“Who doesn’t love an Oz project?” casting director Matthew Jon Beck asks. Beck began casting “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” in 2007 and now the musical animated feature based on Roger Stanton Baum’s books is finally hitting theaters May 9. Bringing to life Dorothy and her new friends and adversaries are the talented voices of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Megan Hilty, Hugh Dancy, and Bernadette Peters. “You will cast some of the roles right at the beginning, and others you will cast throughout the process,” Beck says. “The casting director is really involved from the beginning of the preproduction all the way up to the actual unveiling of the film.”
Even as a child, Beck was drawn to animation, specifically to the art of bringing characters to life using only one’s voice and acting ability. Finding the right voice is only the first step. “You hope it comes out the way you heard it in your head when you read it,” he says.
Of the trend to cast name celebrities over the great voiceover artists who may not be as famous, Beck says in addition to wanting to work with really great actors, there is the marketability factor to consider. “I have actually read that there are people saying they will come to see this movie because Bernadette Peters is doing a voiceover.” So casting becomes a balancing act. “It’s that mixture of established, up-and-coming, and who is just great at what they do. Ultimately [we’re] looking for a really nice oral palette that the animators can work with.”
Because many of the characters in the film sing, singing was also a factor in casting. “I believe [Glinda] was originally going to have a song. Even though she no longer has a song in the final story, I think [Peters’] acting and her speaking voice are also still perfect for Glinda.”
Michele, Hilty, and Dancy were just coming into the spotlight when Beck cast them. “Hugh was cast many years before 'Hannibal.' The role of Marshal Mallow was a strong role that had to have good comedic timing, but also sort of a sense of gravitas about him. But he also had to sing a very beautiful love ballad.” When they settled on Dancy, Beck joked, “If Hugh can’t do the singing, I will do it. Happily, we discovered that Hugh has a terrific singing voice. And amazing comic timing.”
Michele and Hilty were on the verge of their television careers. “Glee” had just started airing, but producers Roland and Ryan Carroll had seen Michele in “Spring Awakening” and Beck had seen her in “Les Miserables” at the Hollywood Bowl. “Lea just has one of the most pure, most beautiful voices you can imagine…and we also had a sense that ‘Glee’ was going to hit big.” Similarly, “Smash” hadn’t yet premiered, but Beck had seen Hilty in several musicals and knew she was right, saying "The part of China Princess allowed Megan to do that crazy coloratura.”
And rounding out the cast is what every movie needs: a good villain. Beck found that in Martin Short as the Jester, saying, “I would go out on a limb to say that Martin Short is one of the all-time great animated villains as The Jester.”