02 April, 2014

My Heart Is Stone, and Still It Trembles.

Well, here it is. My long-awaited LES MIZ blog. In the words of Eponine, 
"Well, I told you I'd do it--told you I'd do it!"

Sooooo many thoughts, which is part of the reason I've taken so long to 
write this. That, and my folks were in town...and I got sick. I'm still recovering
 from my cold and am feeling unnervingly dizzy today, but it's a day off. 
Therefore, things need to get done. Important things like laundry, cooking, 
cleaning, groceries, taking care of Ella, writing blog posts, and posting 
holiday photos to Facebook. Dizziness Be Damned.

And now: Les Miserables. (I try to warn you of spoilers when I remember,
 but really...if you don't know the story by now, you deserve to not be 
warned. :p )

(Look for the links, in blue and green. There's quite a few--have fun with that. Ha!)

I had some trepidation about seeing this. 

For years, this was THE musical for me. "Obsessed" doesn't even begin to cover it. 
Oh, I loved, listened, adored, watched other musicals...but LES MIZ was IT
And Eponine was my Dream Role. I read the book (the entire thing) twice in 
7th grade, and again in 8th. I know adults who still haven't read it. The 
looks on my teachers' faces as I pulled that out during downtime was 
priceless--but they got used to it. I was an odd kid.

I had taped A&E's "Les Miserables Stage by Stage" and wore that darn thing out.
 I annoyed my family by making them watch certain things over and over 
again--"Watch how she does her lips!" I also tried to teach my brother how to 
sing, and when he gave up, I was so mad and told him he could never be 
Enjolras! (That was his favourite character...tellingly.) I bought golf caps 
and wore my dad's trench coat and made my brother take pictures of me as
Eponine in the living room. I died, day after day, in that same living room, 
or the safety of my bedroom, using pillows as Marius. (Sometimes I was 
Kim and the pillows played Chris in MISS SAIGON, but our favourite was 
Les Miz. Just ask the pillows. We rawked "A Little Fall of Rain.")

And then I got cast in the world community theatre première of LES MIZ, 
in Heidelberg, Germany. It came down to me and one other girl for Eponine, 
but even though she cried through every audition because she thought she 
was terrible, she looked the part. I looked like an angelic Cosette. (So angelic, 
I comforted my competition in the bathroom at the end of our last callbacks; 
she was practically hyperventilating through her tears and was sure I got the 
part. I told her, with my arm around her, that she looked the part and 
you never know what will happen.)

My heart wasn't really full of love, but I at least knew 
how to pronounce my name. (Keep reading.)

I hate Cosette. 

Okay, maybe "hate" is too strong a word. But I definitely don't like her much. 
She wasn't that bad in the original London version, when she got to sing 
"I Saw Him Once," explaining her inexplicable sudden need to have a 
personality. But they took that out for subsequent versions, which is too bad, 
really. It's a good song. 

Our show was a resounding success, by all accounts. We had a talented cast 
and crew, and (despite my feelings on my role), I was honoured to be a 
part of it. (My costumes were made especially for me--and man, 
it was hard not to steal away with them at the end of the run! 
"Now you are here...again beside me."
That lace wedding gown, especially.)

It took a few years to listen to the music again. (And I own every version, 
including the original French concept album! I did mention "obsessed," 
right?) But when I started listening again, I remembered why I was so in 
love with this show.

I badly wanted to be a part of the movie version, even if I obviously 
wasn't going to be Eponine. So, yes...there's some disappointment and 
a broken heart heading into it. 

And then there's the names they cast--stunt casting, which I despise. 
I would've much preferred unknowns, for several reasons...I was 
grateful they cast Samantha Barks, a West End favourite and unknown 
on this side of the pond. AND that Aaron Tveit would be in it, too--
thank God! My Facebook status at the announcement was,
"*sigh* All right. I can take Anne Hathaway as Fantine. I knew I wouldn't 
get Eponine because 1) I'm not famous and/or 2) I'm super-pale with 
light eyes and hair. Not seeing Amanda Seyfried as Cosette...voice not 
strong enough. Eddie Redmayne as Marius? Didn't know he could 
sing, but he's a bit too effeminate for my taste. Jackman as Valjean? 
Ehhh...we'll see. Would prefer Simon Bowman. Crowe as Javert? 
Maybe, but I'd prefer an unknown actual singer. Aaron Tveit as Enjolras? 
Now, THAT, I like."

