Saturday, January 7, 2012

Les Miserables: The Movie

So, generally I stick to theater and don't branch into the movies, but I thought I'd make an exception to talk about the new Les Miserables Movie.  It's like someone just hit production studios in the head recently and said...MUSICALS!  I'm actually thrilled that the past 10 years or so have just cranked out movies versions of some of the best musicals out there including Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray, The Producers, Mamma Mia, Chicago, and many many more.  But I think Les Miz might be the most daunting task yet (with the possible exception of Phantom).  With pressure like that I'm sure that they'd do everything possible to do it right and not alienate the millions of Les Miz fans around the world right?  WRONG!  Now I hear you saying: "Luke, this movie isn't out, they haven't announced the full cast, you have no clue where they're filming it or how good it's going to be, how can you be so judgmental?"  And you're right, I don't have enough info to know if it will or won't be a good movie, in fact, I think it's going to be a really good movie, but I can promise you it won't be all that it could be.  And how do I know that?

The Cast:
                 JeanValjean: Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman                         Colm Wilkinson
So, actually, I'm not too upset about this choice.  He is one of the three Broadway veterans in the principle cast (the other one is even more exciting, but I'll get to that) and the only one with a musical related Tony under his belt.  I've been told he can sing, but I haven't heard anything on Youtube that's particularly encouraging.  He's not bad, but I've yet to hear him really nail a song as tough as many of the Les Miserables ones.  I'm sure he's good, but he's going up against Alfie Boe and Colm Wilkinson.  I'm not sure any mere mortal can even attempt a feat so great.  However, with all this negativity, he's one of the ones I'm more excited about.  Since he's a theater man , he realizes the magnitude of the role (I'm not sure all of the other actors do), and he knows that this will either make or break him.  An interview I read quoted him as saying: "I feel, weirdly, that all the things in my life — particularly my professional life, which has been close to twenty years — have been converging to this point....It just feels like a pinnacle".  With that kind of expectations of himself, I trust that he will work hard, and become synonymous with the role as his two aforementioned predecessors have.
Javert: Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe                                   Phillip Quast
For those of you who don't know, I played Javert this past spring so this role is very special to me, so it's important they find the perfect guy.  All though I'm not thrilled with this casting, I have had some time to think about it, and it's not that bad.  As far as acting goes I think he'll pull it off very well.  He's known for his understated, almost mumbling roles, but I've seen him get worked up too.  I also know he takes his roles very seriously and does lots of research, that's a good sign.  I won't know until I see the movie if he makes the right choices in how to play the role, but I have full confidence in his abilities.  But the big question on every body's mind is "can he sing?".  To figure this out, I googled "Russell Crowe sings" and when I clicked on the first video that popped up (him singing at the Country Music Awards) I saw a comment that said: "like if you are watching this to see if Russell Crowe would be a good jarvet" (I know they can't spell Javert, but lets see if we can make that the most liked comment anyway).  His performance on said video I found mediocre, but then I've never been much for country songs.  But what did encourage me is that they asked him to come sing.  So, even if this song didn't showcase his full vocal potential, he has at least some kind of reputation as someone who can sing.  I don't expect him to steal the show or blow me away, but I didn't expect Johnny Depp to in Sweeney Todd either, so I'm not losing hope quite yet.
Fantine: Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway                              Susan Gilmour
This is a role that I'm actually really excited about.  If you read my Jimmy Award post carefully then you might remember that Miss Hathaway did some musical theater when she was younger (and wasn't half bad).  We also got a chance to hear her sing in Ella Enchanted and, although the song wasn't "Fantine-like" in any respect, it shows that she's still got it.  Although I've known she could sing for some time, I'm excited about the rest of the world learning it too.  I think she is the one who's gonna surprise everyone this time.  She's one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood and I think people are going to see a whole new side of her in this movie, and it's going to be an awesome musically inclined side (which is always the best side).  As for the role of Fantine specifically, it's not ideal, but it's not bad.  She appears to be one of the best trained female vocalists in the cast, and that is probably most important for Fantine (because Eponine and Madam Thenardier need to be raw and no one really cares about Cosette).  I think she's going to pull it off nicely and be known for this role for a long time.
Madam Thenardier: Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter                         Jenny Galloway
I'm actually very proud of this choice.  I thought of this before I heard that they were talking to her about the role.  It honestly is perfect for her.  She is going to need to lose her dainty British accent (which I haven't seen yet, but I have confidence she can do) and it will be a stretch for her.  Even her villains are generally relatively refined.  Vulgar and disgusting will be something new for her.  If she goes into this knowing that this movie is not going to make her look pretty (even in a creepy way) just wanting to make a good movie then she'll do great.  I know from interviews that she was a Broadway fan since childhood, and I know from Sweeney Todd that she can sing OK, so we really don't have much to worry about.  Of course, Madame Thenardier isn't the sort of role that wins lots of fame, but it's an important role and I'm glad that the casting directors are taking it seriously.  And may I just add that the Thenardiers are possibly my favorite characters so they better nail them!
Monsieur Thenardier: Sacha Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen                            Alun Armstrong
This is another one that I was pretty unhappy with at the beginning but I'm slowly warming up to.  Here's why I was (and still am a little bit) upset with this casting.  Olivier winner Alun Armstrong (pictured above) was by far the perfect Thenardier and is a legend in my book.  I see that they didn't want to get him for the movie, they didn't get anyone who's known for the role, I get that.  But that's OK, because I picked out the perfect Monsieur Thenardier.  He has three Tony Award Nominations, an Emmy, is very active in Hollywood and theater, and (with the possible exception of Alan Cumming) is the creepiest guy to grace our stage:  Tim Curry.
Tim Curry                                  Alun Armstrong
ISN'T THAT PERFECT!  What's more, we know he can sing (The man has three Tony nominations), we know he can act (check Wikipedia, he's been in a ton of stuff), and we know that he can terrify the audience by just looking at them.  He's known for doing roles that are grimy and evil (and a few that are cross-dressers or psychotic killer clowns, but we're not going to go into that).  HE WOULD HAVE BEEN PERFECT!!!!!

