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Since it's been two weeks since the first tear-sodden mess (seriously, what POSSESSED me to see Les Misérables with a grand total of two kleenex in my purse?), and I haven't been struck by any genius solution to organizing my thoughts and/or feelings, beyond "SQUEEEEEE! SOB! SQUEEEEEEEEEEE! Did I mention the SOBBING?"

And, owing to this afternoon's obligation being canceled due to someone else's flu, I've now seen it twice, so this is as good as it's gonna get.

I knew that I started crying early and copiously the first time around (seriously, those two measly kleenex were a saturated lump of uselessness by the time they even started building the damn barricade), but had forgotten until today that it was because I was blindsided by "At the End of the Day." I'm used to it being flung through the fourth wall in a wave of bitter, hardened anger, and was not even a little bit prepared for the visceral impact of the gallery of individual suffering and despair that is that long pan down the alley. And of course it's not the same ensemble you'll be seeing throughout the evening, doing their best to not be an undifferentiated mass of pretty much all twenty/thirtysomethings. There are seniors and kids of all sizes and babies and oh, holy crap, they just sang "the plague is coming on fast" instead of "the winter," and there are shrouded bodies being tossed into carts, and excuse me while I freakin DISINTEGRATE.

*ahem* You get the idea. It didn't hit me as hard today, because it didn't come out of nowhere, but still. It's one of the prime examples of Hooper using the medium to best advantage, though probably my favorite such moment comes much later: After over a quarter-century as a disembodied voice, the captain of the soldiers facing down the barricade has a face. And that face says holy shit this is really happening we just blew away a little kid and now we're going to have to cut down this bunch of dumbass college kids in the middle of the street FML. Which just adds another layer of wreckage to the trainwreck that is the insurrection.

But anyway. THEN we meet Fantine, and I'm not even going to bother blathering about Anne Hathaway, just point at, like, every review in existence and say "Yeah. What they said." ALL THE AWARDS. Predictably, there was also a small corner of my brain drooling over the smocking on her dress. Which is actually character-relevant, because it's a subtle but clear implication that she's already come down in the world. Victor Hugo took two or three chapters (it's been a looooong time, so I can't remember exactly) to tell us about the small-town beauty who grew up expecting to get swept away by her very own petit-bourgeois prince to keep his petit-bourgeois castle until she got ruined by a silver-tongued douchenozzle, kicked out of her house, and bamboozled by a couple of well-dressed and apparently happy toddlers into thinking that their parents could do more for her kid than she could. Paco Delgado and his department did it with one dress.

Also pretty much going to second everyone on the subject of Hugh Jackman. There's an edge to his voice sometimes that isn't what I'm used to with Valjean, but that's not to say it's wrong. It's certainly interesting -- especially with "Bring Him Home," which isn't very pretty to listen to. But there's a passion to it (almost in the "passion play" sense) that ties it back, in a way I never thought about before, to his "Soliloquy" and to "Who Am I?" Like both of those, it's a prayer at a critical turning point in his life, when he knows the way forward but it's going to require a sacrifice no matter what. With the addition of "Suddenly" as well as minor tweaks to some dialogue, the movie has centered his relationship with Cosette in a way the show doesn't quite, making her explicitly the symbol of hope and growth of the soul. Acknowledging that she's grown up, letting her make her own choices and move into a larger adult world where Papa isn't at the center anymore? He knows it's right, but that doesn't make it any less terrifying. So as much as I love the transcendent beauty of "Bring Him Home" the way we're used to hearing it, this makes more sense for this character at this moment of this way of telling the story. Like so much about this movie, it makes me hear that part of the score with new ears, and I think will illuminate it when I go back to the more familiar recordings.