I worried about Russell Crowe...such a demanding role, vocally...can he swing it? 
Yes, I know he sings in his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts (or summat like that). 
But Les Miz isn't a rock band. Javert is not an easy role, at all. I realize the 
music sounds so easy, for all roles, but it's not. It's deceptively simple. 
Not as difficult as Sondheim, but not super-easy, either. (Depending on the 
role, of course.)

But I had to see it...and I knew I was going to love it...and that I'd cry. (I usually 
start tearing up at the very first chords, every time I hear them. Ba-baaaaaa! 
Bum-bum-bum!) I was excited that everything was done live, no synching at 
all. Intriguing idea, and I was excited to see the result. 

So, here we gooooooo!

You'll be pleased to know that I did not annoy my fellow theatre-goers and 
sing along to the movie. (I just mouthed practically everything. And waited to 
sing along with the finale. Or tried to...it was difficult--more on that later.)

Various thoughts, thrown on this page:

  • Some lyrics have changed, some songs altered, placed in a different order, or altogether removed. 
  • The new song, "Suddenly," is a very sweet piece, though perhaps a little awkward. (A tiny bit, but I think that's more to do with Hugh Jackman's take and the acting during the song, than anything else. It'll be up for an Oscar, and will probably win.)
  • I would follow Aaron Tveit as Enjolras into a badly-planned and poorly thought-out revolution any day. It made me wonder why I'd never crushed on Enjolras, actually. He's intelligent, caring, and would die for something he believes so strongly about. (Though he would be a very bad boyfriend, not caring about my "lonely soul" and constantly abandoning me to hang out with the guys.)

"Why, yes, Enjy--I *do* hear those distant drums...I believe it's my heart every time you're on screen." Too sappy?
And here he is...singing a song of angry men with Eddie Redmayne. This was one of the songs  taken "out of order" of the original show, but it makes sense. The film also followed the actual history of the short-lived June Revolution (5-6 June, 1832), when republicans and foreign refugees took charge of the carriage carrying General Lamarque. 
Are three pictures too many? Nah. P.S. The hair is yummy.
And the costuming. And him. He's yummy. 

  • I cannot say enough about Aaron Tveit. I assume most people don't know much about him, unless they're big fans of theatre. He originated the roles of Gabe in NEXT TO NORMAL and Frank in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. (P.S. I freaking love NEXT TO NORMAL. Go see it, if you can. This song says a lot to me...and if you've read some of my previous blogs on mental health, you'll know why. You may have noticed I've taken my last one down. I did that a couple months ago-- I felt I had to. For now, anyway.)
  • I think I'm going to add Aaron Tveit to my Top 5. I'm very picky about my Top 5. So picky, I've only just added a 4th over the past couple of years. (Welcome, Jon Stewart. I'm sure you're pleased to know you're in the company of Cillian Murphy,Ralph Fiennes, and Kevin Spacey. And probably Aaron Tveit. I realize I already have one guy with brown eyes, but I think I can add a second.)

Okay, enough about my Les Miz crush!

  • Film allows for the actors to breathe a bit more...to be more subtle and live in the quiet moments, something the stage show doesn't allow. I mean...it can, but it's harder to show...especially to those sitting in the very back of the upper-most balconies. This is part of the magic of cinema, though, isn't it? It captures every subtle moment, every thought that runs through the actor's head. When people first start working in the medium, especially if they started on stage (I speak from experience), it can be hard to recognize that. You feel like you're not doing anything, but the camera literally captures everything...and those quiet moments can often be the best of the scene. 

