Les Misérables has been around for a long time, pleasing audiences around the world - its songs are recorded by an vast array of singers and its impact on audiences is justifiably powerful. Though this filming of the concert production of the musical as performed at London's O2 Arena in January 2010 is hailed as the 25th anniversary of the musical, it is too frequently forgotten that the show, based on the Victor Hugo novel, was originally written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil with Jean-Marc Natel and produced in Paris, France in 1980 (it closed after 3 months). This English Adaptation is by Trevor Nunn and John Caird (with additional material by James Fenton) was brought to England and the world through the efforts of Cameron MacKintosh in 1985.
The concert version is performed with orchestra and chorus in the top of the platforms in O2 Arena and the characters in the musical are in costume standing before microphones at the edge of the performing structure. The light crew performs spectacular effects with the enormous facilities at this 23,000 seat arena. Some action is projected on screens above the performers (the lifting of the cart by Valjean, the barricade, etc) and at other times the screens offer the audience huge close-up view of the performers. It works well under the direction of Nick Morris. The celebration of the birthday of the show is accompanied by prolonged appearances by past members of casts of the show, a light show, and much confetti and self congratulation speeches.
As for the production itself it is populate by a generally strong cast. Alfie Boe, a 37 year old British tenor who studied opera but now sings the big demanding musicals, is a very fine Jean Valjean. Norm Lewis, and American actor/baritone is one of the strongest Jauverts on record: he is a talent to watch. Lea Salonga brings years of experience to her interpretation of Fantine, Samantha Banks is a very strong Eponine, the Iranian-born Canadian musical theater singing actor Ramin Karimloo makes a striking impression in the role of Enjolras (he has been playing the role of Phantom in the 'Phantom of the Opera' in England for years), but the performance of Katie Hall as Cosette sounds strained, the Monsieur Thénardier of Matt Lucas is completely unfocused (Jenny Galloway fares better as Madame Thénardier), and it is obvious the producers elected to play to the young audience by miscasting pop star Nick Jonas as Marius: he tries very hard but is out of his league here.
In all, this is an entertaining memento of a birthday celebration - heavy on audience screaming and special party effects - and rewards the creators of this lasting fine musical with due respect. Grady Harp, February 11
on March 7, 2011
I agree with many of the reviewers on the absolute stunning performances of many of the roles, particularly Valjean and Javert -- while Colm Wilkinson is still my #1 fav, there was a tenderness in the way Alfie Boe played and sang the role of Valjean, and Norm Lewis ("Javert") was INTENSE and did a wonderful interpretation of that role. Also, Lea Salonga was just amazing.
That said, why I didn't rate this "5 stars" was because of some pretty big misses. Nick Jonas played the role of Marius as well as Michael Ball if not better, but his singing just could not come close to what Ball brought to the stage: he appeared to miss so many notes that I began to feel like an "American Idol" judge, wanting to urge him to stick to pop music. The orchestra was poorly balanced, with brass absolutely slaying the strings and woodwinds, leaving some very tender and moving countermelodies almost totally unheard.
In the end, though I totally embraced Alfie Boe as the central character and would pay big bucks to see him sing this role, this felt like a "let's bring back Les Mis but freshen it up a bit" and that they did. I enjoyed watching it, but if I were to reach on the shelf for a version I truly enjoy, it would be the 10th Anniversary Edition.
on September 12, 2011
I accept that I am a biased fan. I've listened to a variety of Les Mis recordings and have seen a few different productions but I have never found anything to be on par with the Tenth Anniversay Concert--titled by fans the, "Dream Cast". At first, I accepted nothing but that monumental concert, and it greatly inhibited my ability to enjoy other renditions and interpritations. Over the years however, I have learned not to compare everything to the TAC--it's not fair to myself, and it is ultimately unfair to the show, which is still strong today. To anchor it down to a past performance would be wrong, and while I will always use TAC as a basis for comparison, I am now more readily able to take a good show for what it's worth and just accept that nothing will top the mental shrine i've built around the TAC. Naturally, I had high hopes for the 25th concert. Unfortunately, after having watched it a few times and after having contemplated it for a while, I feel as though my expectations were let down. Now, I won't completely degrade this show--there are some performances that are really fantastic--but as a whole, It just doesn't work. But before I delve into the bad, let me highlight the good:
-Alfie Boe. Wilkinson still remains the quintisential Valjean in my mind and his interpritation of the character will never be matched. However, I can appreciate when a good thing comes along, and Boe is more than a good thing: he's fantastic. His operatic voice gives him an edge over some past Valjeans(Wilkinson excluded), and his interpritation of Valjean was so different from Colm's that comparing them seems silly. Boe's Valjean is subdued and humble, and his performance is more subtle. This is a stark constrast to Wilkinson's Valjean, who is vocal and exhuberant without being overworked. In "Bring him Home", Boe adresses God with humility and without presumption, keeping his composure until the last few moments of the song. Wilkinson's legendary performance of the same song paints a very different portrait: his his outright pleading with God, perhaps seconds away from falling to his knees and begging to save this boy(even if that means that he will have to learn to let his daughter go). What I love about these two is that both paint a believeable character and unlike some other Valjeans, Boe's Valjean is not an attempt at carbon copying the original, which in turn makes his performances very interesting to watch. Colm is still Valjean, but Boe really did a comendable job with this role.
