Did I hear the people sing? No…not really.
Nothing usually makes me happier than the sound of beautiful voices and the swell of a full orchestra. So, after a week harboring the flu within my body, when Jeremiah offered up “Les Misérables” as a Sunday afternoon option, I said yes.
Yesterday at 3:30pm, we make our way to the Ziegfeld Theater on west 54th Street, for two reasons…one, Jeremiah has never seen a movie there and two, it was the only place with a 4pm showing. Now, the Ziegfeld is a huge, old school movie palace with carpeted flooring under the seats, reminding you that it’s off the beatin’ path for teens and people with children who spill…this is a NYC theater with a bit of swagger. And it knows it. You walk into the theater and you can almost hear the sounds of the soundtrack of “Annie”, the movie version with Ann Reinking, Albert Finney and Geoffrey Holder, when they walk into Radio City Music Hall, “Lets go to the movies”…I wish they had played that because it would’ve been the best music I would’ve heard in that theater yesterday.
As you know, I’m rarely reticent about stating my opinions but SO many people had spouted their own opinions that I thought gilding the same mediocre lily would be well…overkill. Well, you couldn’t kill this lily anymore than it killed my enjoyment of the movie musical.
I come from a world where Turner Movie Classics showed, every Saturday morning, the likes of “My Fair Lady”, “Camelot”, “Guys & Dolls”, “Calamity Jane”, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, and “South Pacific” just to name a small number of the gems that were released in the golden age of the Hollywood musical. I also loved…LOVED the modern look at the Hollywood musical with “Chicago”, this generations only real look at a musical on the big screen. I leave out “Hedwig…”, because although it was a musical lifted to the silver screen, it was by no means a “big” musical. Clunkers like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Nine” I leave to discuss among yourselves….I ain’t got the time.
The strep throated harlot, we all know as “Les Misérables”, left me, well…sore. If Victor Hugo’s historic book seemed a great idea for a stage musical, yay for Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer! But when Tom Hopper said he wanted to make a movie with three spoken words and no quality singers in any lead roles, with a few notable musical theater artists swirled into the mix, about a man whole stole bread, went to jail, got out and tried to change his life while a warden looked for him….for a generation, I probably would’ve passed. Dutifully so.
Now I am a huge fan of the period drama and revolutionary France?! Oui oui! Nothing better in my book. (Non-sequitur…you should all see the Norma Shearer/Tyrone Powers version of Marie Antoinette…Sophia Coppola should’ve been whipped across the forehead for her version)
Back to the epic mess known as “Les Mis…” It all started to go wrong when Hugh Jackman started singing. There! I said it. He’s got a fine voice for some singing…Boy from Oz, for example but not for this piece. Les Misérables is for white musical theater singers what Porgy and Bess is for Black performers…no I will not go there, either. However, I’d not go to the opera to hear Beyoncè sing La Traviata nor would I go to hear Mariah Carey sing Die Zauberflöte, so why should I hear less than stellar “stars” sing some of the most beautiful tunes of this generation of Musical Theater? Huh…tell me.
For blockbusterhood? Most likely, cuz every theater aficionado would’ve gone to see it with great lesser known voices, with the same director and sets and costumes…sans the pseudo meaningful performances.
Now, the cast.
Colm Wilkinson…no words, the ease of this man’s performance and singing was unmistakably seasoned. Yes, he knows the show but that’s what I want when it’s 60ft tall and blazingly loud. Bravo.
Hugh Jackman…people are pushing this performance like they push Tom Cruise’s heterosexuality…too hard and too often. His voice was nasal and unfocused. Yes his acting was exceptional but it was a musical not the actual Victor Hugo novel put to film.
Ann Hathaway…so thin…so so thin. She really does have a lovely voice and I appreciated her using every inch of her training to serve herself and the role. Her acting was heart-wrenching and her singing was more than adequate, for me. I must say, some of her choices during “I dreamed a dream” seemed, well…not right…poor and forced. By she’s winning awards so bully for her! Sometimes the cream never even gets the audition so the curds have no choice but to be scooped from the middle.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron-Cohen…she was as she always is and he was the same…pushing potty humor to the point of no return.
Amanda Seyfried…lovely in an alien kind of way…her eyes are a little far set to be the conventionally “pretty” girl and her voice…her voice sounded like a faerie was punching her in the larynx, every time she attempted to sing.
Eddie Redmayne…whom I LOVE. Those freckles and that upper lip, I mean really?!?! However, his upper register was abysmal. He sounded like a smurf yodeling inside a steel drum. If your jaw is moving that much while you are singing, fire your teacher and go get a TMJ test…you got tension!
Aaron Tveit…broadway guy with a body to die for…should’ve shown more body. His face looked drawn and his singing is decidedly “pop”. Not bad…not bad at all just lacking the fullness I wanted to hear ala Patrick Wilson when he was singing like a stallion…yes, there’s an inference there but that’s another article too brace yourself, Effie!
Russell Crowe…wasn’t nearly as horrific as I was expecting. Everyone had vilified him so that I expected to hear the worst voice ever put to screen. Like a modern day, Rex Harrison. Yes, his voice is hooty. Yes, he had four good notes and he used them in takes that were left out of the movie. However, of the six final consonants that I heard in the entire 168 minutes of that movie, he used five of them. For that alone, he doesn’t get guillotined.
It must’ve crossed someone’s mind that when the myriad of filler characters sounded better with their four word phrases than the leads that something was amiss. No one noticed that? An entire creative team and producers…a musical director and sound mixers… No one?! Really?
One more non-sequitur. Please…PLEASE, don’t try to remake “Porgy and Bess” with Beyoncè riffing thorough the score and fifty cent as crown, rapping his way through catfish row. I’d have to protest. Seriously. And though we are all used to auto-tuning and lip syncing, please alert the masses of either occurrence before we find out. That’s all we need to know. Prior knowledge of events would’ve served Milli Vanilli. They were handsome…girls still would’ve bought their bubble gum music. Everyone still loved Audrey Hepburn after we learned that Marni Nixon had been the voice behind her beauty…TWICE!
The only two fully realized characters in that movie were the two child actors, Gavroche and baby Cosette. They were joyful in their dirt covered faces and their roles were well acted and they sang like little angels.
Towards the end…the third false ending, I will say…when Javert fell from the bridge and cracked his ribs on that concrete man made waterfall, my diaphragm breathed a sigh of relief…for itself and all of its brethren.
I didn’t leave early because I think there’s always something to be learned from art, good or bad. But my ears will never be the same…I grimaced my way through two hours of that movie and for that I say, Merde!
I, also, don’t follow the fold with my opinions…I stray. My French drummer was on the right bank, while this thumpin’ mess was destroying my eardrums and hopes for a truly great musical of our times.