on January 20, 2011
Wow! What an outstanding concert presentation of this opera-like musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel "Les Miserables", which has been a worldwide sensation for over 25 years. This 25th anniversary concert, taped on October 3, 2010 before a wildly enthusiastic audience of several thousand at the cavernous O2 Arena in London, was simply superb--the production values (state-of-the-art lighting, audio, and video), the fantastic talent assembled on the stage, including performers from several companies--all in costume--and a huge back-up chorus all contributed to an amazing performance.
Notable among the cast were Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, Lea Salonga as Fantine, Katie Hall as Cosette, and Norm Lewis as Javert. Much unfair criticism has been heaped upon pop singer Nick Jonas, who plays the part of Marius, the young student who falls in love with, and eventually marries, Cosette. While his voice is not operatic (while the other cast members have such voices), his voice is nonetheless fairly good and with his boyish good looks, he is very convincing as the young idealistic student who becomes the love interest of Cosette.
The grand finale alone is the worth the price of the BD: members of the original cast (and other previous and current cast members) sing duets and medleys, including four different Valjeans, all incredibly awesome. Their performance of "Bring Him Home" will bring tears to your eyes.
The Blu-ray Disc's video and audio are both excellent--you will not be disappointed in the sharp, pristine video and the impressive, full audio. If you have a surround-sound system, you are in for a real treat.
Also, this BD, which I ordered from Amazon.uk, is region-free: It will play flawlessly on Region A (U.S. & Canada) Blu-ray players. I live in Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA--and this BD, which is not yet available on Amazon in the U.S., was a bargain, less than $23-US, including shipping.
This BD is a keeper--you will watch it over and over again. Highly recommended!
on February 22, 2011
Having seen this show several times both in London and on tour in the US, it was a huge treat to be able to experience this 25th Anniversary Performance from the O2 Arena. I was fortunate enough to see it in a US theatre the one night it played a few weeks after this was recorded. This show sold out the gigantic O2 so quickly they added a second show, which also sold out. It was beamed live to theatres around the UK. And it just won "Theatre Event of the Year" in the Whatsonstage Theatregoers Choice Awards. I am delighted that they decided to make it available for Region 1. As wonderful as the 10th Anniversary show was, this is better in some ways. The lighting, the sets and projections, the lush orchestrations and the vast audience that just electrified the air add to the whole experience.
This was an incredible group of performers that still gives me chills when I recall it. Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, is trained as as operatic tenor. He was spectacular in every way. He shows a very supple vocal range. He can hit & hold the high soft notes & belt out the big showstoppers with equal dexterity. I really do like Lea Solonga but felt she was just a little weak as Fantine. (She was killer as Eponine on the 10th.) Norm Lewis was a wonderfully wicked yet human Javert. His baritone strong & menacing & yet soft & soulful as he wrestles his conscience and loses. Katie Hall was a convincing as Cosette. Nick Jonas, in a bit of "stunt casting" that went badly awry, was Marius. It was glaringly apparent when matched with multi-award winning West End & Broadway veterans. Though he did get better. (This actually played two nights in the UK October 2-3. This is a compilation.) Canadian, Ramin Karimloo as Enjoras, the student leader, was impeccable. He has previously played this role & that of Marius. He's starred as the Phantom in London & is now playing the role in the sequel, Love Never Dies. (He has already twice been voted "Best Actor in a Musical" & is nominated for an Olivier this year for the same role.) Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway obviously enjoyed their time as the Thernadiers, which made them great fun to watch. The encores must be mentioned again. They were incomparable to anything I've every seen. If you love Les Mis, you will love this show. Don't try to compare it with the 10th. With its rich new orchestrations, new sets, some changes in the lyrics and slight yet clarifying changes in the show, it stands alone.
on March 15, 2011
Having easily watched the 10th Anniversary DVD over a hundred times, I was very anxious to see the 25th Anniversary. The first time I watched it, I was disappointed. But after watching it again - and again - those disappointments all vanished. There's a learning curve that we 10th-Anniversary idolizers have to go through.