-Ramin Karimloo. It probably goes without saying, but Ramin is fantastic in this show. He brings all of the raw intensity to Enjolras without being too loud or forceful.
-Jenny Galloway. This woman is not praised enough. I was overjoyed to see her, the one and only Mrs.Thenardier in my mind. She hasn't lost a thing, and she really helped carry the show along.
-Lea Salonga. I have mixed opinions about her performance here, which came as a surprise to me because I'm really a big fan of hers. Her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" in this concert was just too heavy handed to my ears. It was too forced, too loud, and without the subtle intricacies I've heard her handle this song with in different recordings. Her rendition of "Come to Me" however was superbly done, as was her preformance in the "Epilouge".
-The 1985 cast reunion. It was nice to see the old pros together again, and I'm amazed at how well some of their voices have aged.
-The Valjean Quartet. Wilkinson made this song. At 67 years old, he was still the most easily distinguishable voice amongst the bunch, with his wonderfully expressive voice. Obviously, his voice isn't as strong as it was. But darn it all if he doesn't sound amazing for his age. It was nicely arranged too, though at times all four voices could be a little over whelming(I think JoJ and Barrowman should have pulled back a bit--they almost sounded like they were shouting).
Now for the "half-empty" part.
-Norm Lewis. I know, I know--some people will curse and shout at me for this. However, I was really dissapointed in Lewis's performance in this concert. I mean, I know the guy can sing. He's done brilliant work in Sweeney Todd and in "Sondheim on Sondheim". He even rocked "The Little Mermaid". But as Javert, Lewis just doesn't work. He shouts more than he sings, and it really seemed like Sweeney Todd playing Javert. The character of Javert is perhaps my favorite in all of Les Mis. During the musical, we're supposed to see this character evolve, going from a seemingly apathetic military man to a conflicted soul. There needs to be a progession during all the numbers where we see this change coming about, and Lewis just didn't do this. He was "on" all the time, and I thought he was going to pop a vein in "The Confrontation". I like Lewis, but I don't like Lewis in this. I will say to his credit, the musical accompaniment hindered him during some numbers. Which brings me to my next point:
-Musical arrangment and orchestra. It was really off during this show. Sometimes the singer's mikes were too loud and overwhelmed the music, and sometimes the music was too fast or choppy. The music needs to support the voices of the singers, not hinder them. It's sad that for the 25th anniversary of this monumental show that the musical accompaniment wasn't better directed.
-"One Day More". This is a troublesome song to begin with. If the finale of the number isn't done properly, it sounds like a horrendous cacaphony of mismatched voices. "One Day More" in this show unfortunately fell into this trap. The beauty of this number has always been that, despite singing different verses, all of the singers somehow blend together. In this show, it was conspiculously obvious that several lyrics were being tossed around and it was dizzying.
-Nick Jonas. I won't hate on Nick Jonas, becasue he was actual better than I expected him to be. I will however hate on the casting director in charge of putting together the singers for this concert. Nick Jonas is often defended as "singing well for his age" and "doing the best he could with what he had". Both of these are absolutely true. However, for a 25th anniversary, you can't cast someone in a main role who "does the best with their limited voice" or "sings well for being a pop star". The poor kid was terribly outmatched on stage and, while he carried himself through to the best of his abilities, it really hurt the overall production. At times he overacts his character, no doubt trying to make-up for the limits of his voice with a moving performance. Unfortunately, it was so obivously overdone that it just didn't work. The kid isn't a horrendous singer--infact, I think he is a great deal better than any of us familiar with his Jonas Brother's work thought. But "being better than bad" isn't good enough for what is perhaps the best musical of all time.
