Finally saw the movie version of Les Miserables – my review of the film

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Hey all!  I just got back from the theatre – my mom and I went to see Les Mis!  I’ve been seeing comments and thoughts on it daily on Facebook from so many of my singer/performer friends – to many mixed thoughts and reviews.  I wanted to wait and see it for myself before building up any kind of expecations – good or bad.

Let me start by saying that all of us in this business know just how subjective it is.  Each and every performer, director – and everyone else involved – have opinions and preferences.  Also, those of us in the business also know what it means to try to build up a thick skin and not take critical remarks as attacks – but I know from first hand experience that the way a critique is phrased can make such a huge difference.  Here are my honest opinions, and my opinions alone.  And since I am primarily a singer and voice teacher, most of my opinions ultimately come down to the vocal performances of the actors.   Not that any of the performers would even blink an eyelash over what I have to say, but I will still strive to phrase anything critical I have to say in the most objective way possible – and not get nasty about it.  We’re all in this together, no matter what level we’re at, and we should always support our colleagues.

I’ll admit it has been awhile since I saw Les Mis live.  I saw it when the national tour came through Philly when I was in middle school, and then again on Broadway when I was in high school.  (When Lea Salonga was playing Eponine.  For those not in the know – she was the voice of singing Jasmine in the Disney movie Aladdin.)  The show was SO powerful, and like most high school girls, I was obsessed with it – I sang “On My Own” for many a talent show back in the day.)

Overall, I think the movie captured the emotional impact that one experiences when seeing this show live.   I was pretty much in tears during the whole first section of the movie, and then again at the end.  And there were many things that the movie was able to achieve that’s not possible on stage – especially bringing life to Paris during such a difficult and monumental time in history.  There was the opportunity to have a greater variety of sets and scenery.  However, the sheer power of a live performance just cannot be captured on screen, no matter how hard one tries.  Even with the much hyped “live singing”, it still lacked the feeling one gets when sitting in the audience when a full cast is on stage singing right at you – the way the voices hit you in real time – that was just not there in this movie version.

As to individual performances….

Hugh Jackman as Valjean worked for me.  He brought an impressive range of emotion and acting to the role, with some decent singing to go along with it.  I cried along with his character when he felt the power of grace and forgiveness at the hand of the Bishop.  The only scene that was distractingly vocally wanting for me was his performance of “Bring Him Home.”  Maybe he was having an off day?  It was strained and a bit too tight in the throat for me.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine acted her ass off in the role.  You go girl!  I didn’t totally agree with all her choices that she made vocally in “I Dreamed a Dream,” but I could see what she was going for.  She does have a good voice, but I still think you can belt and show serious internal destruction, while staying in tune.  (There were spots where her belt was really pushed out for the sake of dramatic choices, but the straight-tone resulting from it went off pitch a bit.)  Overall though, she brought such depth to the character of Fantine and really made us feel the sorrow of her wretched fate.

I have to say that the vocal performance that I was most impressed with was that of Aaron Tveit as Enjoiras.  Wowzers!  Who IS this guy?  His vocal production was so easy and effortless – no straining, no pushing, no pitch problems, and displaying an excellent timbre.  Moving around did not effect his intonation or support, like it did for some of the other actors.  He was completely solid in every facet of his performance.  This guy is the total package – acting, singing, looks – I’m a fan!  (What else has he done?…. off to google for me!….)

Also some big kudos to the young actor Daniel Huttlestone in his portrayal of Gavroche!  This kid is great!  What enormous potential for some truly awesome things down the road in his career.

Some of you may know that I’ve been a huge fan of Helena Bonham-Carter for most of my life.  (When I met her and got a photo taken with her, it was my Facebook profile pic for AGES! Haha!)  She and Sacha Baron Cohen did a great job in the over-the-top character roles of the Thénardiers.  They successfully added the much-needed comic relief, but without being too one dimensional or looking like generic stock characters.

Russel Crowe as Javert would not have been my choice had I been the casting director.  He is a fine actor, but this is perhaps not the role for him.  I heard he trained very hard to get his voice to where it was in the film, but it still really fell short.  He just simply was not supporting his voice – period.  For a man who has played a gladiator in his career, he has to have some sense of how the muscles in the body work.  As singers, we have to support from the core.  That’s where the physical work is primarily done – not in the throat, but in the support muscles.  As a result of this lack of support, he was not able to bring the vocal intensity needed for this character.  Nor was he really able to sustain the notes at the ends of phrases for the same reason.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette was also quite a let-down vocally.  Again – it came down to her lack of support when creating the tone.  Her sound was pinched, tiny, and fluttery.  I’ve been teaching high school students to sing for 15 years – and she sounded like a high school sophomore – in fact I’ve had students in 10th grade who could already sing much better than what I just heard.  I know this may sound a bit harsh, but as a fellow soprano, I know how many of us there are in the theatre world – that’s why it’s so hard for sopranos out there.  I personally know many singer friends who could have sung circles around her in this role.  With such a plethora of great talent that they could have chosen from, it was obvious that they only cast her because of her big screen name.  Don’t get me wrong, her acting is fine, but singing wise, I was hoping for so much more.

I was also disappointed in Eddie Redmayne’s vocal performance.  Acting-wise, he delivered a fine Marius.  But he had so so SO much tension when he sang, that his whole head was shaking.  A good teacher can fix that right up!  He has a good instrument to work with, but the tension was so distracting that it pulled me away from the emotional arc of the storyline whenever he had a big scene to sing.

I was just okay with Samantha Barks as Eponine.  Again – it came down to some of her choices that I quite didn’t agree with – which is just my own subjective opinion.  But she went a different direction with “On My Own” and it was not my favorite.  I still think Lea Salonga is the epitome of how this role can be sung, and Ms. Barks is just not on the level of Lea Salonga.  I’ve heard from many that her vocal chops are much better than what we experience on screen – that she just didn’t bring it to this production.

The rest of the supporting roles were very well done – the ensemble of men playing the students were excellent!  And the voice on the man playing the officer who orders the shooting at the barricade?  Fabulous!!!  Who was that guy?  Man could SING!

So those are my thoughts.  It’s really impossible to see something like this and not listen from the singer/voice teacher perspective.  You don’t do it on purpose, but you’ve worked with voices for so long, that your brain just goes there and does its analyzing thing.

On the whole, it was a good movie – despite some aspects that weren’t to my liking, I still thoroughly enjoyed it and would see it again – AND recommend it to others.

That’s all folks!

Here’s a pick of my new favorite performer from the movie!

Les Miserables

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Jennifer was initially drawn to Europe for two reasons: music and love.  She lived in Vienna for four years, and now calls Croatia home for much of each year, as she married a native Croatian. Since 2015, Jennifer has worked as a tour director and cruise director on European river cruises for a major American travel company, and has become an expert in all of the cities along her routes on the Danube, Rhine, and Main Rivers. She also has traveled to Disney World almost every year since 1985, and knows Disney World inside and out. As a travel agent, Disney World is her primary specialty, and she has helped many Disney newbies and veterans have amazing trips with her insider information.

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