Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Miserables or Can Hugh Jackman Sing?

I have a confession to make.  My favorite musical of all times is unquestionably Les Miserables.  I have seen it four times on stage. The first was a presentation shortly after it went on the road from Broadway.  It was there in the Denver Auditorium Theater that I first experienced the show.  It was astonishing and the music incredible, especially the leads of Jean Valjean and Javert.  What incredible voices the stage version took.

I next saw it on Broadway.  The show was nearing the end of its original run and in all honesty the performance was stale and flat.  And so to remove the taste of that version, I once again went to see the show in Denver at the Temple Buell.  I needed to get the vision and sound of the Broadway version out of my head.  Again I was moved and astounded by the strength of voice and story.  Melodrama? Certainly.  The play is nothing but the best kind of melodrama.

A year ago or so, I saw the newly staged version of the show.  Again astonishing in performance but now it had an amazing new sets and effects.  The show had replaced the old style 80's effects and heavy sets with new computer controlled projections and lighting.

Fact is I have always loved this story and this show and so the movie adaptation was a worry.  I worried about the approach but more importantly I worried about the cast.  Hugh Jackman, who has amply proved his musical chops in his Tony Award winning role Boy From Oz and Oklahoma on Broadway was to be Jean Valjean.  Then there was the other central role, Javert, who is played by Russel Crowe who apparently did musical theatre before he became famous.  Finally there are other central characters- Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the clowns Thénardiers, Master of the House and Mrs both of whom appeared in Sweeny Todd. There is Marius, played by Broadway vetran and Tony Award winner, Eddie Redmayne.  Cosette is sung by Amanda Seyfried who has done mostly film and the film version of Mama Mia, and Éponine by Samantha Barks who has done the role on stage. The child Gavroche played by Daniel Huttlestone.  Marius' best friend,Enjolras, is sung by Aaron Tveit, another Broadway veteran, and  the Bishop is sung by the original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson.  And, of course, Fantine is played by Anne Hathaway.

The movie is in your face with incredible closeup of the singers as they belted out their songs. It is also marked by director Tom Hooper's decision to go with hyper-realism in it's presentation.  For the record, the original stage production boasted costumes so realistically constructed that even parts never seen by the audience were accurate down to the buttons. So realism for the show was not a new idea, but the shooting of the film was very "in your face" and it was to say the least effective as was the grittiness of the seamier side of France.

The cast choices are another thing.  The Broadway folk were obvious and the skills of the actors honed.  That said, Anne Hathaway steals the show.  Her performance is dynamic and moving as the wronged and dying Fantine.  It was also a pleasant surprise to see the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, who many believe was the quintessential Valjean, worked into the movie as the kindly Bishop that buys Valjean's soul for God. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter also work well if a bit understated at times.  Hugh Jackman is no Valjean in singing voice.  He does well and his acting talent allows him to carry the role.  While not having a voice like Wilkinson, Jackman still moves us as Valjean.  Crowe is by far the weakest of the cast.  His acting is good, but the problem is while physically right to play the Javert, who sees the world only in terms of black and white - wrong and right - Crowe simply does not have the commanding voice required of the antagonist.  It was obvious for those who know the show that some of the music had been tempered for Crowe's lack of a stronger singing range.

The supporting cast helps  to carry the movie. Marius, Cosette, Éponine, Enjolras all do well.  The character of Gavroche by Daniel Huttlestone is one of the better versions of the street urchin I've seen.  Overall, the chorus from Convicts to Students to Lovely Ladies, all help to bring the movie life.

Could it have been a better movie?  Undoubtedly. Am I going to run out and buy the soundtrack? Probably not, but I will buy the DVD.  Is it good movie making? It is.  It is moving and broad in its substantial scope.  It has strong emotional values and the big spectacle of a big musical.  Cast could be stronger, but in all honesty, I found myself wiping away the tears in the dark of the theater.  I was involved and drawn in to this show as I had been drawn in when I saw it the first time. I was moved. Even the addition of a new song worked well enough.  It was better than the Broadway show I'd seen in its intensity.  What can I say, despite the drawbacks of some of the casting decisions...

I liked it and I recommend it. Go see it.