From the very beginning I had complaints: What are those big screens up there? This isn't a football game! It's disorienting! Can't they tell a simple story without all this gimmickry? And why are the overhead lights moving? Who would want to sit under those big contraptions? Some of the songs sounded different. It seemed that they cut-out some material, making the story-line harder to follow. But now all is forgiven. I feel this 25th Anniversary production is wonderful. Here are some random observations:
The song "One Day More" is (in my opinion) the most wondrous song in all of musical theater history. All the different characters come together at the end of the first act and in their own voices, singing their own songs, assert their reason for living. I agree with another reviewer that this was not exactly pristine. But with everybody expressing their own wills and singing their own words at the same time, it's SUPPOSED to be a bit cacophonous. Even the 10th Anniversary had some messiness in it.
I thought the 25th storyline was more clear in the scene with the bishop, because the silver candle-holders were actually handed to Valjean, however it was less clear in explaining how a runaway cart was lifted by Valjean and how another man was arrested as a Valjean look-alike.
The 25th was special in showing Valjean tearing-up his yellow card and declaring that "another story must begin". Then the stage went dark and the name "Les Miserables" displayed on the screen. This suggested that the play was only now beginning - that everything before was just prologue, just exposition. Wonderful touch! (Disney is also good at movingly introducing the title after an extended prologue - especially with the movie Pocohontas.)
Like another reviewer, I too jumped off the couch and ran up to the screen when I saw the old Valjean from the 10th Anniversary appear on stage. When he later stepped forward, I thought he was going to thank the audience, but instead the soft sounds of "Bring him home" began in the orchestra and I was ecstatic. It was also wonderful to see the 10th Marius, as ebullient and powerful as ever. It was touching to see the 10th innkeeper, such an endearing-looking man. I had trouble recognizing the others. Was the 10th Inspector there under that beard?
Speaking of the innkeeper, the 25th innkeeper was made to look evil whereas the 10th was made to just look seedy. Both were great. However I preferred the 10th "Master of the House" song because Valjean and the others could be seen sitting in the background laughing and clapping and singing along. It was like an intermission. I also thought the 10th "One Day More" was extra touching because Valjean and the Inspector were standing next to each other.
The 25th Fantine was just magical. I could not look at her face during her solo after she got fired - her expressions were that powerful. I was surprised at the difference in height between Fantine and her boss and wondered if he might be wearing 'elevator shoes'.
The 25th little boy (Gavroche?) was very special. He enunciated so clearly while maintaining that impish smile.
I was grateful to see the actual composer, lyricist and producer come on stage. I feel so indebted to them for having brought such joy into my life.
One last thought: there is a depth to this work that becomes more apparent on multiple viewings. Be SURE to enable subtitles so you can read what they are singing, otherwise the learning curve will be much longer than it need be.
on March 3, 2011
So I am a huge fan of this show, I have multiple recordings and for years loved watching the 10th Anniversary Dream Cast concert. I was so excited when I saw this was coming on Blu Ray and I bought it without even watching any previews or reading any reviews of the actual London concert.
Is it a good concert? Yes. The staging is impressive and the Blu Ray treatment gives you flawless video and audio quality. The performances are good but nothing like the stellar performances of the Dream Cast.
There are a few notable exceptions, I will keep this disc and treasure it for Lea Salongas performance as Fantine. Her pristine voice and great acting ability knock her performances out of the park. A great treat to see her 15 years after the Dream Cast going from Eponine to Fantine . And speaking of the Eponine, Samantha Barks did an amazing job in that role. She was completely unknown to me before this and had huge shoes to fill in my mind and to my shock and immense pleasure she did just that. The last note in On My Own had me standing up and cheering. I won't say she is better than Lea Salonga in that role but she absolutely holds her own.
Nick Jonas is a complete distraction in this show. His Marius has none of the depth that previous performers have given that role. His singing skills are not up to par with the material. Being fair though he did do a DECENT job on Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, but it no way has the impact that the song normally has on me. He brings down many of rousing anthems and really keeps them from reaching the soaring heights they normally would like. One Day More is the song most affected by his lackluster performance but Red and Black and Do You Hear The People Sing are equally watered down.