  • The moment Gavroche appeared, my heart melted. As soon as he started singing, that was it--I was a goner. This kid--WOW. The absolute perfect casting of Gavroche...he was born for this role. And the Artful Dodger--so someone get him in OLIVER stat! That little urchin will just steal your heart, even as he's trying to steal your wallet. 
This was a scene with added lyrics for the film--nice for those not familiar with the story, letting them know what the heck's going on and why there's revolution in the air. And also gives us a chance to fall more in love with Gavroche. 
  • Eddie Redmayne has a surprisingly good voice, though he has a tendency to lapse into Kermit at times. Mom didn't notice this at all, so it might just be something I pick up on and isn't that noticeable. But he does get pretty Kermity, and it annoyed me a few times. His rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," however, was breath-takingI was really worried about the belting portion, but he took it in a completely different direction. Instead, he went into a softer falsetto that showed his emotional turmoil more than a full-out belt would have done (for him). It was beautiful. I'd read an interview where Tom Hooper was fine after just a couple takes, but Eddie insisted on doing it more and more. I think they did it 20 times--the final take was the one kept in the film. Amazing. Michael Ball is one of the quintessential Mariuses, and I will always love his rendition. But Eddie could never do it the same way, and I'm grateful he didn't try.
  • Amanda Seyfried as Cosette...weeellll, she doesn't exactly have the strongest voice around. And, for the most part, that's okay for Cosette...or, as Amanda tells us--TWICE--"Casette." (I cannot tell you how annoying this was to me.)   But her weak voice is very obvious at the end of "A Heart Full of Love" and its reprise. She can't hold onto the note very long at all, and you can barely hear her. Good on her for hitting the A and the High C, but I'd like to have a chance to hear it. Other than that, she's just like every other Cosette I've seen. A bit bland and boring. I started daydreaming during "In My Life," to be honest. The only good Cosette I've seen was Katie Hall in the 25th Anniversary Concert. She brought the character to life, with a teenage petulance and even a bit of feistiness in her scenes with Valjean. I hadn't seen that before, and was disappointed I hadn't thought to do it when was Cosette. Amanda Seyfried did about as well as I did, so take that as you will. (Except my voice is stronger and I had a bit more personality. Just sayin.'  ;)  )

"And remember this, my brother. See in this some higher plan. 
"C'mon, dearie...show him what you've got."
  • I was so freaking excited that Colm Wilkinson (the world's best-ever Valjean) would be playing the bishop and Frances Ruffelle (the world's best-ever Eponine) would be a lovely lady. I was a little disappointed at the very end when (spoiler alert!) Eponine didn't come back to sing with Fantine...but having Colm take that harmony instead was brilliant. I loved it! 

  • Colm, by the way, is one of my gods of tenors. Simon Bowman is the other. I still wish they had cast Simon as Valjean. He was the original Chris in MISS SAIGON and has played Valjean on the West End. (Still does...I think...?) He's one of the Valjeans singing the "Bring Him Home" quartet at the end of the 25th Anniversary Concert. Along with Colm....you can imagine my excitement to see them both on stage, singing together?! (He's the 3rd one to sing, by the way.)

  • Linzi Hateley got a bit role, too, as one of the "Turning" ladies (the first to sing). She was Eponine in later casts, and performed "On My Own" in that ol' tape I talked about earlier, Les Miz Stage by Stage. I also got to see her live as the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing....on the West End some years later. She's pretty awesome. (Speaking of "Turning," it's a bit of a bummer they really shortened that song...it's such a nice segue, and puts the spotlight on the ensemble.)

  • And on to Eponine...Samantha Barks did a fine job. Better than fine. They took away a lot of her bits, but...meh, that's okay. I guess. They took away the intro to "On My Own," and that wasn'tokay. I really felt for her...having to sing two of her songs in the rain. Hope she didn't get sick! Singers are susceptible to sore throats easier than most people (which is why I don't scream during concerts or theme park rides or anything like that). 
    Um, and can someone please tell me where
     I can get my very own special
     Samantha-as-Eponine corset? Because, hot damn!
     I want my waist to be this tiny again! 
  • Part of the reason I've always loved Eponine is because I really get her. Wanting something you can never have...being invisible, alone...not being the prettiest one, not that that matters in the least, but it used to. Having to fight for what you want...working so hard...striving...and not always succeeding. I get that. A little too well. "On My Own" was my go-to audition song for a good ten years. And also school talent shows. ;)

