The news was received with mixed results; perhaps the strongest response was apathy, as a good portion of the students had never heard of the musical at all.
But soon everyone involved became all-too familiar with the show. For five months, singers, musicians and stage hands worked on the production. Rehearsals ran as late as 11:00 p.m., at which point students had to go home, work on homework, and be ready for another day of school and rehearsals the day after. Sleep was lost, grades and GPAs fell, and as the show approached, rehearsals became such a mess that many on the production began to wonder if this year’s musical would be a complete disaster.
But in the end, everything clicked. Almost all of the show’s performances sold out – and despite the love-hate relationship that developed during the months of rehearsals and preparation, “Les Misérables” has held a special place in many of those students’ hearts ever since.
Yes, I am one of those students. I performed in the orchestra pit during my high school production of “Les Misérables.” The show that I knew nothing about quickly became one of my top three favorite musicals (beaten out only by “Wicked” and “Rent”). And for a long time after this production ended, I only had the memories of my performance and the occasional tour of the show to come back to. There was a live-action “Les Misérables” movie out there, yes, but I couldn’t even stand to watch more than five minutes of this non-musical version. It may have carried the title “Les Misérables” but it certainly was not “Les Misérables.” The “Les Misérables” I loved was a powerful musical that was said to be impossible to make into a film. Why was this said? Don’t ask me: I don’t know. That’s just what was said among the circles of people I spoke to.
The story and who plays who in this film adaptation is best summarized in another review:
Hugh Jackman stars as prisoner-turned-politician Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who, after spending nearly two decades in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, breaks parole and runs off to start a new life, becomes a factory owner and then the mayor of a small town. Russell Crowe plays Javert, Valjean’s former prison guard, now a ruthless inspector, obsessively pursuing Valjean for decades. And Anne Hathaway is destitute factory worker Fantine, a single mother turned prostitute whose young daughter Valjean promises to look after. Their fates will intermingle during the 1862 uprising as French revolutionaries man the barricades.
In short, “Les Misérables” is a tale about and testament to the human spirit; highlighting class warfare, inequality and injustice in 19th century France (relevant themes in today’s time as well, I might note), the show’s power lies not necessarily in its story alone, but also the portrayal of how the characters (other than officers of the law) react to living in poverty and despair. Indeed, there is a complexity to the fact that the musical is, at its core, about human beings just making their way through their lives, making do with the resources available to them; the story focuses on so-called criminals and traitors and their personal stories, while at the same time making it clear that even the people on the side of the law are merely doing what they, too, think is right.
Let’s be clear: the film does not follow the stage version to the letter. But, for once, I can honestly say: the changes made make complete sense, and the changes made actually improve the show. After all, a stage production is not the same as a film; two different mediums cannot tell the story the exact same way without one failing somehow. In the end, though, all of the moments I wanted from my beloved musical were in this film, even if they were rearranged for the sake of telling a more coherent story on the big screen.
Impressively, only a few lines of the original (nearly three hour long) musical got scrapped in the production of the film; while a couple were changed or removed for what I can only assume were for time’s sake, most were obviously removed because they were meant to be visual aids on the stage; but these aids aren’t needed when the medium telling the story is film, the most visual medium of them all – case in point: you don’t need our main character to sing about “eating the lion’s share” when you see him shoving a plate of food into his mouth.
Most exciting of all, though, was the fact that this film was a revolutionary first in the musical film genre. Rather than having the cast re-record their songs in a sound stage, which forces them to lip-sync with their past performances, the movie features live recordings. What you see is exactly what that actor sang as each shot was filmed. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that many of the individual songs play out in single, three-to-five minute shots, with no break for the actors.
In terms of singing, Anne Hathaway impressed me the most. While others like Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe did a-ok, Hathaway’s bits brought tears to my eyes – and be aware, I am not the crying type when I watch any movie or musical. Feeling those rare tears in my eyes told me all I needed to know about her performance.
On that note, it will be interesting to see how “Les Misérables” and “Cloud Atlas” do when it comes time to dish out awards for 2012’s films. I hope both do well and are recognized for what they are: these films are truly the best of 2012, and they’re a testimony to the fact that even as it prepares to release a number of silly looking blockbusters focused on aliens and apocalypses, Hollywood is still home to some fantastically talented people.