I promised a full review on the awesome-ness of Les Miserables so here it is! I finished the last hour of the film tonight and it only got more fantastic as it went on. I'm not very musical, except what I've picked up in dance performances, but even I could follow the structure of the music in this. Each character had a theme and it was worked into the songs they were part of, making it easier for the people right at the back of the O2 to see who was onstage. I've been lucky enough to see a lot of ballet productions and have always been surprised by how well you can see what's going on onstage, even from up in the gods, so I assume it was the same with this.
I was unsure about Marius and Cosette's "love story" as part of the plot, as being very cynical, I spent most of the time thinking "they haven't even spoken to one another!" I was far more into the revolution part of the storyline and Eponine's love for Marius also struck more of a chord for me (no pun intended!) However the drama and scale of the story was so impressive and I was drawn into the world of pre-revolutionary France with ease and the effective use of set and costumes kept the narrative flowing throughout. The red, white and blue colours were used to symbolise the hope for freedom and keep the action feeling cohesive as the colour scheme was the same throughout. The lighting was also a really important part of telling the story. Les Mis is, incredibly, entirely sung-through so the actors were unable to use their bodies very much to physically tell the story. Lights then had to signify deaths, scene changes, entrances and exits. It also established where they were, times of day and added to the drama of the battle and love scenes.
Fantastic lighting design.
After watching the whole film, I was definitely most impressed by Jean Valjean, played by Alfie Boe, the heroic and persecuted lead character and whose journey we follow throughout the show. Cosette, his adopted daughter, played in this by Katie Hall, didn't wow me that much. She was a beautiful singer but I thought she could have put more emotion and feeling into the words. Cosette's mother Fantine, Lea Salonga, dies very early on and her voice was so incredible that perhaps her daughter didn't stand a chance in comparison. Javert, the "incorruptible" police inspector was also really strongly and movingly sung by Norm Lewis, who was Triton, Ariel's scary merman dad from A Little Mermaid (the Disney version!)
Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway
as The Thenardiers.
I said in my first post, that Samantha Barks as Eponine was one of my favourite characters, and her death scene in Marius' arms was just so sad as she then becomes a symbol of their doomed rebellion. The Thenardiers were also really entertaining and acted as light relief to the intensity of the rest of the story. In a classical ballet such as Sleeping Beauty this role is known as a "divertissement" and is just a chance to entertain and perhaps wake up your audience.
I saw Les Miserable as more like the style of an opera than a musical. This was for three reasons:
1) There wasn't much dancing, which I would have liked to see more of but I think this production was in the from of a concert and not so much a show. So maybe there's more dance in the West End version.
2) It was very serious subject material and pretty depressing stuff so not exactly cheerful and uplifting like fun musicals such as Hairspray or Footloose.
3) The style of the music. Again, I'm not an expert but some of it definitely sounded operatic in style as the orchestra was a really important feature of the show and the songs seemed to melt into one another in a really beautiful style. The characters individual themes were used to great effect in the ending of the show, in bringing Fantine, Eponine, Marius, Cosette and Valjean onto the stage together and using some of the musical motifs again in a unique way during Jean Valjean's death scene. It was an incredible thing to watch and you could feel the stage audience holding their breath!
Here is an example of the fantastic music in Les Mis with Lea Salonga (Fantine) singing "I Dreamed A Dream."
Overall, Les Mis felt like a very Shakespearean tragedy in that nearly all the cast died. The themes were very political and powerfully relevant to everyone's lives. I think this is what makes Les Mis such a universally loved show all over the world, from the West End to Broadway. I would also like to compare it to Dickens' books, such as Great Expectations, where the complicated plot unfolds and everyone is revealed to be connected to everyone else as the characters discover the truth of their existence.
Don't let anything I've written here put you off if you don't like opera or you think it doesn't seem like an enjoyable show or it sounds too tragic - you will LOVE it just as much as I now do! As evidence of this: the curtain call on the DVD went on for at least half an hour and involved video screens of the curtain calls of many other Les Mis productions and the very first original cast being brought on stage to sing! This was met with immense enthusiasm and cheering and I was so happy I hadn't just switched it off after the show had ended as I got to see more singing and speeches from the directors and writers which tell you more about the show's history. Finally here are a few Les Mis facts for you:
The Les Mis logo.
The show premiered at the Barbican on the 8th of October 1985 and was originally slated by many critics but became a massively popular success, similarly to the publication of Victor Hugo's original book in Paris. Weird?
The lyrics were written in 5 months compared to many musicals which are in production for years.
It's been seen by nearly 60 million people in 21 languages.
The logo for the musical comes from an etching of "the waif" Cosette in the book and has been emblazoned with the French flag to embody the revolutionary spirit of Les Miserables.
It has been nicknamed "The Glums" (literal translation) but is so far from it, being moving, powerful and above all a truly inspirational show!
Thanks for reading, sorry for rambling on and the excessive exclamation marks! I think you can tell how much I enjoyed this. Please leave a comment if have any thoughts and then go watch Les Mis!