwardness and determination to prove to film audiences he was capable of such a performance. As a result, Travolta’s performance sticks out like a sore thumb and film viewers did not get the same impact Fierstein offered viewers with the stage version.
8. Rosario Dawson in Rent (2005)
Replaced: Daphne Rubin-Vega (Nominated for a Tony)
What makes close to no sense with the casting of this film was recasting the entire original Broadway cast with the exception of its lead actress who they replaced with Rosario Dawson. Dawson wasn’t exactly a well-established actress, having only really been known for Sin City and Men in Black II. Was she up to the challenge? No. Dawson lacked any of the passion, conviction, submission to addiction, and her desire for love that was Mimi Marquez. Most glaring was her singing alongside the original Broadway cast, which clearly made her singing inferior to listen to. However, most of the film’s failure goes to director Chris Columbus who seemingly missed the point that despite the fact Rent is a rock-opera, the musical is about dense themes such as poverty, addiction, and AIDS.
9. Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell in The Producers (2005)
Replaced: Cady Huffman (Won the Tony) & Brad Oscar (Nominated for a Tony)
It is very evident that Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell, two actors who had no business being in this film, were put into this musical in an effort to generate more ticket sales. Both of them lacked Broadway credentials and as a result, failed to display any musicality or necessary charisma for their characters. Added onto that, very much like the issue Rent faced with Rosario Dawson, Thurman and Ferrell’s performances paled in comparison to the veteran cast who all originated their roles on Broadway. In an effort to compensate this, the director desperately tried to exaggerate the characters in an effort to make them more comical by having them place more emphasis on their physical body language than their actual dialogue and music, which is a huge mistake when directing a Broadway to film adaptation.
10. Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine (2009)
Replaced: Raul Julia (Nominated for a Tony)
Yes, Raul Julia had been deceased since 1994 and usually casting Daniel Day-Lewis means he will deliver a brilliant performance for the film, but Nine was still a disaster in the making. Daniel Day-Lewis tripped with this role worse than he ever had before and gave perhaps the worst performance of his career in an already disjointed film that lacked any cohesion. But all is good now. Daniel Day-Lewis reminded us why he’s an incredible actor with his follow-up performance in Lincoln that won him his third Oscar. If that’s not acting redemption from an actor, I don’t know what is!