There is a saving grace on this disc and that is the finale after the show ends. They bring back the original 1985 cast for One Day More and it had me leaping out of my seat. Also the original Valjean sing Bring Him Home with his contemporary was quite stirring. Having Michael Ball on the stage reprising his role as Marius reminded me how it should have been.
There are some things on this disc that are magical and worth owning but as a whole it was flawed in my opinion.
So the end result is this, I will be keeping the blu ray for Lea Salonga and Samantha Banks performances however I will also be ordering the 10th Anniversary DVD which has finally been re-released after being out of print for many years.
My wish as I said in the title of this review is that the 10th Anniversary Concert got the blu ray treatment.
on December 29, 2010
Every performance (save one) was impeccable. Many of the performers rival and in some cases surpass those of the 10th Anniversary Dreamcast. Seeing the show on the big screen with a bigger sound system really made the nuances of the genius score come to life. I am thrilled that it is finally on DVD! The use of soft split screens to be able to watch multiple performers' reactions and "dialog" was a wise creative decision.
The stunning Norm Lewis, whose subtle facial expressions and genuine passion commanded the stage/screen, sang Javert with such power and depth that I actually, for the first time, empathized with his character. Alife Boe's Val Jean was brilliant, with an operatic quality. Samantha Barks shined as Eponine with a stunning vocal performance. Besides being delicious eye-candy, Ramin Karimloo was a standout with his brilliant portrayal of Enjolras. I didn't quite understand the decision of casting Nick Jonas as Marius. He really gave it his all and had some nice moments in the sweeter songs, but lacked the vocal fullness and attack for the more powerful songs. It was adequate but uncomfortably contrasted by his much stronger, seasoned cast mates.
The occasional cut to various instrumental highlights was a wonderful addition and seamlessly included the orchestra as an important part of the ensemble. The encores with the original cast, backed by a chorus of hundreds was breathtaking (particularly when Michael Ball reprised Marius in "One Day More" the way it should be sung. If you're a Les Mis fan, this movie is a must.
on March 6, 2011
Granted, there are several stunning moments by this cast, most notably when Alfie Boe brings down the house with his version of "Bring Him Home" and again when Boe,Colm Wilkinson and two current Jean ValJeans sing that song together.
But the main fly in the ointment was the miscasting of pop singer Nick Jonas as Marius...a gaffe made all the more obvious when Michael Ball, a stellar Marius in the show's earlier days (including the 10th anniversary), made an appearance during the delightful encore and reminded everyone what Marius' voice SHOULD sound like.
on March 12, 2011
It's amazing to me to see so many differing opinions on these two concerts of a show most all who are writing adore in one way or another. To say one is MUCH better than the other is strange to me. Being a fan of the show, I find it impossible not to enjoy both to a very high degree. To dislike one or the other is incomprehensible to me. Remember, I am non-expert fan of Les Miserables....not unlike most who are reading (and writing) these reviews.
I prefer the 25th Anniversary concert because of the technically superior audio and video production of a modern DVD. Actually, I have not seen the DVD - I purchased the Blu-ray, which is EXCELLENT. This brings up a point I think important for the reader who is weighing a purchasing decision: writing a critical review of the DVD/Blu-ray based on a viewing on PBS television is not quite fair. I have not seen this on television, but from past experiences, what is broadcast on PBS is often missing content and/or the sound is not nearly as well re-produced. If watching on a television with no special sound (no amplified 5.1 setup), then the 25th Anniversary DVD edition loses one big advantage. It still has superior video in any setup though.
A little perspective: the 10th Anniversary is called "The Dream Cast". The 25th Anniversary was not called "The Dream Cast 2.0". They are 15 years apart. The Dream Cast was presented during the show's heyday. Today, Les Miserables has lost popularity and isn't performed anywhere near as many times live as it was back in the day. With both concert versions, the producers have apparently chosen to select performers who have had a relatively recent history with the show. After 25 years, how do you come up with another "Dream Cast"? This is a major disadvantage for the 25th Anniversary version, and all things considered, I think they did a spectacular job in selecting the newer cast.
Now, what about the actual performances?
