Vocal Dubbing in the Film Version of INTO THE WOODS

Dodge3
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I follow BWW daily, but I was moved to register tonight for one particular reason. I have been waiting for more than a year for the savvy ladies and gentlemen on this board to pick up on something. As it hasn't been picked up on, I wanted to open the discussion to see what people think. Sorry in advance for the length of the post, but there's a lot involved here.  Rob Marshall made much ado about posting the vocal credits in the final scroll of CHICAGO so audiences would know that all of the actors sang for themselves. He did the same with NINE.  When I attended an industry preview of INTO THE WOODS at the Director's Guild in New York, about two months before the film was officially released to theaters, I sat with a great friend of mine, a musical director for TV who has spent most of his life under headphones. Together we were poised for discovery, because I am a Hollywood dubbing historian with a good ear, and his ear is unparalleled from years of scrutinizing sound and its screen components. So. During "Stay With Me," I felt that unexpected little trigger I get when dubbing is afoot.  Without being able to rewind and rewatch, I just let it sit.  An hour or so later comes "Last Midnight."  My inner dubbing meter activated again.  At this point, I was curious to see if Marshall would post his traditional vocal credits at the end, but being a rough cut, shown for the purpose of drubbing up Oscar interest, the credits were not yet finalized for viewing.  When the lights came up, in verbal shorthand, I turned to my friend and quizzically said, "Streep."  And he, with his ear always one step ahead of mine, replied, "Donna Murphy." 

Since then, we have both made a study of it, going so far as to loop Murphy's Central Park rendition on top of the movie soundtrack, which offers identical inflections. Listen to the film version again; it's one of the most sophisticated, amazing dubbing jobs we'll ever hear. In "Stay With Me," Streep gets as far as "Stay at home..." and Murphy quietly enters on "I am home..." The vibrato shift is welcome and unmistakable, such a relief musically and so beautifully mixed that you'd never suspect it. Then Murphy takes glorious flight into the bridge, until Streep returns on "stay with me..."  A less sophisticated tech team would have transitioned to the new voice on "Who out there could love you more than I?" — it was a genius stroke to switch out the voices on the quieter, more subtle line before.  Murphy sings most of "Last Midnight," too, though in this song, the interchange of voices is more frequent, and far more difficult to delineate — as intricately plotted as the constantly shifting dual track that merged Deborah Kerr's speech and Marni Nixon's singing for Anna's soliloquy in THE KING AND I (deleted from the film, but mesmerizing to hear on the soundtrack album). 

I think there are two reasons no one has caught wind of the Streep dubbing in INTO THE WOODS. First, Meryl has sung off-and-on for years on stage and screen, and we, by this point, assume she can do anything — because she usually does; her Florence Foster Jenkins vocals are skilled beyond explanation.  Another reason is the movie's brilliantly rendered pitch correction, which masks the familiar, slightly off-key nasality we have come to identify with — and love about — Murphy.

Here's the topper, though: Check out Streep's "Last Midnight" on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aasECsxrSzQ

At the 1:34 mark in the song, in the line "You can tend the garden, it's yours," listen closely. It's Bernadette Peters, right off the original cast album, or live in the studio as a cameo gag, who knows — but that is definitely Peters singing the two-word phrase "it's yours."  So give a listen and let the discussion begin.  To be clear, this is coming from someone who loves the whole smoke-and-mirrors art of dubbing, so the revelation is meant not as a "spoiler" but with affection and a tip of the hat to the artistry with which it was done.  As a postscript, however, months after that initial preview, when we saw the finished film at the Ziegfeld, the now-completed roll gave full singing credit to Streep. It was like a taste of old Hollywood, when Vera-Ellen, Rita Hayworth and Jeanne Crain all shared the same dubber in Anita Ellis and no one knew it!  As the credits rolled, my friend turned to me in the dark and said, referring to Murphy, "I hope she got paid a bundle for it."

Updated On: 9/23/16 at 11:44 PM
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Ramblings of an anonymous madman? Yeah, I think so.

"Hi there, we represent The Broadway Better Business Players for a Better Tomorrow. We're trying to start a petition to get second rate shows taken off the marquee and with your help we can stop Mamma Mia from ever playing again." -Brad Jones in Suburban Knights

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- Aggie Cromwell
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These are wonderful conspiracy theories, but probably as real as a fairy tale.

“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”
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Thank you for giving us all this information. I don't believe it's a conspiracy. I believe it. Didn't they sneak Harvey's and Marissa's voices in the hairspray movie in a similar fashion?