  • Anne Hathaway. Well. First, the trailers for the film annoyed the crap out of me, because I knew that if someone wasn't familiar with the show, they'd think Fantine was the star...and they'd be confused as heck when *SPOILER ALERT* she dies in the first half hour. There's probably not that many people who don't know the show, but there are a few. (One of my friends, in fact...and she did think Anne was the star, and that the film was all about her.) So that was just very bad marketing. Very bad. Yes, she does a good job, I'm not denying that. But all the buzz and hubbub...I just don't think it's all that warranted. Thank goodness she keels over early on, because I don't think I could take too much more of her squeezing tears out and trying to ugly her face up as she sang. It's like she was performing JUST for the Oscar voters, which I hate. (Keira Knightley did this in A DANGEROUS METHOD, which drove me to distraction.) I know I'm going to get a lot of grief for this, but oh, well. I did enjoy her "I Dreamed a Dream." I like that she didn't do a whole lot of belting...I'm not a fan of the Patti Lupone School of Screaming Your Songs. (Don't get me wrong--I freaking LOVE Patti Lupone...but she's not my favourite Evita or Fantine, for that reason.) You can belt a song without screaming it, and I thought Anne did a good job of that. 
  • Hugh Jackman also did a good job, for the most part. Simon Bowman would've been better, but that's just my opinion. The jury's still out on his "Bring Him Home," but I like that they had a gigantic eye in the background, bringing to mind God, Big Brother, and Dr. T.J. Eckleberg (Gatsby). I think I was only supposed to think of God, but I'm a dork and all the others raced through my head, too. I have no clue why they didn't age Hugh all that much...his hair barely greyed, it seemed like. I guess Valjean is larger than life and immortal? An immortal who dies...? Weird. I loved his shaved, scarred head for the prisoner sequences. 
  • Russell Crowe did better than I thought he would...BUT. His big numbers needed so much more than he could bring. Especially his "Soliloquy." I wish he had sung, "go OOOOONNN," the way every show has done, when he jumps on the word "on." Instead, he took a big breath before singing "go on," and didn't even really belt it. And then he jumped, which felt anti-climactic to me. Oh--that was a SPOILER ALERT. (Sorry.) BUT--the jump was awesome...it looked amazing. And you can hear his spine crack, which was creepy. (The scene where he pins his medal on Gavroche...*sniff, sniff*)

  • I like how they brought Marius's grandfather back...he's in the book, but was taken out of the show. I also like how they even gave him a bit to sing. Because of this addition, I thought they'd bring back the revelation that (SPOILER ALERT!) Eponine and Gavroche are siblings, but they didn't. They also brought back Fantine's teeth-pulling. (And I like that you can see her missing teeth when she sings. I found myself wondering about 19th century French dentistry during Valjean's opening scenes...he must've found a good one when he became SPOILER ALERT mayor.) Oh, and they added Valjean & Cosette's escape through the streets of Paris, making you really feel for the poor girl. She's probably thinking, "I've been stuck with these abusive innkeepers, some stranger shows up, tells me Mom's dead, takes me away, and now we're running through Paris while some cop chases us? WTF?!"
  • The opening prologue and "Work Song" were fantastic...chills! The ship, the water, the men singing. Excellent. Especially the Scottish accents. (Hummina, hummina.)
  • The "BCs" were great, as always. (Baron Cohen & Bonham Carter) Humourous. I love that Thenardier kept saying "Colette." 
  • One of the best things about the stage show--or the original show, anyway, since they've gotten rid of it for the new version--is the turntable. SO dramatic. It was an exciting, new thing to bring to the theatre, and it made its point. Dramatically. My favourite part for the turntable is the barricade. The barricade comes together in two parts, then spins around...and is AWESOME. Here's a bit of it,though it doesn't show the fantastic spin. (I mean, it does...but not the part I'm talking about, when it's first built.) It does, however, show (SPOILER ALERT!) Enjolras's death...which is always so dramatic and a highlight to the barricade scenes. In the film, they bring back the book's original death (with Grantaire), which is nice--BUT they also give him the hanging-upside-down corpse that the show does. Bonus points!!!

    At our cast party, the girls all decided we wanted to do the barricade scenes. I got to be Enjolras--so here I am, using the French flag I was wearing as a skirt, and dying my glorious death! Heather Powell (Fantine) is in the foreground, playing Marius.

  • The finale...was...amazing. I teared up, of course, during the Epilogue when (SPOILER ALERT!) Valjean was dying and Fantine and the Bishop came back. Yes, yes...how can you not? (The entire theatre was filled with sniffling.) But when the cast started singing the Finale, I started blubbering. So much so, I was doing the hyperventilating-cry. I had no idea why, I was just grateful the movie was so loud and no one could hear me! I just couldn't help it! This show has meant so much to me, for sooooo many years. The music touches me in a way that no other has ever done or will ever do. 

  • And I'd say that reaction gives you a pretty good idea of my (overall) thoughts on the movie version. 

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."
~Victor Hugo