OK, now that I've got that out of my system...Sacha Baron Cohen won't be that bad.  Granted I don't like most of the things he's been in.  He's most known for his movies centering around the characters "Bruno" and "Borat".  I never saw these movies because frankly they look horrible (vulgar and cheap humor).  So, the only real insight I have to his abilities is is small role in Sweeney Todd (That movie is coming up more than I thought it would....oh they should get Toby to play Gavroche!).  In this movie he played the cockney/Italian blackmailing barber Adolofo Pirelli.  He didn't do a bad job, his singing was pretty impressive (even if the song wasn't my cup of tea).  But he certainly had a comedic sense about him and appears to have some form of vocal training.  And it's possible that having worked with Helena before will make that relationship pop more.  Although he's nowhere near as awesome as Tim Curry would be, I don't think he'll blow it.  I think he'll do a pretty good job.
Marius: Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne                                    Gareth Gates
Eddie was really the only guy who I had no idea who he was when I saw his name on the cast list...or so I thought.  Over the past couple of days I've thought that his face looked familiar, but google informs me that he hasn't been in any musicals or movies that I've seen.  Then, today, typing this blog, it hit me.  This man won a Tony Award in his Broadway debut in 2010!  Now, before you get excited, he won for best supporting actor in a play, so we don't know if he can sing, but this fact is still very encouraging.  What I remember from the 2010 Tony's was that the plays were almost as interesting as the musicals and his show (Red) was the first thing I looked up after I left the TV to acquire Internet access.  This kid did an excellent job in that show, it was only a two man show so he spent lots of time on stage and displayed a huge variety of emotions.  He also seemed really charismatic in his acceptance speech and all of the interviews I've seen with him.  He captures Marius's conflicted innocence pretty well actually without even trying.  But, as with Russell Crowe, the question on every one's mind is: "can he sing?".  The best I could find online was a poor quality version of him singing opera in college, but even with this I'm hopeful, because most of the people who said they've heard him sing shower him with lavish praise, so I have hope.  I'm excited about this because I feel like he's still young and undefined unlike many of the stars in this show.  He is (possibly the only) one who people don't kind of relate to a specific character, and I think from now on he will be Marius (at least better than Nick Jonas).
Enjolras: Aaron Tveit
Aaron Tveit                                   Ramin Karimloo                                      
This is probably the role that I am most excited about.  I first saw Aaron Tveit when he performed with Next To Normal on the 2009 Tony Awards.  Since then I've scoured the Internet to find videos of him in Wicked, Rent, Hairspray, and most recently, Catch Me If You Can.  He has this absolutely remarkable voice and I'm just so thrilled whenever I hear he's going to be in something else.  And although he would make a good Marius, I think this is a better fit for him.  I think he has a lot of power in his voice, and he's going to blow some minds with this comes out.  I'd implore any of my readers who haven't heard him sing look up songs like "I'm Alive" [Next to Normal], "Goodbye" [Catch me if you Can] or "Someone Else's Skin" [Catch Me If You Can], you won't be disappointed.  This is the caliber of Broadway performer that should've made up the whole cast (although having Hollywood people is a kind of a cool twist) so I'm glad at least he's here to represent the Great White Way and all of it's glory.
Amanda Seyfried: Cosette
Amanda Seyfried                                Tamra Hayden