Valjean - Colm Wilkinson & Alfie Boe:
Nobody "owns" a role more than Colm Wilkinson does playing Valjean. This is not undeserved because he is simply awesome in the role. In attempting to create a newer version of a Les Miserables Anniversary concert without Colm Wilkinson in the lead, is a daunting task I wouldn't want. The producers found and were able to get Alfie Boe, and I think they found the perfect man for the job. His rendition is different but not so much that it seems out of place. Alfie's voice, without considering the role, is my preference over Colm's. I like Colm in the role better - he's Valjean (and vocally, he's no slouch). But Alfie blew me away this time around and is perfect for this updated version of the concert.
Javert - Philip Quast & Norm Lewis
Similar to Colm Wilkinson as Valjean, Philip Quast "looks" the part of Javert. He's got a lot more than that going for him though. His version of `Stars' is 2nd to none. Add to that, Javert is my favorite character in Les Miserables. Norm Lewis doesn't look like anyone's version of a "Javert". After watching his performance several times though, he is becoming very much a "Javert" for me. His portrayal is every bit as resolute as any. His singing chops, though a bit different, are growing on me even faster than his evolving "Javert-ness". His `Stars', along with his suicide, are highlights of the concert.....very much like any excellent Les Miserables show.
Fantine - Ruthie Henshall & Lea Salonga
Every performance I have ever seen of Fantine has been outstanding (or at least my memory says so). Having owned the 10th Anniversary VHS tape - and later the DVD, I equate Fantine with Ruthie Henshall. Nothing has changed that view to this day. I would say that is VERY high praise of Ruthie (and not undeserved). Lea Salonga, like Norm Lewis fighting against "cast" or stereotyping, is even better though. I am floored by how good she is. Not because she is different, but because she becomes Fantine and makes me feel everything the director wants us to feel....and she does it with a style of voice I am more drawn to. One thing I like about her is the way she finishes songs. She holds the last note as long and as clearly as anyone, and the clarity in which she finishes the lyric adds an impact to not only the lyric but the entire meaning of the song. Some say she over-emphasizes words, but the impact she gives to meaningful lyrics is something no one has ever been able to duplicate (for me).
Eponine - Lea Salonga & Samantha Barks
What more can be said about Lea Salonga? How much time do we have? Eponine is my 2nd favorite character in Les Miserables, and like the performances of Fantine, I have never been disappointed by an actress/singer who I have seen live or heard professionally recorded. Anyone know who played Eponine in London around October 2009? Whoever she was, she was awesome and reminded me of the original Eponine, Frances Ruffelle. Lea Salonga's Eponine is my preferred choice though (every bit as good as her Fantine too). Listen to the last half of `On My Own' from the 10th Anniversary concert for another example of what I mentioned above about finishing a song. Wow. Samantha Barks was unknown to me, and she pretty much blew me away as Eponine. When it's time to let the emotion of the song go, she lets it fly with the best of them. Her voice is clear and powerful, and her Eponine fits in perfectly well with all the other fantastic performances I have witnessed.
Marius - Michael Ball & Nick Jonas
Ah, the one everyone either loves or hates. Michael Ball is deservedly the greatest Marius anyone has ever heard - there is no competition and no comparison. Nick Jonas takes a ton of heat for "not measuring up" to any of the current cast, let alone to Michael Ball. I don't disagree. However, if you have made it this far, you know my opinion on everyone in the cast is pretty high. Nick Jonas was not brought in for all the 12-year olds that will be watching. He actually had an affiliation with the show. And not just playing Gavroche as a small child....he actually played Marius in the West End in London. Maybe that was a bit of a ticket-inducing ploy (to 12-year olds), but I think his appearance in a concert version of the show is not wholly appalling. I would like to get reviews of 100 people who have never heard of him. My bet is the bulk of them would not be nearly as brutal as many here. He's not great, I get that. He does do a fine job in areas though. His `Empty Chairs and Empty Tables' compares in no way to that of Michael Ball's. But on its own merit the performance is completely watchable, if not quite good.
Cosette - Judy Kuhn & Katie Hall
Never cared for this role. Don't quite know why. In re-watching the 10th Anniversary concert recently, Judy Kuhn's voice impressed me. I am still not impacted by the songs in the same manner as most of the others though. Katie Hall pretty much was the same - that is, she was impressive: very nice voice but songs still don't quite work for me.
