After the Oscars, in which the cast performance from Les Misérables nearly brought me to tears (I know, I know) I texted a friend to see if she wanted to go see it in the theatres. We’d gone to see The Hunger Games together and have a good cry, and it was tremendously satisfying, so we thought this would be great fun too.
I’d seen the stage version, and while the music was good it didn’t really move me and I think I actually dozed off in some of the recitatives. I have not had a lot of luck with live musicals in general – I find the actors too far away for me to perceive any emotion in them, and in their efforts to project emotion they’re forced to the front of the stage to squall at the audience. I find this embarrassing. This is my fault; I love movies so much I think I’m conditioned to have expectations of close-ups and plots that move along with lightning speed. Also, when I was in my first year of university I bought seasons tickets to the opera with my cheap student discount. The opening night opera was a modern one set to a novel by Dostoevsky (if memory serves) and took place in a Siberian prison. I was in my first year of university and exhausted all the time from the course load and working to pay for it all – so my response to being warm, and in the dark, and in a Siberian prison – was of course to fall asleep. That set a pattern. I think I spent the entire season snoozing in the plush velvet seats of the Orpheum. I think I slept through The Marriage of Figaro, which is a great opera, but let’s face it, it’s four hours long.
The advantage of course of live stage productions is that there is an intermission so you can go pee – if you see the movie, it’s also 3 hours long and so gripping you don’t want to leave for the bathroom. Also the entire theatre is weeping so it’s fun to be part of that. Anyway, we were bursting by the time the movie finished. I’m amazed there was any water left in our bodies to excrete as we were weeping so copiously but there was a mad dash for the loos as soon as it was over so we weren’t the only ones. When you have a jumbo pop in a three hour movie with no intermission what do you expect?
Obviously, we loved the movie, and I did prefer it to the stage productions I’ve seen – sorry! I know it’s not very purist of me, but there you have it. It makes a big difference when you can see the actors’ faces close up, and they don’t have to do “big” emoting because of it. They can sing more intensely and passionately because they don’t have to project so far. I’m impressed that they recorded the singing while filming, so they weren’t dubbing in later, and they all managed to imbue the songs with so much emotion and feeling that it was all very touching even to a cynic like me. Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway have amazing voices and they sounded trained to my admittedly not professional ear. Russell Crowe’s voice is as furry as he is himself, and while he sang well he didn’t have the same clarity and precision as the others. However, he is such a forceful presence that he made an amazing Javert. Hugh Jackman made a powerful, sensitive Valjean and he emotes like a madman. He, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway all have these huge liquid eyes that they’re able to fill with pain, and sorrow, and joy and every other required emotion. It looks really easy when you have those enormous eyes. All the actors (excepting the comic ones and they just didn’t have the opportunity in this category) have the quality of vulnerability which came across in film and I think would have been missed on the stage. Is Eddie Redmayne the most incredibly vulnerable-looking actor or is it just me? I spent half the film wondering how he makes his lips tremble like that. Amanda Seyfried’s clear blue eyes and even clearer soprano can melt you like chocolate in a toddler’s hand. You just want to put them all in your pocket like so many kittens.
Sacha Baron Cohen was such awesome fun in his role as the innkeeper Thénardier, which I expected, but it was surprising nonetheless, because he was so good. I liked him better in this than I did in anything else I’ve seen him in (I don’t like his films in general). I thought it was brilliant casting but he was so good it was still a surprise. Helena Bonham Carter is fabulous in everything she does (I’ve loved her since A Room With a View) and she really sucked the marrow out of this particular bone. I love the actors with the versatile faces, who can look beautiful, but tweak their hair a bit, fleck them with makeup and they look totally insane. HBC is definitely one of these and she brings it on in this role. Hugh Jackman was also good in this respect – he is empirically good looking, everybody agrees, but in the opening scene, when Valjean is an enslaved prisoner, he’s almost unrecognizable. He seems to physically manifest pain and agony. It can’t just be the makeup; it’s a gift. His unbearably poignant death scene unleashed a fresh torrent of tears from our audience; you could hardly hear the singing.
Three hours of melodic revolution later, we staggered out of the movie, into the loo, and out again, our makeup smeared and the fronts of our shirts speckled with popcorn bits. Then we happily headed down to Hapa Coal Harbour and had a light post-show meal.
I’ve been on iTunes comparing the vocal performances with the original Broadway cast performances and overall, the Broadway ones are better, although Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne are contenders. Interestingly, in comparing Russell Crowe’s “Stars” with the Broadway version I actually preferred Russell Crowe’s, go figure, because the stage voice seemed less masculine than Crowe’s – as anybody’s would, let’s face it – so the casting agents were definitely on to something. Conclusion: I enjoyed the film version much more than I did the live version. Close-ups and scenery pack a real punch and you just can’t do it all on the stage. I don’t know if I’ll purchase any recordings, mostly because I can’t hear some of these songs without crying and that would disrupt my day. There’s a time and place for everything.