-So-so rest of the cast. Samantha Barks wasn't bad, wasn't fantastic. The most mermorable things about her performance is her bizzar phrasing in "On My Own", a number she overacted in parts where she should have brought her voice back and underacted in parts where she should have given more. The girl can act with her face, but she has yet to master acting with her voice. She's young, and understandably she's not going to be a pro like Lea Salonga. So she was okay, but not great, and I don't she was 25th anniversary great. Similarily, Katie Hall is okay but not great. When discussing this with people who have a more positive opinion of this production, the number one phrase I hear tossed around is, "good for their age". Yes, Nick Jonas, Samantha Barks, and Katie Hall are all good for their age and yes, there ages are close to the ages of the characters they portray. But in a musical, skill takes precendent over matchign ages. All three of these singers are okay, but nowhere near skilled enough with their acting and vocal techniques to justify their casting in this production.
So overall, this was a "meh" attempt at what should have been a tribute to one of the greatest musical ever written. There were highs and lows, and unfortunately they didn't balance eachother out.
on March 7, 2011
As much as I have loved Les Miserables over the last 25 years I think this concert was about the best version I have seen and heard. I have the DVD on order (saw the show on PBS last night) but I bought the 2010 cast album thinking it was a recording of the concert. I now realise my mistake. Although the album is good it does not compare to the concert that we saw last night on PBS. I hope that someone in their infinite wisdom will wake up and say, "Oh my God we could sell a million of these CD's"
on March 20, 2011
The four stars are actually because of the bonus material. Three Jean Valjean singing "Bring Him Home" including Colm Wilkinson was a thrill to see. The original London cast performing "One Day More" was spectacular. If only the rest of the concert was that thrilling and exciting. For some reason, the perfomrances just seemed good, but not great. Let's face it, any performance of Les Miserables cannot be terrible because of the wonderful score. However, there are some recordings and concerts that are better than others. After watching hte original London Cast perform "One Day More", I would have rather have seen them perform the concert. The 10th Anniversary Concert cast was far better. Even Lea, the original Kim from Miss Saigon, was better 15 years ago as Eponine than she was as Fantine. Ncik Jonas gave the best performance he could as Marius, but no one can do it better than Michael Ball. Jenny Galloway appeared in both the 10th and 25th concert, but she seemed far better and more enthusiastic in the 10th concert. So, while this was very entertaining, the 10th anniversary concert was better in terms of casting and performance. The one thing I like about this concert is the camera angles, closeups, and shots. But, get the 10th Anniversary concert instead.
on March 9, 2011
I love Les Mis, overall I will say that most of the performances were moving, there were several times during the program where I needed a tissue. The music always moves me to tears. Awesome performances, except for Nick Jonas, what were they thinking when they thought it would be a good idea to put this pathetic ameteur on stage with true professionals? With his weak voice and pained expression, it was pitiful to watch and just as painful to listen to. I wouldn't let it ruin my overall impression though. This is why I only gave 4 stars, ignore the meak and meager Jonas and you get 5. The encore was spine-chilling, the voices of the 4 Valjean's were stunning together, more crying from me here. Highly recommended.
on February 20, 2012
I just keep replaying this, wearing my headset and listening to it over and over. It's amazing.
*** YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP THIS RANT ***
Long story short on how I learned about this amazing show (He's lying, it's still kind of long).
I heard all the talk a while ago about Susan Boyle singing a song "I dreamed a dream" on the X-factor. I Love to Hate Simon Cowell so I had to go see what he's up to and to listen to this song. I was blown away by the song and Susan Boyle's voice, listening to it over and over. Then I decided to go see what this "Les Miserables" was.
I looked it up and still didn't think much about it, but one night I saw it was going to be on PBS and decided to record it. Days, maybe weeks later, I was bored and as I flipped through my recordings and saw Les Miserables. I saw the recording time, and it seemed really long. I didn't know if I wanted to invest that much time into this thing I really had never heard of. Well, I decided to play this "Les Miserables" recording, thinking I'd probably hate it and end up just skipping through to see the song Susan Boyle sung, then deleting it.
