As a young boy growing up in New York City, my Mother would take my sister and I to matinees of many Broadway shows. I have been so fortunate to see the originals of My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Take Me Along, The Sound of Music, Man of La Mancha and countless other iconic shows. I grew up with going to Broadway and to Lincoln Center; two different but magical and wonderful worlds. New York was and still is the Capita of World.
I have continued this Broadway tradition and racked up a long list of shows. But few have successfully been adapted for the big screen. I remember there was a big buzz about Madonna starring in Evita in the title role. Watching that movie, I always sensed a disconnect between the dramatic action and the singing. With Evita, it is rather obvious that the cast recorded the songs in a studio way before filming. On the other hand, Topol’s Tevye and the stark barren Hungarian countryside made Fiddler a box office hit. I thought that it was more successful than the Broadway version or maybe it was those cheap twofer seats I had, 20 miles from the stage.
“Les Misérables” is one of those stories whether read or seen that is in its own category of greatness. Calling this masterpiece a “musical” is like calling Die Walkure, an “opera”. Both works defy the conventional definition of either genre. I was one of many standing on line Christmas Day 2012 to view the opening of the movie, “Les Misérables I knew immediately that it was not a photocopy of the Broadway production. In this present incarnation, it is not an opera but a dramatic dark realistic story by which the dialogue is sung. My Broadway and cast album ears immediately were modified.
The singing was from the depths of the soul and the vocal sounds completely described the action and the scene. You could have closed your eyes I easily imagine the scene that was being shown. The singing wasn’t pretty and in this case it shouldn’t be. It just doesn’t make sense to even buythe movie cast album; that would be totally out of context. Should Fontine first utterances after being ravaged and reduced to the lowest depths of her existence sing “I Dreaned a Dream” as if it’s an art song? The audience bawled like little children after Hathaway’s interpretation of this most famous song from the show. How many tears flowed during Jackman’s prayer scene when he sang “Bring Him Home.” So many people related to this song in particular. Everyone has a loved one who we all pray to come home safely. Even ex-Gladiator Crowe revealed a stoic but conflicted Javert. Though purists might have like a more powerful singing of “Stars”, Crowe, while walking the roof tops of Paris, projected to all of us what he must do; he had no choice but to jump.
The camera swoops offset by the hand held shots gave us a realistic look of Paris and its poorest of the poor. The closeups revealed every facial imperfection of the mob, whether young or old. We saw Valjean transfer from slave, to Mayor, to Guardian, to someone sick with anguish and conflict; he seemed so relieved after revealing his deepest haunting secret to Marius; he was then ready to be with Fontine.
The movie is a once in a lifetime movie as is the Broadway production. But don’t compare the two. Les Misérables will surely be around for another 25 years. The show is now available for the first time for amateur productions. And the memories of this grand cinematic feat will be referred to and watched for generations to come.