So, many people (including myself) know miss Seyfried for her role as Sophie in the 2008 movie Mamma Mia.  I thought that her performance there was average and not really note worthy.  It wasn't bad, and the fact she's got her foot in the door of musical movies means that at least some people probably really like her.  Personally, I've never favored the role of Cosette, so someone average in the role isn't a big disappointment to me.  I think she will do well, but I don't think people will leave the theater talking about her (either in a good or bad way).
Eponine: Taylor Swift
       Taylor Swift                             Lea Salonga
So This is the decision that has caused a bunch of controversy and that inspired me to write this post.  It wasn't surprising me that Eponine was one of the last that they casted, because she is universally loved as (probably) the favorite all around character in Les Miz.  This means they have to get the absolute perfect actress to play Eponine so I wasn't worried that they were taking their time.  But when I read that the role had been offered to Taylor Swift I was like:
                                                                                             Illustrated By Jamison Mills
I simply couldn't believe it.  I mean I wasn't incredibly thrilled about the other actresses they were considering (Lea Michelle and Scarlet Johansson) but I thought there was no way that they'd ever choose Swift.  Musical theater fans around the world have been gritting our teeth and not saying too much about the Hollywood-izing of the cast.  It was already obvious that they were packing this movie with stars instead of the best people for the job.  But we said to ourselves, you know, they need to make money, it won't be that bad...but this crosses a line.  They really didn't need more star power in this movie, I've heard of and have seen every single actor/actress in this movie (most of them in multiple things).  If they absolutely had to add Taylor Swift to this movie then she should've been Cosett, because Taylor Swift fans wouldn't know the difference and they wouldn't have alienated the Les Miserables fans so much.  I've heard Taylor sing and she's not completely wretched, but she goes against everything the character is.  Eponine is strong, powerful, kind of innocent, and everyone just loves her from the moment she enters the show.  Taylor has a nasty habit of whisper singing most of her songs, I imagine there's a good bit of auto-tune involved in most of her albums, and as soon as she appears on screen everyone will know who she is and (even subconsciously) translate their feelings about her to the character.  I'm hoping to attend a midnight showing of this movie, and I would not be surprised to hear a chorus of boo's when she first comes on.  Technically I can't find any reports of her actually accepting the role yet, it's only been offered (but she's been auditioning for it for a while so I can't imagine her turning it down) but it's possible that if we make enough noise on the Internet then we can make something happen.  So, although I'm not condoning anything extreme, a strongly worded facebook status might been in order.  So some of my more indignant readers might ask "alright Luke, you think you could cast it better?"  To which I would respond: kind of.  Because I think that the best thing they could possibly do is get an unknown to play the role.  I've seen enough Youtube to know that there are lots of ridiculously talented young actresses who are just waiting to make their mark.  If they got someone to make their acting debut (or at least close to it) in this movie, then she would be so amazing that she would be instantly loved by all and propelled into stardom.  Heck, they could even make a reality series about "choosing the perfect Eponine" for all I care, I just think that the energy and the rawness necessary for the role would best be found in a newcomer.

