Saturday, January 26, 2013

Les Misérables

First things first, I loved the movie. It's well-acted and well-sung. Unlike Mama Mia!, there weren't any truly bad singers.

However, the orchestration was very different from the stage production (I have the tenth and twenty-fifth anniversary concerts on VHS and DVD, respectively), and because I'm used to the stage version it threw me off. But once I got used to the orchestration, I ended up liking it. The movie's orchestration works as well as that of the stage production. Also (and this is what really drove me nuts), they cut some lines from the libretto. The first one I noticed was "Drink from the pool. How clean the taste / Never forget the years, the waste. / Nor forgive them, for what they've done. / They are the guilty, everyone." (Sung by Valjean.) That was closely followed by skipping "You'll have to go / I'll pay you off for the day / Collect your bits and pieces there / And be on your way.
"You've given me half / What the other men get! / This handful of tin / Wouldn't buy my sweat!
"You broke the law / It's there for people to see / Why should you get the same / As honest men like me?" That part was whittled down to Valjean asking for work and being turned away during an instrumental part (while I filled in the lyrics in my head). There were several other cuts throughout the movie, and while most of them were smooth, the lines "Don't think about it, Marius. / With all the years ahead of us! / I will never go away / And we will be together / Every day." which immediately followed "Every day / You walk with stronger step / You walk with longer step / The worst is over" didn't exactly fit: what exactly is Cosette telling Marius not to think about? I know he's wondering who brought him out of the barricades, but that fact isn't clear enough.

Moviegoers were divided over whether or not Sacha Baron Cohen's accent-switching during Master of the House worked/was necessary. I liked it, as that's the kind of guy Thenardier is: he'll pretend to be one thing when he's really another. Russel Crowe was criticized as someone who can't sing, but while he isn't exactly Philip Quast, I'd prefer Russel's singing over Pierce Brosnin's performance in Mama Mia!.

But the movie did something the stage performances didn't: it cleared up for me Éponine's back story. Neither the 10th anniversary nor the 25th anniversary performances make mention of the fact that she is the Thenardiers' daughter--except for the fact that she joins M. Thenardier's gang when she's older. I'd first stumbled across that fact when I scrolled through the libretto, and it was nice to see that part of the story cleared up.

The fact that everything was sung live added to the movie in a major way. Singing live meant that the actors could experiment, that they didn't have to make their acting decisions months in advance. And because it wasn't a stage production, they didn't have to sing everything loud. It meant that, for example, Hugh Jackman could whisper the Soliloquy, which he did.

Seeing Les Mis acted out brought it to life, and I gained a new appreciation for the characters, especially the student rebels. The story felt more real in the movie than it did in the stage performances, and it sucked me in. The battle scenes were more heartbreaking than your average movie battle scene. But while they were upsetting, I appreciated that fact: the rebels were young people, some only kids, and Marius and Valjean were the only survivors of the barricades. It was like listening to La Bohème, which never fails to turn me into a sobbing mess by the end. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables was especially heartbreaking.

And yes, I cried--several times. The first was when the first notes of the Work Song boomed out of the speakers (yay, surround-sound). This was what I'd been waiting for since '96!

I also lip-synced most of it, especially Do You Hear the People Sing?

At the end, the audience applauded. Yes, really. This is something I've only witnessed during Met Opera simulcasts.

My life is now complete.

4.5 out of 5.

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