There are many reasons why the first Mamma Mia! movie was such a smash hit, but we can all agree Pierce Brosnan’s singing was not one of them. He sounded like a labrador trapped under a blanket. Undeterred, judging by a clip of Hugh Skinner singing Waterloo in a style best described as “posh geography teacher whose necktie is too tight”, forthcoming sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again looks set to be continue this tradition of masculine musical ineptitude.

The Mamma Mia! enterprise hinges on a rarely acknowledged truth of modern movies: when it comes to actors singing, women are better at it. Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Lily James can hold a tune pretty well. It was a similar case with the Pitch Perfect movies. They hired Anna Kendrick and Hailee Steinfeld, both of whom have had bona fide hit songs. In earlier times, when musicals were a Hollywood conveyor belt, singing ability was a route to success, and performers would have paid their dues on stage or in vaudeville. However, today’s movie musicals must either cast genuine singers with limited acting ability, or genuine actors with limited singing ability. In the latter department, it is the men who come off worst.

La La Land was a classic example. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling: fine actors, passable singers, but if you had to give one a recording contract, it would be Stone by a mile. Same with Enchanted: James Marsden does well; Amy Adams knocks it out of the park. The Jungle Book? Bill Murray belts out The Bare Necessities; Scarlett Johansson’s Trust in Me is velvety and sensuous. Richard Gere muddled through Chicago, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger pulled off their tunes with aplomb. Gerard Butler’s Phantom of the Opera sounded like a Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist. Or look at Les Misérables: Anne Hathaway was fine; Russell Crowe sounded like a man giving himself a hernia.

Hugh Jackman is the exception that proves the rule. Jackman has anchored stage musicals and sell-out solo concerts, he’s that good. He really is The Greatest Showman, which isn’t saying much considering the competition.

Time and again, it seems, male actors almost revel in their vocal ineptitude. Looking back, you wonder how on earth Richard Harris’s transcendently cheesy MacArthur Park could have become a chart hit in 1968. Likewise Lee Marvin’s throat-infection rendition of Wandrin’ Star (from Paint Your Wagon), a No 1 single in 1970. It kept the Beatles’ Let It Be off the top spot! And Rex Harrison didn’t bother singing at all and simply spoke his lyrics, yet still led smash-hit musicals such as My Fair Lady and Doctor Doolittle. His Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn, was dubbed by a professional singer – a solution that does not seem to have occurred to today’s performers. It can’t be that men are naturally worse singers. Perhaps it’s more to do with the selection process that favours certain stereotypically “masculine” attributes in male actors, attributes that only overlap with singing ability once in a Hugh Jackman. Or perhaps the men feel they can get away with simply “having a go”? To his credit, Pierce Brosnan gamely accepted criticism of his performance in the first Mamma Mia! (which earned him a Razzie for worst supporting actor). But that hasn’t put him off having another try in the sequel. So here we go again indeed, although this time at least, he has been taking extra singing lessons.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out now

Contributor

Steve Rose

The GuardianTramp

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