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Jan 10

Written by: Theatre Under The Stars
1/10/2013 10:58 AM

Hello again, readers! With a virtual show of hands, how many of you were beyond excited to see the new Les Miserables movie? Me too! Not since Chicago in 2002 have I anticipated the release of a movie musical as much as I have with Les Mis; and well worth the wait I might add. 

Initially I was drawn to the film for the amazing cinematography which is truly a delectable feast for the eyes. However, I learned through previews and movie featurettes the actors were going to sing the tracks live on set; ear pieces would be worn to feed a piano accompaniment as they sang. A more common practice for Hollywood musicals is to pre-record the songs with an orchestra and then lip-synch them on set. Les Mis director, Tom Hooper, knew in order to keep the character's emotions authentic, the only way to adapt the legendary musical for the big screen was to make all the actors sing live.  Hooper called this technique "groundbreaking."

Wait....what? Readers, are you questioning that this is the first time something like this has been done in movie musicals? Good for you, because it's not the first time!

The movie's press would have us believe this is a completely new concept to filming movie musicals, but that is simply not true. Bette Midler sang live in The Rose; the 1979 movie loosely based on the life of tragic rock and roll legend, Janis Joplin. The film became a massive hit and turned Midler into a star almost overnight, as well as earning her an Oscar nomination. Barbra Streisand was not a fan of lip-synching for the 1976 remake of the film A Star is Born and recorded her music live. Other movies we can add to this list are At Long Last Love and The Love Parade

I do believe Les Miserables adapted beautifully from the stage to film; "groundbreaking" singing techniques or not. The film’s multiple nominations for major awards including BAFTA (9 nominations), Oscars (8 nominations) and Golden Globes (4 nominations) provide the best evidence to my above proclamation. But in respect to my fellow theatre thespians, I leave you with this cheeky tweet from Michael Cerveris who is appearing in Evita on Broadway:

"Inspired by Hollywood, actors all over town ARE SINGING LIVE today and tonight. 8 times a week. Every week. No second take." 

Well said, Michael. Well said.

Until next time,


3 comments so far...

Re: Do you hear the people sing? No really, sing?

The people who don't like the film adaptation seem to fall into two categories: (1) those who didn't see the original stage show, or did but didn't like it (either because they don't like musicals in general, or they didn't like this one in particular); and (2) those who did love the stage version, but place the vocal performances above all (mostly because there have been so many good ones over the years) and are therefore disappointed that the director decided to emphasize acting over vocal quality. I'm not surprised about group (1) and don't think anything can be done to change their minds, but I hope the group (2) people in time realize that the director was trying to give us something we'd never seen before: a version where the songs are more intimately and more realistically performed than can be done on stage. If that means sacrificing some vocal quality, the solution is to enjoy the film as a film, not a filmed production of the stage play, and skip the cast album.

Which is what I'm going to do--I saw the film on opening day, and will be going back soon to revel in the great acting performances and approaches to the songs that brought new meaning to them. Usually what I get from anyone's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" is despair, longing, and regret--but Anne Hathaway brought out anger and ferocity too. And although I usually think "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" pales against many of the other songs, this time the intimacy of the screen made it one of my favorites. However, I AM in the group that believes that no matter how good Russell Crowe may have been in other films, or how much it might have seemed to someone that he could bring as an actor to Javert, I really wish they'd cast someone who could have landed "Stars"; it went from being one of the show's highlights to me to something that must be endured until Hugh Jackman was back on screen.

By Brooke Smith on   1/22/2013 10:24 AM

Re: Do you hear the people sing? No really, sing?

I heard them and I was amazed. I was not aware that Russell Crowe could sing. I did not expect opera but neither was I disappointed. At one point I stopped to listen to the audience and heard nothing. Not a cough, sneeze, just silence and applause at the end.

By Louise B. Mercer on   1/15/2013 2:30 PM

Re: Do you hear the people sing? No really, sing?

I did hear them singing, unfortunately, and also singing the dialogue, to add insult to injury. Never in my life,have I been more bored and disappointed in any over-hyped film that has been transferred from stage to film. Although I was bored as well with the stage version, you may multiply that three-fold for this cinematic disaster. As all about me were sobbing and dabbing at their eyes, I welcomed the moment the words "The End" rescued me from this badly scripted, directed, sung, and conceived movie, now up for all kinds of awards. I shall trust that there is at least one person out there who agrees that this was a terrible film, and the less hype still given it will cease.

By shirley romano on   1/15/2013 2:30 PM

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