Putting a Face on Theatre
First off, the fact I was in the movie theatre itself was a minor miracle. I love Les Mis, I love it to death -- and in fact, I already had. The show opened in London in '85, and Broadway in '87. I soon had the cast recordings and practically wore the tape out. I burned through several different versions of the tapes. I knew every lyric -- even when they didn't make sense. (Sometimes cast recordings can be confusing if you don't know the staging that goes along with it...) I saw the touring production, then the Broadway production, then multiple times. And after a while, like everything else, my tastes changed, the musical didn't, and the pleasure centers it used to activate in my brain just didn't respond. It was like gum, it had lost its flavor. So when I heard about the movie version, I was nonplussed.
Until I saw the first behind the scenes/trailer. I was weeping in the first 30 seconds. Suddenly the music had brand new life, brand new meaning, and was just as powerful as the first time I'd heard it. I knew I'd need to be there opening day.
And so I was.
But while the musical -- in parts -- was really, really great, there were other moments where it went very wrong, and landed with a wet thud, like a dishrag.
First off, Anne Hathaway, amazing. And Amanda Seyfried? I think she single-handedly rescued the part of Cosette from complete irrelevance. Hugh Jackman was by turns brilliant or mediocre.
I think the big problem with the movie was exactly it's hook for me: The ability for actors to sing their parts live, rather than lip-sync on film to pre-recorded tracks. While this sounds like a great idea -- Hey! Let the actors act! In the moment! -- It's also a recipe for disaster. In a musical, there's not as much room for interpretation as in a play -- especially a machine like Les Mis. The tempo is laid out, the orchestration is laid out -- there's really no varying. The song hits the climax in the same spot every night. As an actor, all you can bring is your voice and the color of your voice. But you're going to be singing it the same way every night, and the next actor is going to sing it the same way, too.
That's completely upended in this show. Actors are free to speed up, slow down, belt or get quiet -- wherever their interpretation takes them.
Look, Les Mis didn't get to be one of the most popular musicals in the world because the music doesn't work. There's a reason the songs are so powerful. They're written well. So by giving actors their full head of steam and letting them run roughshod over all that, you lose a LOT of that power. You lose a lot of the choices that made the songs so great.
Sometimes this works. See my remarks about Anne Hathaway. But other times I just wanted to shout at the screen: JUST SING THE DAMN SONG!
I understand film is a different medium than the stage, and things that work on stage wouldn't work on film, and I applaud them for their innovation and bravery in taking this project on. But sometimes I felt a little exasperated.
Anyways -- that's what I felt! Who else has seen the movie? What did you think?