The Method:

LIVE SINGING.  There have been confirmed reports that director Tom Hooper has decided to have the actors sing live on set.  For those of you who don't know, the standard in a musical movie is to record a song in a studio and then have the actors lip sync on camera.  The advantages to this method is that in dancing numbers, vocal conditioning is less of a big deal, there are less things that can go wrong in a given scene (because now if the singing or the acting is messed up they have to start over), and the singers can have headphones, microphones and the equipment to hear themselves and be heard as comfortably as possible.  The other thing that might come up with this particular cast is, I'm not sure how much digital editing they can do to voices when it's done live. So it looks like they might try to get a more genuine sound.

MINIMAL DIALOGUE.  I didn't expect this at all but I'm really excited about it.  The Les Miserables musical is, like Jesus Christ Superstar or Cats, completely musical (devoid of spoken lines).  And it looks like that won't change much.  Based on what I heard from an interview of Tom Hooper, it sounds like he intends to make it songs strung together by one or two lines here and there (very similar to the stage version of RENT).  I find this absolutely wonderful, there are very few things to me as frustrating as people cutting songs for movies.  They did it some in Sweeney Todd, but the most obvious (to me at least) was in the movie version of RENT when some of the spoken lines actually rhymed because they were taken directly from songs (You OK Honey, and Life Support, and the Happy New Years come to mind).  So I'm really excited that their keeping it mostly music.  And, as in every song, there are going to be certain lyrics that are spoken instead of sung within the song, but I think that's absolutely fine, that's how you make a song your own.

NEW SONG.  In the aforementioned Tom Hooper interview he said something real quickly about a new song C
laude Michel Schönberg wrote for the movie.  We have no idea what it is, but it's the kind of news you don't know what to do with.  There has been some buzz over the Internet about it, and I agree with them on two major points.  1 - it's very possible "new song" really means "old song that had to be cut from the original show".  This happens all the time in movies turned musicals (if you watch the old Disney movies you can hear the Broadway songs in the form of instrumental themes), so it's kind of a cool irony that a song cut from a musical might potentially be inserted into the movie.  2 - I wouldn't be surprised if this is a ploy to get an Oscar.  There is an award for "best original song" but all of the Les Miz songs won't be eligible because they weren't written specifically for the movie.  But if they add a song then it will be eligible, and if it's written by the original Les Miserables team, then it's already won in my book.


It's going to be a pretty good movie, despite my griping, there is a lot I'm excited about, and I'm always thrilled to see musical theater sent out to the masses.  Even if they can't compare the stage version (which they never can) hopefully they draw people to see the show and learn the magnificence and majesty that is Live Theater.  I'm certainly going to go see the movie (hopefully as soon as it comes out) and I have every intention of liking it.  So come December you can expect to see a movie review on this blog.


Since the original post there have been some developments in the production that I thought deserved noting.

  1. DING DONG THE WHICH IS GONE -- TAYLOR SWIFT IS GONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  HALLELUJAH!!!  HALLELUJAH!!! This was the best news I had heard in a long time.   I haven't heard an official reason as to why she didn't take the role, but I believe it's because the internet rose up and showed that we would not have this.  So, on behalf of Les Miz fans everywhere, "THANK YOU BROADWAY GEEKS WITH INTERNET ACCESS!!!"  Now, although Tom Hooper didn't take my suggestion and find an unknown for the open role of Eponine, he did do the next best thing: he got Samantha Barks.  For those of you who don't know, Samantha sang the role in the 25th Anniversary Concert (where she blew Nick Jonas out of the water).  This was a relatively safe choice for Hooper (likely made because they didn't have much time after Swift fell through) but a good one.  Everyone knows she'll be wonderful, and it's one more way to make sure people who were already fans of the show will have to flock to the theater.
  2. THE KING IS THE BISHOP -- I am thrilled to tell you that the role of the Bishop will be played by none other than king of the classics: Colm Wilkinson!!!!!  Why do I call him the king?  Well, Colm had a part in Les Miz, Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll & Hyde, and Evita before anyone knew they existed.  Even if Les Miz is what he's known for, he has set the groundwork for so many legendary characters that he's become a legend himself.  And what better way to pay tribute to this living legend than to have him portray the character that inspires Valjean?  The Bishop, though a small role, is very symbolic and sets the course for the rest of the show, I think it's a classy, tasteful decision that I couldn't be more happy with.  There doing something similar in making Frances Ruffelle (the original Eponine) one of the featured "lovely ladies". 
  3. REACHING INTO THE WEST END --In looking for a memorable ensemble, Tom Hooper looked in exactly the right place: The West End (England's Broadway equivalent).  If one scrolls the list of the "small roles" they will see lots of names they don't recognize because they have played/are playing replacements or minor rolls on The West End, but there are also many big names including Bertie Carvel (Best Leading Actor Olivier Nominee [ Matilda: The Musical]), Kerry Ellis (Svetlana [Chess: In Concert]), Daniel Evans (Best Leading Actor Tony Nominee [Sunday in the Park With George], Linzi Hateley (Best Leading Actress Olivier Nominee [Joseph...Dreamcoat]), and many many more.  I think it's great the way they're involving so many people with a history in theater (specifically British theater) in this production.  It's cool, because if you look at their resume's many have them have been in some production of Les Miz at some time or another, so this gets to serve almost like one big reunion.