Les Miserables is the West End’s longest running musical. It is so big, in fact, that it is almost impossible not to be aware of the show. Running in London since 1985, as well as in various runs and tours throughout the world, the phenomenon of Les Mis is unmistakably universal for both theatre and non-theatre fans alike.
Les Mis‘s twenty-eight year success and iconic status have meant some really big public performances over the years, each of which appeared on film: A 10th anniversary concert in 1995, the 25th anniversary concert in 2010, and the 2012 movie, which was released on DVD/Blu-Ray Friday, March 22, 2013.
The three productions are all incredibly different, according to the technology available when each show was filmed and the differences between a concert setting and a film set. Each one, however, manages to encompass just how epic the Les Mis franchise has become.
The 10th Anniversary – Les Mis: The Dream Cast in Concert
For the sophisticated fan who wants a concert like the Original Broadway or London Cast Recording, this is the one to watch. It includes many of the original London and Broadway Cast members, including Colm Wilkinson as Valjean, Michael Ball as Marius, Alun Armstrong as Thénardier, and Michael Maguire as Enjolras. Many actors involved in the tenth anniversary actually made their careers from Les Mis, including Lea Salonga as Eponine, Judy Kuhn as Cosette, Phillip Quast as Javert and Jenny Galloway as Madame Thénardier.
Though this production boasts a first-rate cast, it also boasts the latest in 1995 technology and presentation. Very little about the concert is visually spectacular. That’s because the concert is just that: a concert. There was no choreography or special effects. Staging was simple: The actors sat on the stage and got up when it was their turn to sing, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The singing remains stunningly good, but watching the concert today can pale in comparison to watching a full-fledged production. And without today’s multiple cameras and angles the cinematography remains rather static. It was filmed as a concert and should be enjoyed as such. Anyone looking for a production filled with insanely talented people should watch this production.
The 25th Anniversary
The 25th anniversary shows many changes from the 10th anniversary. The show’s popularity had grown even more over the past 15 years and presentation was a bigger priority. The light design was a show in itself and for better or worse casting also reflected the changing times. Many fans will recognize cast members in this production since many of the West End actors appeared later in the movie and many were already famous actors in their own right.
The casting process for this production was distinctly more commercial than the 10th anniversary. Matt Lucas (Thénardier), a British comedian and Alfie Boe (Valjean), a British opera singer, had never been in Les Miserables but now starred in prominent roles. The 10th anniversary was mostly cast with Les Mis veterans. But for those who watched the 10th anniversary there are some familiar faces including Lea Salonga, now playing Fantine and Jenny Galloway, who reprised her role as Madame Thénardier. West End fans saw many familiar names, including Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras, Samantha Barks as Eponine, and Katie Hall as Cosette. Possibly the most talked about name was Nick Jonas who had been doing a West End run as Marius. Many of the Barricade Boys were also West End veterans, including Hadley Fraser as Grantaire. The lone Broadway star in the show, Norm Lewis, reprised his role as Javert from the Broadway Revival for this production.
Though still unstaged, this production had more of the show’s feel, rather than just a concert of the well-known songs. Props were used and interludes of conversation between songs made the concert more like a performance. The lights were well matched to the songs with light and heavenly colors for numbers such as “Valjean’s Soliloquy,” and “A Heart Full of Love” and bright red colors for the barricade attacks. The lights were also used to portray the death of a character, burning brightly to show a silhouette of the departed character. There is a spectacular light show when the Barricade is attacked for the last time.
Though many OBC and OLC lovers of the show will critique this show for sounding nothing like the 10th anniversary visually this concert is unparalleled. The 21st century technology was used brilliantly to give the concert a feeling of a show rather than just a concert.
The 2012 Movie
The movie was not only a commercial blockbuster. It was also complete fandom collision. Hollywood stars acted and sang right next to West End and Broadway performers. It would have been tough to imagine Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the Gladiator (Russel Crowe), Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Bellatrix Lastrange (Helena Bonham Carter), Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried) all in 19th century France beforehand. Also, every Broadway fan was probably humming “I’m Alive” when Enjolras died.
Fandom collisions aside, the movie was a spectacularly realized production. The magic of the movies took audiences past the stage show into a complete Les Mis reality. Viewers were totally immersed in the show’s 19th century France and in the lives of every character. It makes perfect sense that fans are still begging for an extended cut of the film.
If you saw the 25th Anniversary or you are a big West End fan then the best part of the movie had to be the numerous cameos. From Fra Fee to Gina Beck, it was incredible to see such a well-cast ensemble who had earned their experience in the onstage production. The acting in the movie was spectacular and earned Academy Award nominations in eight categories including best picture, best actor (Jackman) and best supporting actress (won by Hathaway).
The singing for most of the actors was phenomenal and even those who weren’t trained in theatrical singing, such as Eddie Redmayne and Crowe, were able to keep up with the regular singers.
The movie did a fantastic job covering the epic scope of the show and included songs not in the concerts such as “Eponine’s Errand” and the second verse of “In My Life”. Though fans may have cringed to hear that a song was added for Jackman to sing, it fit in nicely. Gavroche’s extra verse in “Look Down” has become a personal favorite.
All of these productions of Les Miserables are wonderful and each includes something unique. The 10th highlights the talent of the original cast, the 25th demonstrates how to bridge the gap between a concert and a production and the movie transported audiences and fans into a completely realized world of live singing performance and movie magic.
Which presentation of Les Mis do you like best, and why? Let us know in the comments.