With Russell Crowe, I'm... not so much in agreement with the general consensus. From where I sit there's nothing wrong with the quality of his voice. Like, at all. Maybe it's a little covered or muffly sometimes, but that's the worst I would say. There are two factors that I think are leading to the way people are dismissing him, one of which is an actual problem (though not as severe a one, imho, as it's being made out to be) and one is a matter of a sort of cognitive dissonance but not necessarily a problem. The latter is somewhat simpler to explain: His voice just has an inherent warmth and mellowness that seems at odds with Javert, with his severity and absolutism, and I think probably would even if I weren't used to specific harder-edged voices, particularly Philip Quast (whom I've heard overwhelmingly the most in recent years, since the symphonic recording is the only one I have on CD rather than cassette). It's almost the reverse of the Jackman-as-Valjean situation, actually, to the point where I found myself at several points trying to imagine them in one another's roles.

And it likewise sheds a different light on the character, underlining what a different kind of man he might have been with a different upbringing. With the editing of "Confrontation," Hooper makes sure we don't miss "I was born inside a jail/I was born with scum like you/I am from the gutter too." (Side note: How much do I love him saluting with his sword a man who has just pulled a hunk of woodwork off the wall to fight with?) Javert was raised to despise his origins and by extension himself, immersed in the nineteenth-century worldview about genetic depravity and "criminal types," to believe that his only chance of salvation lay in adhering without question to the rules and laws from on high. When his own conscience forces him to doubt, he's lost, in every possible sense. This is not a man who commits suicide -- a mortal sin -- unless he's sure he's already damned beyond redemption. To have this soft voice coming out of such a terribly hard man... well, it might not make everyone think in that direction, but it sure did me.

The thing I do consider a problem is a little trickier to explain. There's a widely held notion that less technically proficient singing is more immediate or "raw," that it hasn't "had the emotion trained out of it." Which sounds good on paper, but in practice what you often get are actors paying conscious attention to making the right pitch and a good tone, with little idea how to connect it to their emotional work. That happens to Crowe a fair amount -- I'd happily listen to him croon with a guitar at a campfire all evening long, no lie, but integrating it into a story is a whole different proposition. Meanwhile, Jackman -- the seasoned musical theatre veteran -- has mastered when and how to bend or break technique to best serve the character's emotional reality, and it goes straight to the audience's gut.

All that said, the older lady sitting next to me today commented during the credits that she was surprised by how well everyone sang, and actually singled out Crowe. Also, the only song that really fell flat for me the first time I saw it was "Stars," but today it came across as a rare moment to himself, a quiet rumination and the prayer of a man who is -- in contrast to the struggle in Valjean's prayers -- entirely certain of his place and his path. It might not be as exciting as the full-voiced declaration we hear in the theatre, but it's a perfectly valid choice.

The movie as a whole is another interesting step in the evolution of movie musical singing. Which I realized consciously when PotO came out (though really the current phase of the process probably started with Moulin Rouge) is a separate animal from musical theatre singing, just as movie acting is different from theatre acting (and indeed as musical theatre singing is different from opera singing). It's just that it's still figuring out what it's going to be, what form is the most effective for conveying the story's emotional truth effectively to a broad audience. Judging by the reception Les Mis is getting, I'd say they're getting pretty darn close. And if it makes theatre fans cranky that it doesn't sound the way we're used to, well, not to put too fine a point on it, it's not our call. I'm not saying people aren't allowed to not like it, but neither do I have to like the harshness of the mockery and the presumption of objective superiority that I'm seeing from people I otherwise like and respect. But then, you may have noticed that "I do not suffer snobs gladly" is kind of a personal motto. :-}

Oy. This is getting LOOOONG and I've said maybe half of what I want to. I know I suck at continuing posts later (I still plan to babble about that Fright Night cast reunion panel back in November, I swear!), but I will this time. Really. Because there is still Eponine and Cosette and the Thenardiers and Gavroche and that bunch of dumbass college students. (Spoiler alert: Marius is an idiot. Marius is always an idiot.)


