Les Mis

I’ve been looking forward to this since it opened on Christmas Day. Finally, the fam and I went to see Les Miserables yesterday.

Les MiserablesFirst, let me share that I love this musical. It’s got everything–an incredible score, unforgettable characters and universal themes thanks to the strong book behind the libretto. If you’ve never read Victor Hugo’s monumental work, let me encourage you to rise to the challenge. At 959 pages, it’s a doorstop of a book. In typical 19th century style, it meanders a bit, detouring into several chapters on secondary characters like the old priest who buys Jean Valjean’s soul with a pair of silver candlesticks and  exploring the deep themes of law versus grace. (It’s a free Kindle download!)

Much has been made over the director’s decision to film the music live–not pre-recorded in a studio with the actor lipsyncing when the cameras roll. Since I’ve spent some time on the stage myself, I didn’t foresee a problem with this. It totally mirrors the experience of a live performance. I’ve been blessed to see Les Miserables on stage in London twice, with incredible casts both times, so my expectations were high.

FantinePitch perfect and with an incredible range of vocal color, Anne Hathaway exceeded my wildest hopes. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” was beyond brilliant. I wouldn’t change a single note.

Behind her luminous eyes, we glimpse Fantine’s entire ruined world. At her heartbroken cry “He took my childhood in his stride,” I (who am not violent by nature) was tempted to take a meat mallet to the nameless waste of skin who debauched this poor young girl. At her deathbed, I could almost see the moment when her spirit detached itself from her broken body. Ms. Hathaway is my new favorite heroine.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the vocal talents of Amanda Seyfried. I’d only seen her in Mama Mia, which didn’t give her the chance to showcase an incredibly light lyric soprano. She has an ethereal trick pianissimo in her top range that renders her duets with Marius magical. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius, also turned in a winning performance, as did all the young bucks who died needlessly on the barricades.

Les Mis CastThe weakness, sadly, was in the two male leads. Don’t get me wrong. I love Hugh Jackman. He brought great depth of feeling to the character of Jean Valjean. Unfortunately, the man shouldn’t sing. I was uneasy for him every time he opened his mouth, fearful a vocal disaster was imminent.

And Russell Crowe, as his nemesis Javert, was barely adequate when he should have been a lion of a man, intent on delivering his harsh brand of justice to a disorderly world.  Javert is my favorite villain because he’s one of those rare characters who actually lives in accordance with his beliefs, however much I may disagree with them. He admits in anguish that he was “born inside a jail” and then goes on to live in a prison of his own making, trying desperately to earn his way into acceptance through rigid adherence to the letter of the law. When I weep over Les Mis, I always spare a tear for this damaged antagonist who couldn’t make the leap to a place where mercy is better than sacrifice.

So overall, I recommend you go see Les Miserables. It’s visually stunning and viscerally moving. Take a hanky. You’ll need it. But don’t buy the soundtrack. Its moments of incandescence can’t balance the tortuous low points.

Now it’s your turn. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?


4 thoughts on “Les Mis

  1. ki pha says:

    Yes~ it was amazing! I too agree that Anne was great but Amanda’s singing was too high that sadly I had to cringe at some points. Samantha Barks was amazing~! Loved her since I first saw her playing Eponine during the 25th anniversary of Les Mis~ and watched it more than 5 times when they showed it on PBS television channel. Russell Crowe~ I agreed that his singing was good but wasn’t great enough to play Javert. Ah, the barricades, I got teary eyed and the little boy~ I need to go back to the theater and re-watch it~!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The role of Cosette is written for a high light soprano, so Amanda could hardly help that. The whistle tone was meant to convey her youth and innocence. That said, a tessitura of that sort is vocally very taxing and devilishly difficult to perform well. Frankly, I think she nailed it.

      Samantha was excellent as Epponine. She’s a character I’m not sure what to do with. As a type she occurs in other operas. The one that comes to my mind is Liu, the slave girl who loves the hero in Puccini’s Turandot. She also sacrifices herself for a man who barely knows she breathes.

      Puccini died shortly after composing Liu’s final aria and the opera was finished by another composer using his notes and sketches.

      But the character type–the suffering, jilted lover who gives their all for love–sort of taints the HEA for the Hero/Heroine for me.

  2. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Mia,

    It’s on the “To Be Seen” list. Since I just saw Breaking Dawn last night, I’m a little behind on my movies.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      It really is a worthy use of 2 1/2 hours. I do encourage you to see it.

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