I will stop with the individual comparisons - except to say I preferred the Thernardier's in the 10th Anniversary version. Recall, Jenny Galloway reprised her role in the 25th Anniversary - and was just as good a Mrs. Thernardier. Also, the two actors who played Enjorlas (Michael Maguire & Ramin Karimloo) were both excellent in their respective concerts.
I guess I should wrap this up. One thing I want to address is some of the silly or thoughtless comments some make when criticizing. To say Nick Jonas ruined the entire show is just shameful and discreditable. How many minutes is he on screen? To say Lea Salonga is too old to play Fantine is ridiculous. She was all of 39. Patti LuPone, who originated the role, was 36 when she started playing Fantine. Judy Kuhn, who played Cosette in the Dream Cast, was 37....37 as Cosette...you know, Fantine's daughter. She returned to Les Miserables (on Broadway) as Fantine at 49!
People bring enough preconceptions on their own....unreasonable comments don't help anyone and do a disservice to everyone.
on February 23, 2011
The important thing to note is that every cast will differ a little. Every broadway/east end fan knows this. That said, many of us who love the Dream Cast from the 10th Anniversary DVD have probably seen the same DVD countless times in the past 15 years.
So this entirely new cast with their own interpretation will take getting used to. Many of them are good such as Norm Lewis as Javire, Samantha Barks as Eponine, they are 2 of the shining standouts from this cast. Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean is good too but will take getting used to. Quite a different Jean Valjean than I'm used to.
Everyone else is good or passable with 1 exception. Nick Jonas as Marius is TERRIBLE!!! (Hence the 4 stars instead of 5 stars). He is one of the better looking Marius' I've seen BUT he has only one expression throughout the entire show. Be it sorrow of happiness or anger he has that one constipated look on his face. His voice is very weak, this is very very obvious when you hear the other men at the barricades. Also the trio melody of Marius, Eponine, Cosette again its painfully obvious that there is absolutely no strength behind his voice. The solo "Empty Chairs and Empty tables" is usually very moving, but not when Nick Jonas sings it.
Despite that singular casting mistake, this is still worth the buy especially if you love Les Miserables. It shows you a slightly different interpretation of the songs/show which theater goers love. Its worth the buy. Also, judge for yourself if Nick really is as bad as I say. (I'm pretty sure most will agree with my opinion).
on March 6, 2011
A clearly exciting night and a truly enjoyable concert style performance of Les Miserables. Much has been made in the commentary about the miscasting of Nick Jonas, and there is much to be said on that -- though it is also worth noting that Jonas played in Les Miserable's original Broadway run back in 2003, playing Gavroche, so I was willing to cut him a bit of slack. That said, lacking the controlled diaphragm of the rest of the cast made him stand out for his lacks, sadly.
Beyond that, while there was perhaps too much hamminess in some of the emoting, it was in the end an extraordinary production. If you like this musical (or just the music from it), this would be a good choice. If you aren't familiar, the 10th anniversary is probably a better choice as a start.
on March 13, 2011
The production was very well done, and I am happy that I watched it. However, I am so glad that I own the 1998 ORIGINAL 10th anniversary Dream Cast DVD, which I purchased any years ago. What I really liked about the 10th Anniversary production is that the big screens in the back had information introducing the scenes, so it was easier for those who don't know the story line to follow what was going on. Also, those screens showed scenes from the play, so there was a lot more impact - especially when it showed the barricade from one of the plays when there were so many deaths. There was just too much left out of this production. Plus, Nick Jonas simply did not have the vocal range needed for Marius; he was the weak link in this production. I am wondering why he was chosen to do this part (?)
I just discovered that the ORIGINAL 10th Anniversary 1998 DVD release of "Les Miserables - The Dream Cast in Concert" is no longer available new. It is available used on Amazon from third party sellers for over $100.00! I understand that the subsequent releases of this DVD are not nearly as good in quality as the original and also have some parts missing. So, if you happen to own the original (as I do), take good care of it, unless you want to spend a lot of money to replace it! Also, this original can be rented from Netflix.