WOW, I was so wrong. I watched it non-stop, and then watched it again. I must have watched it 5 times now and listened to it 50 times over the past few months.
I am still amazed at how I went through life without even knowing about this, never mind not seeing it. I would always bring my daughters to new shows or other forms of art as they grew up, but for some reason I totally missed this over the last 26 years.
I have to thank Simon Cowell, Susan Boyle and PBS for eventually leading me to this show. I even donated to PBS for bringing me this (AND Celtic Women).
I have been repeatedly watching my PBS recording of the 25th anniversary version and got tired of the breaks and donation requests (I donated already, geesh), so I ordered this. I also ordered the 10th anniversary edition AND the standard DVD version. My daughters with each get one and I'll keep one to replay one over and over.
*** END RANT ***
Overall, I think the cast was amazing. It was so good that I wanted to do some research just to see who all these amazing people were. Nick did seem to have some tough spots, but he wasn't THAT bad. However, he was a bit overshadowed by the rest of the amazing cast. Lea Salonga and Katie Hall were good. Jenny Galloway, Matt Lucas and Ramin Karimloo were amazing. Even the younger actors Mia Jenkins and Robert Madge did an amazing job, and on such a big stage.
I REALLY enjoyed Norm Lewis and Alfie Bow - all I can say is WOW. But Samantha Banks was WICKED amazing. With all three of these actors, their amazing voices along with their mannerisms and facial expressions really made you *feel* what they were going through, and you could really sympathize with them.
I am SO glad Ms. Banks got that part in the upcoming movie. I can NOT wait to see that.
If you go through life without seeing this, you will have missed something REALLY special. I almost did. Thank gawd I love to hate Simon Cowell...
on September 7, 2011
As most others here have said, Nick Jonas is really lackluster in this production. (I read that his father had a lot to do with getting him on board this version - good connections will always make the world go `round). I would say that there's much to appreciate in the clarity of the image and sound, but the overall emotional impact is not quite as thrilling as the 10th Anniversary production. Besides Jonas being miscast, you have a very (supposed to be) `funny' Thenardier, as apparently Matt Lucas is some sort of `famous' British comedian, though I just didn't get his take on the part - completely the wrong guy. (Please compare Alun Armstrong's version in the 10th Anniversary to see what I mean.)
I was also excited to hear about the planned movie of the musical, wondering who would appear in the cast. You would hope after all the comments here, Cameron Mackintosh would hold his ground. If you've seen the wonderful `Stage By Stage' version that came out just 3 years after Les Miserables opened in London, you will see footage from what I am guessing was an earlier attempt to film the original British cast for a movie version. They obviously decided that this approach was not going to work (for whatever reason)...but I personally enjoy seeing it quite a bit, and I think it would have worked even better with a live audience, warts and all if that be the problem.
Anyway, disappointed as I was to see my favorite musical `downgraded' because of the 25th Anniversary performances of Marius and Thenardier, I am now wondering if, as with Nick Jonas, Cameron is just settling for less, just to get the darn movie financed and done. The Hollywood types are putting on the pressure for more popular names, with the announcement of Hugh Jackman starring as Jean Valjean. I know he has a decent voice (much, much more so than the Jonas kid) and appeared in several London West End productions (you can hear him sing "Oh What A beautiful Mornin'" here [...]), but I'm uncertain about how he will handle the Valjean part. Given the way things are done in Hollywood, I am not too optimistic for the rest of the casting - look at the disasters of Madonna as Evita (but she financed it, so what could you say?) or Gerard Butler in `Phantom of the Opera' (a quote from Entertainment Weekly said, "Prior to his audition, Butler had no professional singing experience and had only taken four voice lessons before singing "The Music of the Night" for Lloyd Webber."). There's a lot going on behind the scenes to get these big projects green lighted, and I'm not surprised...just hoping that Cameron could assert more control than apparently he is able.
on March 8, 2011
I have been a fan of this wonderful musical since the day I first saw it at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle; and have attended every performance that has performed in Seattle since that time (five or six performances? With tickets to see it this coming August when it returns). To me, this musical is truly the greatest ever made!
Inevitably, there will be comparisons between the original cast from the 10th Anniversary Concert and this one; that is to be expected (my review will be along those lines as I have watched the 10th and 25th anniversary performance back-to-back). Trying to meet or exceed the performance of the original cast is almost an impossible task; however, most of the performers rose to the occasion and at least met the performance demands!
