Saturday, June 17, 2017

Les Miserables: Reviews of the 10th and 25th Anniversary editions

Dear All:
This is kind of a random post, but I absolutely love musicals and I randomly saw a Les Mis Flash mob on Youtube and it got me kind of thinking about this amazing musical again. It's definitely my favorite musical of all time.

There have been two big anniversaries where it's been taped for the masses, the 10th and the 25th anniversary. I had never seen the 25th, and so I just watched it for the first time last week. There were generally good reviews, especially for the big finale at the end, but having grown up with listening to the cast of mostly the 10th anniversary, it was hard for me to fall in love with the 25th. Just a note, this is not a film of the actual musical, and some of that is hard to miss if you've seen the actual musical as many times as I have (7 times!), but the voices especially in the 10th anniversary make that up for me.

Let's start with the 10th anniversary edition. I'm sure some of this has to do with nostalgia, but I just love this cast from top to bottom. Some definite cast highlights for me include:
Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean. He obviously originated the role on Broadway as well as in London, and so he created and crafted the role for everyone to come after. To me, he is the pinnacle of what Jean Valjean is and should sound like. His gruff, high warbly tenor is perfect for the role, and even his crazy touches at the end of some songs such as "Who am I?" just ring true to me. There is something in the fatherly tone of his voice that just becomes more and more poignant as the musical goes on to his solo, "Bring Him Home," which still brings me to tears every time.
Philip Quast as Javert, has that ringing baritone with such authority, that it gives me chills every time he sings "Stars" or his suicide song. And he and Colm during Confrontation are just thrilling to see and hear. What I wouldn't give to have seen these two in action in the actual Broadway musical.
Lea Salonga as Eponine is just spectacular. The original role was played as more wimpy and sad, which may be more close to what the original book dictates, but Lea brought her feisty side to the role, as she did with her magnificent turn as Kim in Miss Saigon, which I really appreciated. And her voice is just amazing.
And who can ever play Marius as well as Michael Ball. His voice could melt the hardest of hearts, so warm and tender and just wraps you in a warm hug. I absolutely adore him and always have. His "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" will make anyone cry-- the best rendition of this song ever.
The other cast is really strong as well, including Judy Kuhn as Cosette and Ruthie Henshall as Fantine, Michael Maguire as Enjolras and the bawdy couple the Thenardiers (Alun Armstrong and Jenny Galloway).

Because this took place in 1995, the actual filming and sound is not as good as the 25th, but the voices I think speak for themselves.

On to the 25th anniversary.
Jean Valjean: played by Alfie Boe. Many people prefer Boe's voice to Colm Wilkinson's and sometimes say he plays the character way better. I can see why-- Boe has a beautiful voice, probably more beautiful than Colm's, and is clear as a bell. He effortlessly delivers the full range of all of the notes for sure and has deep emotion in his voice. That said... there is just something about the gruffness, almost Western twang quality of Colm's voice that really speaks to me as Valjean. So the clearness of Boe's voice, while really beautiful, almost distracts me from the role. Colm actually comes back at the end for the finale to sing both "Bring Him Home" with the other key Valjeans over the years as well as "One Day More," but Colm at this point is getting up in age. So people say, wow look at how much better Boe is than Colm-- sure, now. Valjean is a really tough role and this is why Cole can't play it anymore. So between the two I definitely prefer Colm in the 10th.
Norm Lewis as Javert: I liked him a lot as Javert, but he doesn't have the ringing authority as Quast. But out of the cast members in the 25th, he was definitely one of the stronger singers by far.
Lea Salonga as Fantine: I thought she was actually very good in the role especially for "I Dreamed a Dream." I didn't really like her in some of the other songs, which I preferred Ruthie in, and because she was so strong as Eponine, it made it hard to visualize her in this role.
Katie Hall was delightful as Cosette, with a pretty soprano, fit for the role.
Out of all the cast members, I think maybe the one single cast member that I preferred in the 25th versus the 10th was Ramin Karminloo as Enjolras, wow! Enjolras is supposed to be super hot and a great singer and Ramin was both in spades! Really impressive.
The other impressive cast member was Samantha Barks, who has done a terrific job on Broadway with Eponine and also starred in the Les Miserables 2012 film (the best cast character in the film too-- wish they had cast some other Broadway cast members!).
Jenny Galloway reprised her delightful Madame Thenardier role, and Matt Lucas was passable as her husband.
And last and definitely least was Nick Jonas as Marius. No one ever can compare to Michael Ball, but you can at least have a strong singer! Nick had a thin voice that barely carried, and all of the songs he had to sing with someone including "A Heart Full of Love," and "In My Life," and "One Day More," you could barely hear him. The pop, nasally quality of his voice did him no favors, and the really poignant "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" fell flat and I honestly had to fast forward through half of it.
I really enjoyed the finale where all the old cast members came back and sang "One Day More." Nick Jonas doesn't even join the cast as Michael Ball blows him away in this one song.

Overall, I enjoyed watching and critiquing both of these versions, but before I had seen the 25th, I had bought both DVDs on a whim. After I saw the 25th, I promptly returned it. My heart will always stay with the 10th. *Le swoon*

Hope you enjoyed my critique! What are your favorite singers from the Les Miserables cast? What other musicals/Broadway singers do you love?

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