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2013 06:24 am (UTC)
I treated myself to Les Miserables on New Year's Eve (first matinee of the day ~grin~). I have been meaning to post about it ever since. I have the Broadway cast recording in my blood and bone by now, so that was my standard of comparison. I have opinions on All The Things, of course...

I overwhelming wish they had used the Broadway script instead of the London libretto for the finale, because the version they used lacks "it's the story of those who've always loved you; your mother gave her life for you and gave you to my keeping" and "to love another person is to see the face of God" -- and it's terrible to be without those lyrics. Other than that, though, I have no actual complaints with the interpretation... just lots and lots of opinions! :-)
Jan. 14th, 2013 06:55 am (UTC)
They didn't leave out "to love another person is to see the face of God"!
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
As angevin2 notes, "To love another person..." is in the same place it's always been. (Including in London, as far as I can recall. I'm tempted to purchase the versions I own on cassette in digital form, just because my current car came equipped with a CD player rather than cassette, and that's where my music listening primarily happens. Unless I'm sewing, and then I do have a cassette-equipped boombox in the room.) I would have been abjectly heartbroken without it -- if I have to quote one single line from the show, that's invariably it! Maybe you were distracted by thinking about what had happened to the lines a moment before?

I miss the other lines you cite to some extent, but don't mind the modification as much because it's part of the increased emphasis on the Valjean-Cosette relationship. Various slight line adjustments earlier on (notably Cosette's "I am still like that child who was lost in the woods" instead of "I am just like a child who is...") indicate that she does remember where she came from and knows her mother's story, and is frustrated only because Valjean has told her nothing of his own. So what's on the paper he's giving her is the story she doesn't know, of "a man who only learned to love when you were in his keeping," and I'm good with that. (You will see this paragraph again, or something very like it. *g*)
Jan. 14th, 2013 02:08 pm (UTC)
My read on Russell Crowe was similar to yours, but I interpreted it a little differently. I mean, it's clear the man can sing; he just doesn't have a classically trained voice like much of the rest of the cast. I suspect he felt out of place because of that, and as a result, spent too much time Trying To Sound Pretty And Hold His Own Against People With Trained Voices, so there was no room in there for the angry, spitty interpretation of Javert we're used to hearing. It didn't work for me at all, but it wasn't bad. I just would have preferred it if he'd taken the kinds of risks Anne Hathaway had taken and hadn't tried to sound pretty at all.

Jan. 14th, 2013 03:21 pm (UTC)
See, my read on Crowe was slightly different. There was one moment where his vibrato kicked in and it sounded fabulous, which made me think that somebody (or several somebodies) made a conscious choice that he shouldn't be using vibrato in order to differentiate him somehow. And I think it was kind of an unfortunate decision, because that's what made him sound so out of place.

I haven't seen other productions or even listened to them, so I've no idea what others were expecting. But that was what stuck out to me. Well, that and his voice probably would have handled the score better five years ago, but I had the same thought for Mr. Jackman too.

Edited at 2013-01-14 03:22 pm (UTC)
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:12 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. My impression was that he hit that resonance more or less by accident when he had it, but I suppose that's possible too?
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
It's very likely that's the cause, I agree. But the effect is interesting. It occurred to me in the car this morning that what I needed to say was that it implies his all his actions and choices come from a place of humility, of submitting to what he believes to be the will of God, rather than of anger.

It's a huge adjustment, and certainly not going to work for everyone -- it doesn't entirely work for me, mostly because I also wanted to hear more risks -- but fascinating to consider.

