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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Recently, after a taxing week — OK, months — of work, I had the option of seeing either Mamma Mia! or The Dark Knight at the movie theater. Even though it wasn't exactly a Sophie's Choice decision, I decided to go with the Meryl Streep-helmed ABBA musical based on the successful stage production. I saw Mamma Mia! in Toronto several years ago and enjoyed it immensely, and was looking forward to a 98 minutes of silliness and disco. But nothing quite prepared me for the sight — and sound — of Pierce Brosnan... well, one can't exactly call it singing. Warbling, perhaps. Singing, perhaps not.

The first time the former James Bond vocalizes his memories, he's joined by Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy!) and Stellan Skarsgård (Bootstrap Bill Turner!), no great crooners themselves. The audience giggled as 007 wistfully recalls a summer spent in Paris. But it's not until Brosnan bellows the classic "S.O.S." that the guffaws grew to out-and-out laughter. In the story, the song serves as a dueling duet between his and Streep's characters. In reality, it's tough to determine who is the recipient of this distress call: Brosnan's agent ("Get me out of this!") or the audience ("Earmuffs!"). No, James Bond can't sing, and it's a palpable relief when the music swells and the backup singers pick up the slack, lessening the aural pain. But Brosnan is completely committed the emotion of the lyrics, and he puts everything out there using his expressive face and obviously untrained voice. Even though he tends to growl the words rather than sing them, I think it's incredibly brave of Brosnan to commit this performance to film.

Brosnan is not the only "tough guy" to step out of an action hero's shoes and into the world of musicals. Hugh Jackman caused a stir when he went from the silver screen as a surly, taciturn X-Man to a Tony winning-turn as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. Several headlines declared "Wolverine Sings!" or a similar variant. Like Brosnan, Jackman has no formal vocal training. Unlike Remington Steele, however, Van Helsing started out in musical theater and has a beautiful voice. In his native Australia, Jackman played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard before moving to London's West End for a revival of Oklahoma! (he played Curly). In an earlier era, Jackman no doubt would have been a major star in movie musicals. True, there has been a recent revival of the genre with the successes of Chicago, Hairspray, and High School Musical. But there's not much call for a modern-day Howard Keel, more's the pity. I guess I'll have to get my Jackman fix in Australia and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (No, I'm not watching the bootleg trailer every day. Shut up.)

Ewan McGregor was known for his gritty, independent roles before he got cast as young(er) Ben Kenobi in the second Star Wars trilogy (well, that and for showing off his light saber). Those who only knew him as Obi-Wan may have been unable to accept him as an earnest playwright in Moulin Rouge! in 2000. Nicole Kidman got all the attention and most of the kudos, but MacGregor's innocent yearning and sweet, clear voice was the heart of that movie. It's a far cry from Velvet Goldmine and his Iggy Pop-esque Curt Wild who screams his pain and flashes his willy onstage, engages in a doomed love affair with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and seduces Christian Bale. The Jedi Council would definitely not approve of such shenanigans. And what would Yoda say?

Speaking of Christian Bale, the Batman is not immune to this phenomenon. In Newsies, Bale is a New Yorker who wants to be a cowboy, and his accent is atrocious as he vocalizes his wish to move West... to Santa Fe, in fact. "So dat's what dey cawl a famly: mudder, dotter, fadder, son." There's also some awesome hoofin' going on, although it's not as smooth as Bale's moves with Robert Sean Leonard in Swing Kids. True story: When our own Steve at the Movies told me he was going to be interviewing Bale for the film 3:10 to Yuma, I told Steve, "You need to ask him how being a fake cowboy in Newsies prepared him for this role." And Steve did.

Capone: Did playing a fake cowboy in NEWSIES prepare you in any way for 3:10 TO YUMA? Did you draw from that experience?
Christian Bale: laughs I drew nothing from it, except for the quite annoying fact that when I first arrived in Sante Fe, I could not get the song from NEWSIES ["Sante Fe"] out of my mind. Every time somebody said 'Sante Fe'...if you're familiar with NEWSIES, there's a song, and it would just go on through my head. And, it hadn't been in my head for, whatever it is, 16 years or something like that. Dammit, if every time I saw a sign, a road sign or somebody mentioned it...and it took a good month or so for that to quit.

Good to know Bale has a sense of humor about it. I still plan to see The Dark Knight, but I admit that I might hope that Batman might burst into song... or perform a swing dance or two. What would Bruce Wayne's alter ego sing, I wonder. Maybe "I'm So Ronery" from Team America? Oh, and if you do see Mamma Mia!, be sure to stay through the credits. If you think Brosnan's serenades are subpar, wait until you see his last outfit.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the CW's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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