Meryl Streep/Photo © Featureflash/Shutterstock
Cinematic grande dame Meryl Streep is said to be leading the charge toward a film adaptation of the beloved Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods,” snatching up the part of the Witch (a plum role made memorable by the likes of Bernadette Peters and Phylicia Rashad). By now nearly everyone has encountered Streep as a singer in one movie or another — most recently, for example, in “Mamma Mia” — so her resume speaks for itself. However, in case you’ve missed a page or two along the way, here’s a chronological survey of the master thespian’s most tuneful moments, dating back to long before her name became practically indivisible from “And the Oscar goes to …”
“Secret Service” (1977)
“Secret Service” is a filmed theatrical production that was released on television and, later, home video. Starring alongside John Lithgow and Mary Beth Hurt in an espionage thriller set during the Civil War, twenty-eight-year-old Streep is the very picture of the perfect ingenue.
“Uncommon Women & Others” (1978)
Here’s another made-for-TV movie based on a play by Wendy Wasserstein. Streep is in the mix as a women’s college graduate returning for an alumni luncheon. That’s Swoosie Kurtz over on the right!
By now, Meryl was totally on everyone’s radar thanks to her roles in “The Deer Hunter” and “Sophie’s Choice.” However, most filmgoers had yet to hear her sing, and her rendition of “Amazing Grace” brought an aching poignancy to the tale of real-life whistle-blower Karen Silkwood. Get used to that voice, 1983! You’re going to be hearing a lot of it in the coming decades.
This oft-overlooked Halloween classic paired Streep with Jack Nicholson, resulting in “His” and “Hers” Oscar nominations. Below you can hear her brassy nightclub act, “He’s Me Pal” — her belt on that last note is ferocious!
“Postcards From the Edge” (1990)
If this performance seems a bit restrained, that’s by design: moments after Streep’s wobbly rendition to Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me,” her character’s mother (Shirley MacLaine, playing a part inspired Debbie Reynolds) roundly upstages her in front of everyone with a glitzy Sondheim tribute.
“Death Becomes Her” (1992)
At the very beginning of this Frank Oz comedy, we witness Streep as an aging Broadway diva, trapped in a flop called”Songbird!” — a musical adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ gritty Sweet Bird of Youth. Her big number, “I See Me,” contains a little bit of everything people love to hate about musical theater.
“Marvin’s Room” (1996)
Meryl joined Carly Simon in the recording studio to provide backup vocals for “Two Little Sisters,” the track that plays over the closing credits in this tragicomedy about two sisters forced to reunite by family health issues. The film’s also notable for being one of the last film appearances by the legendary musical presence Gwen Verdon.
“Angels in America” (2003)
One of Streep’s many roles in this movie (adapted to the screen from Tony Kushner’s play) was the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, a communist who was executed by the U.S. for espionage in 1953. Skip ahead to 6:30 to hear her croon a Yiddish lullaby to the Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) on his deathbed.
“A Prairie Home Companion” (2006)
The Queen of a Thousand Accents adopted a quaint Midwestern twang for her performance in Robert Altman’s last film. Here she is with the other half of her sister act, Lily Tomlin (we can only imagine that they had different fathers), singing “My Minnesota Home.”
“Mamma Mia!” (2008)
After stringing us along for years, Streep finally committed to her first full-on movie musical, pouring everything she had into re-creating some of ABBA’s greatest hits and gathering a Golden Globe nomination. I guess you could say she outshone co-star Pierce Brosnan, who actually won that year’s Razzie award for Worst Supporting Actor.