Edited at 2013-01-14 05:26 pm (UTC)
Jan. 14th, 2013 02:43 pm (UTC)
I have never seen/heard any of the musical. (I know! I'm a heathen!). Would it make sense to see the movie as a first introduction? I actually have very little idea about the plot at all, other than Jean Valjean was trucked away to a prison colony for stealing bread, and now he's back.
Jan. 14th, 2013 02:55 pm (UTC)
YES. My best friend had never seen or heard the musical at all, and her first exposure was the movie. She liked it, understood it (even if she didn't catch all of the words) and even if she wasn't as moved as I was, she still was affected by it. You won't lose anything by going in "cold".
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
Seconded!! I can't help babbling about it in terms of what's already been in my head and heart for so long, but don't let that scare you away. I actually think it's exceptionally well made to stand on its own.
Jan. 14th, 2013 03:23 pm (UTC)
You'll be fine. Just don't expect the actual French Revolution. This is post-Napoleon.
Jan. 14th, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC)
Ha, if I were to expect anything, I would have to go look up the history first. History (especially European history) is . . . not my strong point, to say the least.
Jan. 14th, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
One of my history teacher friends (I seem to collect them) just assumed it was the French Revolution. He was not a happy camper, because that was half the reason he was interested in the story.
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:14 pm (UTC)
Wow. I would have expected a history geek to be gleeful that it's about the lesser-known post-Revolution growing pains instead!
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
I think the issue was that he was really excited by the idea of a musical about the French Revolution, so he was too disappointed while watching to appreciate it. Plus he's an American specialist, so I'm not sure he even knew that much about post-Napoleon France.
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:39 pm (UTC)
Boublil and Schoenberg actually did write a previous show about the Revolution. Unfortunately for your friend, that's not the one that caught the ear of Cameron Mackintosh and proceeded to take over the world. :-}

Maybe someone will decide to movie-ize The Scarlet Pimpernel next? Frank Wildhorn's bad luck streak has to break sometime...

Edited at 2013-01-18 01:59 am (UTC)
Jan. 14th, 2013 02:53 pm (UTC)
So much to comment on... Let's start, shall we?

"At the End of the Day" gallery of misery - totally agree on this point. I thought Hooper made a fantastic choice to show that not only is there suffering on a grand scale, but that the suffering is very personal, and very indiscriminate - nobody is spared. The change to "plague" with the cloth-wrapped bodies evoked a very visceral reaction in me, too.

"Bring Him Home" - not pretty, but pretty desperate, which is very much the point of the song. I agree with you about Jackman's performance consistently calling back to his bargain with God and how it really does sustain him. I also agree that the film expands and clarifies his relationship with and devotion to Cosette - she is the symbol of all of his hopes of redemption.

Re: Crowe, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. He is so conflicted right from the start, and that vocal warmth (thank you for identifying that piece of cognitive dissonance for me) seals the impression that he's always, always suspected that no matter how he lives his life, he's damned because of the consequences of his birth. Stupid 19th century social concepts. His "Stars" is a prayer, and it's as beautiful in its own way as Quast's more powerful, manifesto-ish "Stars."

Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Oh, Annie. And yes, I noticed that her pink dress was a tad more bouregois than the clothes of her fellow factory workers, and it was clear in that first glimpse of her that she just didn't belong in that milieu. This film is gob-smackingly brilliant that way - so much is said in the clothing, the single one-off shots of an extra, the condition of the Musain, all this visual storytelling backing up, supporting and enhancing the verbal and musical tale.

I can't wait for part two of this review, since my heart is now completely on the barricade. And yes, I agree - Marius is an idiot. Marius is always an idiot. ;)
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:19 pm (UTC)
so much is said in the clothing, the single one-off shots of an extra, the condition of the Musain, all this visual storytelling backing up, supporting and enhancing the verbal and musical tale.

Yes yes yes yes. I'll be picking apart the production design for years to come!

He is so conflicted right from the start, and that vocal warmth (thank you for identifying that piece of cognitive dissonance for me)

I finally pinned it down while driving to work this morning: It underscores that his actions and choices come from a place of humility, of submission to what he believes to be the will of God. He looks like a big shiny sack of pride propped up by the biggest stick-up-the-ass in human history, but in fact there's not a shred of pride in him.