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Just listened to Stay With Me and sure those parts sound fairly similar to Donna's voice, but definitely still a theory. 

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 I just listenedto the songs again, and I don't buy it, sorry. I think it's more likely that Meryl Streep listened to Donna Murphy and Bernadette Peters's recordings and being the mimic she is picked up some of their inflections. 

 And if they bothered dubbing Meryl Streep, then why didn't they dub some of the other movie actors in the film who don't sound nearly as good.

At any rate, you will never get anyone involved with the movie to agree with you, and there are plenty of people on this board that would love to believe that nobody but Broadway singers could actually do the songs justice so it's a futile argument.

“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”
Updated On: 9/23/16 at 12:01 AM
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I haven't actually listened/looked for the dubbing yet, but it would help explain why Streep sounds so good at these songs. A real shock after Mamma Mia! 

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
Updated On: 9/23/16 at 12:08 AM
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Yeah, maybe it's an incredible 21st century dubbing with today's technology because it still sounds like Streep throughout that section but a hint of Donna Murphy can't be ignored. I don't know if I believe it's really her though. 

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Meryl Streep is a more than competent singer and I don't hear anyone else, but Meryl on the recording.  The section of Stay With Me that you speak about is unmistakably her singing.  I'm sure that she listened to any recording that she could get her hands on to prepare and I'm sure that she might have mimicked some of the choices that Bernadette and Donna have made, but it's definitely her.  You are probably false in all of your claims.  Maybe your professional ear needs some tuning.

Updated On: 9/23/16 at 12:14 AM
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 I have no doubt the recording is "sweetened " but they can also create that effect by double and triple looping the actors' own voice, which I think is more than likely what happened here. The timbre that the original poster described as being similar to Donna Murphy's is, to my ear, evident in Streep's voice on other recording she has done. I think they just sweetened her voice to make the sound more full and rich.

“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”
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Dodge, I've actually been thinking on this for around a year as well. I undoubtedly believe that Murphy was mixed with about 85% Streep. My belief became even stronger when I remembered that Murphy played The Witch during the early readings for the film. I'm completely behind you on this.
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Girlfriend as far as Chicago is concerned it was the dancing that was credited for Renee, Catherine and Richard...not the singing, as for the rest of your conspiracy theories...go to sleep...wake up and get on with the rest of your life.

Updated On: 9/23/16 at 01:03 AM
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PThespian said: "True or not (I tend to think it's not) I admire the way you meticulously studied everything and the time you spent analyzing it. Kudos on that!

 

Oh please! Another Queen with way too much time on his hands....get a boyfriend.

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Gotta admit...listened to last midnight several times and on the word "yours", it sounds like Peters. I am a stickler for sound. I have a pretty good ear.  There is a change in Meryl's voice on that one word. I went back and listened though but there is a clear difference in her voice on the word yours. May be the mixing and she happened to hit the note like Peters but it sounds like Peter's voice. I just don't know why they would do it unless it was an insider thing to see if people would catch it.

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This is the craziest thing I've ever read on these boards. Real or not, that was super fascinating.

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definitely one of the stranger things posted on this board lately...OP never mentioned why they would bother dubbing Meryl. There really would be no point. i relistened to her tracks earlier and they all sounded just like Meryl. Also a little odd that OP has waited two years since he originally saw the film to bring it up.

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I've only seen the movie once and it was in movie theatres right when it came out. Even during my first and only viewing 2 years ago, I distinctly remember thinking she sounded quite a bit like Donna Murphy during some parts. Problem is, I'm simply not familiar enough with Streep's natural singing voice to judge whether or not it was really her. I don't think it's totally out of the realm of possibility, though. 

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What's much more believable is that Streep, either intentionally or unintentionally, might have emulated Murphy and Peters at certain bars.

Streep's skills in recreating accents and timbres are legendary.  

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Hasn't the Donny Murphy rumor been floating around here (and other places) for years?

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Dodge3
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It's the vibrato, that's the giveaway.  Everything else in the film Streep can handle, but you haven't heard that vibrato, that power come out of her in any other film.  Go back to POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, MAMMA MIA - any film she's done.  You will hear pitch, you will hear style and commitment, but not that vibrato, not that ferocity, which is singularly Murphy's.  If Streep had that vibrato and power, it would have been soaring through "The Winner Takes It All."  A voice can't be "sweetened" to the extent that it creates a bravura, showstopping performance.  Listen to both numbers in Murphy's Central Park video.  It's the same voice, the same performance.  Murphy has that power.  Few singing actors do.

