December 19th, 2012


Countdown to Les Mis

The big thing I'm looking forward to next week isn't just Christmas. It's the release of the Les Miserables movie. I first learned about the musical my senior year in college. My roommate was a theater major and had the soundtrack. One night when she was out, I listened to it and fell madly in love. I first saw the show the summer after I graduated from college when there was a touring production in Dallas. My brother and I drove over for an afternoon matinee, and I was totally blown away. Since then, I've lost count of how many times I've seen it on stage. There have been a number of touring productions, and I've seen it on Broadway. I have the original London cast and the 10th anniversary concert on CD. In fact, the London cast recording was the reason I bought a CD player in the first place because the cassette was missing the first part of the show, and there was more on the CD. If someone in the cast keeled over, I could probably jump onto the stage and pick it up without missing a beat.

So, I'm excited about the movie but also a little nervous because it's easy to screw up. Now that they've released more teasers from it, I'm feeling a little better about it, but I suspect that after being so used to the theater recordings it will take some getting used to. One thing is that they're taking a very different approach to making a movie musical. As they explain in this extended first look, they're not trying to do it like a regular musical, where the focus is on getting the perfect sound. The singing is recorded live, not in a studio, and the emphasis is on the acting. This takes advantage of some of the things film can do that you can't do on stage. One is providing the scope and setting the scene. The other is intimacy. On stage, you have to play to the top of the upper balcony. On film, things can go very small and up-close. With this, they're not trying for the full theatrical voices. They seem to be going for singing the way they'd act the role when talking -- if someone is only a few inches away, they aren't aiming for the upper balcony, they're whispering; if in that moment their voice would shake or break, they let it. I suspect that I won't want the movie soundtrack on CD because it won't stand on its own to listen to, but just watching the clips in context brought tears to my eyes, and I think once I get used to the differences from my cast recordings, I'll love the movie and will buy it on Blu-Ray.

Here are a few clips from the movie. I'm putting them in the order I know of from the show, but I understand they've also gone back to the original novel in writing the screenplay, so some things may be different or moved around.

Here's the scene where Javert releases Valjean from prison. Russell Crowe is no Terrence Mann, but I think he's working out okay. He couldn't pull this off on stage, but he's got the character, and I think his voice is nice enough. I'd worried about Hugh Jackman because he can get nasal, but it seems like he's making an effort to channel Colm Wilkinson.

Then there's the "Who Am I?" scene, which shows that emphasis on acting over "performing." This is fabulous on stage, but I don't think doing it stage-style would have worked on film because this is such an emotional scene.

The "At the End of the Day" scene seems pretty close to what we've seen in the show, with a little more emotion. I can see why people are already engraving Anne Hathaway's name on the Oscar.

I'm seeing some criticism of Amanda Seyfried as Cossette, but at least in the "A Heart Full of Love" clip, I think her warble fits the character and the situation. This is a sheltered young girl who's run into her crush. I'd expect her voice to tremble. I'll reserve judgment beyond that.

I wasn't too worried about Eponine, since the actress has played the role on stage. Here's a bit of "On My Own".

Of course, when making a movie musical, there has to be a new song to have a song eligible for an Oscar. But it sounds like they also got a chance to do a scene that wouldn't have worked on stage. Here's a little feature on the new song.

This bit isn't from the movie itself, but it does reflect one of my favorite scenes and makes me feel better about what might be in the movie. Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, just goofing off on stage at an event, do the Confrontation scene. I saw Hugh Jackman on one of the talk shows this week, and he joked that this is how Australian men argue.

Now for that other thing you can do in movies that you can't do on stage, here's a piece on the production design. There are some other features on the site, like this one on the costume/makeup/hair that gives a few other scenes from the movie.

In short, I'll be seeing this a week from now (if the weather cooperates and we don't get the possible winter storm). And then probably a few more times at the theater. Someone has suggested that some theater have a singalong event, and I'd be on board with that. I might have to gag myself to keep from singing along, though it looks like I could get caught up in the story and be weeping too hard to sing. I went through a whole tissue just watching the TV ads they have on YouTube.