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  • Finian Hackett

5 Movie Musicals and the Casts That Could've Been!

Whenever a film is announced, be it a musical or other genre, rumours fly about who is going to take on what role. We end up (usually) loving the final cast but what if the producers had headed in a different direction? What if Frank Sinatra had starred in Chicago? Or Olivia Newton-John took on Donna in Mamma Mia? Below are roundups of the rumoured casting history of 5 of the biggest stage to screen adaptations.

Chicago (2002)

The 6 time Oscar-winning adaptation of Chicago was a huge success. Starring the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere and Renée Zellweger, the film had an impressive cast to match the power of the musical. Zeta-Jones won an Oscar for her portrayal of Velma Kelly and the film became the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968. But who else was considered for the iconic roles in this razzle dazzle film?

In the 1970s, Bob Fosse had envisaged Chicago to be his next film, following the success of Cabaret. Cabaret star Liza Minnelli was announced to be taking on a role in the film alongside Frank Sinatra and Goldie Hawn, but due to Bob Fosse's untimely death in 1987 this version was never to see the light of day.

Charlize Theron was the original Roxie Hart of the 2002 film, but when original director Nicholas Hytner left, the film's new director Rob Marshall re-auditioned all the roles; Renée Zellweger wowed him, leading to Charlize Theron being let go. John Travolta was the originally choice for Billy Flynn and turned the role down several times - a decision he has said is one of his biggest regrets! Kathy Bates was the top choice for the role of Mama Morton but had to decline due to scheduling conflicts with the film About Schmidt. The role eventually went to Queen Latifah and both actresses ended up being nominated in the same category for their films at the Oscars that year. Madonna and Nicole Kidman were some earlier choices for the film's 2 leads but concerts and Moulin Rouge respectively got in the way .

Hairspray (2007)

The 2007 film of Hairspray was widely praised for its take on the 2003 musical. The cast was stellar: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, Christopher Walken and many more. Big box office numbers even lead for production to start on a sequel which, ultimately, never happened. Although the ensemble cast of this film is now iconic, who else could've played these roles?

Probably the biggest name who didn't get cast was Aretha Franklin. The legendary singer auditioned for the role of Motormouth Mabel but lost it to Queen Latifah - what a performance that would've been!

Meryl Streep and Madonna were both rumoured to be up for producer Velma Von Tussle with Billy Crystal and Jim Broadbent up for the role of Wilbur Turnblad. We could've even seen Steve Martin, Robin Williams or Tom Hanks play Edna Turnblad, Tracy's mother, who is traditionally played by a man.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Mamma Mia! was already a huge worldwide success before the film came out, with multiple productions happening all over the world. The movie adaptation added to the world's love for ABBA. With an all star cast, the film was a smash hit, which brought in $600 million worldwide and was the highest grossing musical film of all time for a number of years. Who could've been running around the famous Greek island?

Cher and Dawn French were both originally chosen as Tanya and Rosie respectively. An interesting pairing to say the least, but both stars had to turn their roles down; Cher did so due to tour commitments, whilst Dawn French was actually cast in the role, but the producers were so unimpressed with her singing that she eventually left the project (in her book she stated she likes ABBA but not Mamma Mia!). Christine Baranski and Julie Walters took on these hilarious roles. We do of course see Cher in the film's sequel 10 years later as Donna's mum.

Talking of Donna, Grease and Grease 2 alumni Olivia Newton-John and Michelle Pfeiffer were both considered for the role, losing to Meryl Streep. The role of Sophie was also hotly contested with Rachel McAdams, Amanda Bynes and Mandy Moore all vying for the part of Donna's daughter, eventually played by Amanda Seyfried.

Sweeney Todd (2007)

The Sondheim classic Sweeney Todd made its way to the big screen with Tim Burton at the helm. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter took on the film's 2 lead roles, with Depp earning himself an Oscar nomination. Sondheim has stated in interviews that this is the only film adaptation of any of his works he approves of (he was heavily involved with the production and casting choices).

Sam Mendes was the project's original director with Russell Crowe in the lead role. When Mendes left, Tim Burton took over and was quick to cast Depp in the role (it was the one thing he said had to happen if they wanted him to direct). Despite this, hundreds of actors were considered over the film's 25 year long development including Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Kevin Kline, Warren Beaty and many others!

Mrs Lovett was played by Tim Burton's partner Helena Bonham Carter despite her lack of vocal ability (she underwent lots of vocal training for the film, as did Depp). She wasn't the only big name up for the role. Imelda Staunton was in the running to play Sweeney's side kick Mrs Lovett and, although she lost the film role, she went on to play the role in Chichester in 2011 and the West End the following year, earning her an Olivier Award. Toni Collette, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet and Broadway legend Bernadette Peters were all also said to be in the running.

Dreamgirls (2006)

2006 saw the 1981 musical Dreamgirls make its way to the big screen starring singing superstar Beyoncé, Tony-winning actress and Disney Princess Anika Noni Rose and newcomer Jennifer Hudson. Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx also played major roles in the film. Hudson beat over 700 different actresses to the role of Effie and even won an Oscar for her first ever film performance. The film was a critical success, but it had been a long time coming, since it was in development since the early 80's.

Whitney Houston was the first star linked to the project in 1987 to play Deena, with Howard Ashman on the production team. The reason this project never happened was down to Whitney, who was so adamant that she sing both Deena AND Effie's songs in the film that producers abandoned the project!

Lauryn Hill and Kelly Price were both in talks to take on Deena and Effie in the 90s following the supposed success of the Angela Bassett led Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got to Do with It?. That film flopped and Dreamgirls was once again dropped.

The 2006 film had many famous actors' names in the ring. Jamie Foxx initially declined his role as Curtis Taylor Jr over salary and it was offered to Denzel Washington and Will Smith. Eventually, Foxx returned when he learnt that Beyoncé and Eddie Murphy were on board.

Usher and André 3000 were both approached to star as composer C.C. White, but negotiations fell through with both stars, leading to Keith Robinson's casting. Even some of the 700 girls auditioning for Effie were well known names, including Patina Miller, Raven-Symoné and singer Fantasia.


Some interesting casting choices in all 5 of these. Just imagine how different some of them would've been! Let me know below who you would've like to see take on some iconic musical film roles.

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