Funny about dubbing: people are naturally resistant because it lifts the curtain and skews our total experience of a performance.  Half a century after the fact, people still look crestfallen when they find out Christopher Plummer was dubbed in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  And it took years for people to believe a Broadway star of Lisa Kirk's stature would deign to sub for Rosalind Russell. It takes time for dubbing to sink in because the sleight-of-hand is so immersive, especially if it's done well. The goal, remember, is that we will believe it's the actress singing for herself.

Updated On: 9/23/16 at 09:18 AM
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It could also be that Meryl Streep studied to prepare for INTO THE WOODS with Joan Lader who is Donna Murphy's vocal coach.

 I don't deny Streep's singing in the film is Miles better than what we have heard her do before, I don't argue that her vocal tracks were likely sweetened to make them sound richer and fuller, but at the end of the day, I frankly don't believe Meryl Streep would've allowed herself to be dubbed in anyway given that she is known for singing, and has done so on many other projects.

Yes I think she has that clout.

And listening to Donna's vocals from Central Park, I don't hear it at all. Her vibrato is frankly all over the place. It would take as much engineering in the studio to calm and correct Donna Murphys vibrato, as it would be to digitally enhance Meryl Streep's.

“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”
Updated On: 9/23/16 at 09:25 AM
Dodge3
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Keep in mind, the way the process of screen dubbing has always worked — and more so today with all the techno wizardry at our disposal — actors themselves often don't realize they've been dubbed. Historically, filmmakers have tried to keep it quiet from both their stars and audiences. And while it's plain to our ears, you would be amazed at how many stars during the 1950s-60s actually believed they were doing their own singing.

Streep has always been an actor who can sing.  The voice on that screen in INTO THE WOODS is a singer.  Streep's singing voice has the one quality that paves the way for good dubbing: it's indistinct. You don't hear it and say, "That's Streep" the way you would with Tony Bennett or Sinatra. So when her voice is paired with another, it doesn't call attention to itself.

Updated On: 9/23/16 at 09:50 AM
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Okay but then the other question would be "why" would they do it? They clearly didn't make an effort to noticiably enhance the other (mostly mediocre) singing voices in the film- and Marshall didn't take the initiative to say, make Nicole Kidman sound like  Laura Benanti in NINE. So why would they do this for Streep whose voice has always been fine and at least as good as the principals in his other musical movies.

“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”
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Any coincidence this was posted today as well?

http://www.talkinbroadway.com/allthatchat_new/d.php?id=2349712

"This thread reads like a series of White House memos." — Mister Matt
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Good question. If you look at Sondheim's work, he is the first to say he writes for actors who sing, not singers. Best example is Lansbury — not a trained singer, occasionally dubbed in her MGM films (i.e. THE HARVEY GIRLS) but allowed to sing for herself in less presentational, more British-centric pieces, like THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY or TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY.  On stage, she emerged as the prototype of the actor who sings.  "The Worst Pies in London" could trip up the best of singers, but not an actor.  So, barring an occasional "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," Sondheim usually writes for actors.  INTO THE WOODS was written largely for actors who sing, but, based on his knowledge that Bernadette Peters was cast, his writing for the Witch is different. He knew he had a singer to work with, and the result is that her music is more challenging, more rangy, especially the bridge in "Stay With Me" and all of "Last Midnight."  The reason they would have needed to dub those sections in the film version is because their name-above-the-title Witch was now an actor who sings.  In Kendrick, they had a singing actress as Cinderella, and Pine is off the table because Marshall directed "Agony" broadly, almost for laughs, in the movie.  All other characters in the film are actors who sing.

It was clearly Rob Marshall's intent that all of the actors sing for themselves in this film; Streep's dubbing likely became a necessity after the fact, especially given the pyrotechnic staging of "Last Midnight."  If her vocal performance did not adequately merge with the imagery in rushes, something would have to be done.  Once they had Murphy in the studio, they probably took inventory on all of Streep's vocals and decided to add the bridge of "Stay With Me" to her chores as a safeguard.  And if you recall, it was that clip — the "Stay With Me" bridge — that was most often used by Disney during the film's hype period.  It was the first clip released; you saw and heard it everywhere, presumably so that, in conjunction with the unveiling of Streep's distorting make-up, audiences would immediately accept the voice they were hearing as hers.

Updated On: 9/23/16 at 10:12 AM

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