There were a few parts where the performances seemed a little weak; I would like to know if this is the recording of the first performance or the second performance, I suspect that fatigue was wearing on a few of the performers toward the end. Alfie Bow (Jean Valjean) and Norm Lewis (Javert)have to put a LOT of energy into their respective parts and I think it was showing toward the end of the show; but, for the encore they had to have found their second wind as they brought their vocal power to full strength! I felt that the parts of Thenardier and his wife were a little on the weak side as well; nothing I can really put my finger on, but it did seem a little underwhelming.
While I know little about the Jonas brothers, other than they are pop singers, I would have to say that casting Nick as Marius was a mistake. While I'm sure that Nick may have a very good voice for pop singing, it is not of the caliber necessary for a stage musical; this became VERY evident when Michael Ball (the original Marius) came on stage for the encore and sang one of his parts. Sorry Nick, you have the looks for the part but you need to concentrate on your voice to get it up to strength for the task of a stage musical.
Saving the best for last, Lea Solonga as Fantine was marvelous!! Lea played the part perfectly, though I do admit to some nostalgia in wanting to have seen her play Eponine one more time (as she did with the original cast).
Overall, even with the few misses, this is a hit and I shall enjoy watching this many times over. The even more exciting part about the disc though was at the end of the credits it was announced that Universal will be making the musical into a movie!!! This is something I have wanted for so long and I'm ecstatic to see it finally come to fruition!
on June 25, 2013
Les Miz is a morality play.
In the Old Testament, God, the Creator of the Universe, feeds the hungry, comforts the broken-hearted, releases the imprisoned, and defends the weak. Justice is equated with mercy. In the New Testament, St. Joseph does not openly condemn Mary. his betrothed, (according to the custom of the times, the Blessed Virgin Mary, being pregnant out of wedlock, would have been stoned to death; her father, according to the Talmud, would have been the one to have to hand her over to the mob) because he was "a righteous man." Again, righteousness is equated with mercy. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells a parable. God separates the sheep from the goats. He turns to the sheep and says to them that when he was hungry, they had fed him, when he was in prison they had visited him, when he was sick, they had nursed him. The sheep were absolutely dumbfounded. "When did we see you hungry and feed you...et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?". Whereupon the Lord God Almighty, King of the Universe, Creator of the heavens and the earth and all flora and fauna therein, informed them that whenever they had performed these acts of kindnesses toward any of the least of these their brethren, they had done it to the Master of the Universe. Heady stuff that. The goats did not fare so well. They were thrown on the trash heap of Gehenna, burned up and forgotten.
There you have it: the moral conflict between Javert (the pseudo-righteous man) who equates justice and righteousness with The Law and Punishment versus Jean Valjean, (the truly righteous man; the sinner redeemed) who equates justice and righteousness with Mercy and Sacrifice and Protection of the Vulnerable.
The 25th Anniversary Concert (Blu-ray) is magnificent. The voices are superb. Superb is an understatement. I was absolutely blown away. Although this event is a concert, all the songs are delivered by members of the London cast. The actors are never out of character. Les Miz is, essentially, an opera. Consequently, if all the songs are sung, the story line remains intact. And all the songs are sung.
The first time I saw this performance, I downloaded it on my DVR--all 280 minutes of it--from PBS. I could not bring myself to erase it . I needed the minutes, so I finally ordered the Blu-ray version from Amazon. I still did not dare to erase anything until I viewed the DVD and was absolutely certain every minute was included. You see, at the end, after the curtain calls, the original cast (there have been 4 consecutive casts for the long-running London production) came out. The audience went wild. THEN the four tenors who sang the John Valjean part came out and sang "Bring Him Home". THEN, hundreds of young people who have participated in school productions marched in singing the stirring call to revolution. It was truly a night to remember, and I have not told you the half of it. The original playrights from France were there. All that was missing was Victor Hugo, risen from the grave, eager to see what West End London hath wrought with his masterpiece. Best of all, the entirety was recorded on Blu-ray with crisp, sharp video and audio. I erased the tv version and gained my 280 minutes. Without regret. BECAUSE....
Not only did I NOT have to convert dollars into pounds, cross the Atlantic Ocean, reserve a London hotel room, beg the concierge to scalp me some amphitheater tickets, hail a London taxi and tip people to see this historic event, I saw it in my own front row seat, at my own convenience, in my own living room. A bargain? No. A STEAL !!