Words cannot express how excited I am for the 2012 Christmas Day release of Les Miserables, featuring an outstanding cast of Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Hugh Jackman. Les Mis has been my all-time favorite musical since I played a “Lovely Lady” aka a prostitute at the ripe old age of 15 in a school production. I quickly fell in love with the songs, learning every word, every moment that made this musical so special. The epic story of love and redemption resonated and by the time the final notes of “At the End of the Day” sounded, I was hooked on this musical.
I was lucky enough to see it performed on the London stage last January, and there is just something about experiencing a musical live. You hear the emotion in the words, the voice cracking or growing quiet, the power behind them. It’s not something that is easily accomplished in a film adaptation of a musical because the tracks are typically pre-recorded, and then played over the set when filming. This sometimes results in terrible lip syncing or just embarrassing bloopers, but not for this Les Miserables.
In October, a behind-the-scenes special was released, discussing how the performances in this movie (an adaptation of a film that is almost entirely sung, not just the staple songs) were done. Instead of following Hollywood traditions and pre-recording, all singing was done live, for the first time, while cameras were rolling.
And I am so beyond ready to see the end result.
No film or adaptation is without its critics. Tom Hooper said that he is going to keep the sung-through style of the stage musical, meaning almost none of the film will actually be spoken word. This works fabulously on stage, and several Tony winners have been sung-through musicals. However, the style has never transferred well to screen. At the risk of sounding snobbish, this could be because the theater attracts an elevated audience and the mainstream audience for movies like things a little simpler However, I think Les Miserables has a chance of accomplishing what some people view is impossible — actually pulling off a sung-through film. The cast is experienced enough with live singing (Russell Crowe – his band, Anne Hathaway – that one Academy Awards skit) musical theater (Hugh Jackman – Oklahoma, Samantha Banks – actually playing Eponine on the London Stage) and acting in general, so they are able to convey the small emotions that film is able to show. The same is true for the visual elements of the film. The gritty dirt of the workhouses, the docks, Fantine’s entire life — the raw details of the first act can be shown up close, where the audience can connect and feel empathy for.
When I went to visit Greenwich, England, I stumbled upon the filming at the Old Royal Naval College. The modern world was transformed into 1832 in a way that would never be possible with a single set piece on stage; men in authentic military uniforms, equipped with bayonet fastened rifles marched in formation down a dirt path. At one moment, I thought it was possible I even heard a chorus singing “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, one of the most iconic songs from the musical.
I think Les Miserables has the potential to be outstanding. The music, the visual elements, the cast (I mean, Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier is actually one of the best casting jobs I’ve seen all year) and the fact that Taylor Swift wasn’t cast as Eponine — thank you God — will combine in one of the most epic films of the year. I’ve experienced this story as an actor on stage, in the London audience, and I cannot wait to see it come to life on the big screen.