Considering Crowe's existing collection of soft-spoken, thoughtful tough guys, I have to think that was a deliberate factor in the casting choice.
Jan. 14th, 2013 06:17 pm (UTC)
I'm sure it was. Crowe's performances are always very deeply considered, with each nuance carefully chosen. He's a cerebral actor with wild-animal energy, which is part of what makes him so compelling to watch.
Jan. 14th, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
Have you seen the Forbidden Broadway lyrics to the songs? Most pertinent for this discussion, since you mentioned it, are the lyrics spoofing "Bring Him Home" -

Bring it Down
God it's high
This song's too high
Pity me
Change the key
Bring it down
Bring it down
It's too high
It's too high
Much too high

On the official movie site, there's a vid where both Hugh and Colm are singing this version. ;)

The rest of them are here: http://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/forbiddenbroadwayvols1-4/moremiserablesequence.htm
Jan. 14th, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC)
Somebody had it at Whitehall -- I remember hearing it a LOT during set building, enough that I can still sing substantial chunks of it. :-D

But I had no idea about the Colm and Hugh video. Which is generally amazing, but that's too funny for words. :-D
Jan. 14th, 2013 11:27 pm (UTC)
Where? I'd love to see this, but I can't find it on the site.
Jan. 14th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
I couldn't either, but it's still on their YouTube channel:


Edited at 2013-01-14 11:47 pm (UTC)
Jan. 31st, 2013 12:01 am (UTC)
(oops!--the link's frelled)

Oh, I want to see this, and, oh, it's gonna be hard!

I spent *so* much time immersed--first in the Broadway and then in the Symphonic, that I'm gonna hear every single change.

I can tell, because after watching all that I still had to choke down "It's 'I have bought your soul for God'!"

I completely understand why they changed it, but I always liked the original word choice there as a very practical recognition of the enormous influence of money in the whole situation.

The Bishop can see that Valjean was never an inherently bad person; he was hungry and poor and desperate. (Unlike the Thenardiers, he's not revelling in the license he's taking for survival.) The Bishop has bought him a new life--given him a chance to truly start over in a way nothing else ever could have. But he's making it clear to Valjean that it's not pity or random charity. Valjean hasn't just hit the jackpot.

He's making a deal with Valjean that he take this opportunity to become the "good", Godly man he should have been all along. The Bishop is using money, but specifically to buy a second spiritual chance. (The second material chance is only to allow Valjean to live that morality this time.)

I've always loved how the Bishop--for all his ethereal, almost naive-seeming trust and generosity at the start--is revealed by this as a truly practical, realistic figure. He's not off in la-la-land, thinking everyone is inherently good. He knows the desperately poor can't afford proper morals if they want to survive. He's acknowledging that the true test of morality is how a person behaves when they have enough of the basics in hand to be able to truly make a choice in what they do.

(He also likely has a better idea than Valjean, at least at that moment, how much power this amount of cash will give Valjean. The Bishop knows he's giving this guy the opportunity to become someone who affects other people's living standards. Something Valjean--when not blocked by a horny, skeezy foreman--goes on to live up to admirably.)

[I may have thought about this musical way too much over the years.... ;)

*(Have I ever mentioned that, when I worked backstage on a college production of West Side Story, I was sitting up on the fly rail for something like 3 hours while the director futzed with all the scenery. To entertain myself, I sang the symphonic recording to myself. The entire thing. From memory. All parts.

...Then I fell asleep for half an hour before someone remembered I was up there and told me they were finally done. *facepalm*)
Jan. 31st, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
I can see that, but "bought your soul" never sat quite right with me even so. So that's one of the tweaks I like. There are others I'm not so sure of. But yeah, definitely ticking them all off in my head either way! :-)

And I'm pretty sure I would remember that story if I'd heard it. Ah, directors. *snerk*
Jan. 31st, 2013 12:45 am (UTC)
And apparently I had ALL THE THOUGHTS about it, which I didn't even realize until I started writing... ;)
Jan. 31st, 2013 12:52 am (UTC)
Hee! I know that feeling!
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )


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