on June 27, 2000
The Original London Cast and Original Broadway Cast recordings were the first English recordings of Les Misérables. Each has it's strengths and weaknesses. For instance:
The Conducting) LONDON is best. The conducting is slower in the London version. Some listeners think that this sacrifices dramatic tension, but the slower speed brings out a hundred details that you never hear on other recordings.
Sound Quality) BROADWAY is best. The London recording has very good sound, but Broadway's sound is more sharp and focused.
Jean Valjean) TIE. Colm Wilkinson sings the role of Valjean on both recordings. His voice is a bit unsteady, but his acting is perfect. And he is IMMEASURABLY better on these two recordings than he was at the Tenth Anniversary Concert.
Javert) LONDON. Roger Allam has a strong, clear voice, and uses it well in Javert's solos. Terrance Mann has more trouble with his solos, but manages to pull through in the rest of the Broadway recording. Both of them are decent actors, but neither of them can touch Philip Quast, who will always be THE Javert.
Fantine) LONDON. Patti LuPone is one of the few Fantine's who sings the role instead of wailing it. And she does more than just sing it. If LuPone's "I Dreamed a Dream" doesn't bring you close to tears, you have a stone heart. Randy Graff on the Broadway recording leaves a lot to be desired, but isn't nearly as bad as Ruthie Henshall in the Tenth Anniversary Concert.
Marius) LONDON! Michael Ball was the first and the definitive Marius. His singing and acting are great, and he makes a potentially sentimental character believable and even likeable. Nowhere does David Bryant on the Broadway recording come close to matching him. Bryant isn't as bad as some people say, but he does little more than sing the notes.
Enjolras) BROADWAY! David Burt on the London recording does a very good job. His voice is light but pleasant, and he is able to sound sufficiently heroic. But Michael Maguire on the Broadway recording is in a different league all together. His entrance in "One Day More" is spine-tingling, as is his opening in "Do You Hear the People Sing?" Neither of these singers come even close to matching Anthony Warlow's Enjolras on the Complete Symphonic Recording, though.
Thenardier) LONDON. There is nothing wrong with Leo Burmester on the Broadway recording. Alun Armstrong, however, does better at conveying the sinister aspect of the rogue innkeeper. And his excellent Cockney accent doesn't hurt either.
Eponine) BROADWAY. Frances Ruffelle sings Eponine on both recordings. Her voice is more refined on the London recording, but she sounds more urgent and exciting on the Broadway. She is excellent on both of them, though.
Cosette) LONDON. There isn't much difference between the way London's Rebecca Caine and Broadway's Judy Kuhn sing Cosette. In fact, Judy Kuhn might be a hair better. What set's the London version in front of the Broadway version is that Cosette gets her own song on the London. Her solo, "I saw him once", makes Cosette's character just a little less shallow.
Well, there you have it. The Original Broadway Cast is in my opinion not quite as good as the London Cast, but both recordings are very good. Ultimately, you will have to chose for yourself which (if either) to get.
on February 12, 2004
Les Miserables is one of the greatest musicals of all time, so this is a must-have for theater lovers.
The actors in this cast are all good (Colm Wilkinson, Terrence Mann, etc.), though it is understandable that comparisons are inevitable, especially since different actors have played the roles in different recordings. I, too, have preferences. For the role of Marius, I prefer Michael Ball -- to me, he is 'it'. For the role of Cosette, it's Judy Kuhn. And for the controversial role of Eponine, I prefer Lea Salonga. Why? For the simple reason that based on what all the Eponine players have shown, not only is she the best singer (miles apart from Frances and Kaho), she's also the best actress. (Not a surprise. Prior to doing the anniversary concert recording, Lea Had played the role on Broadway and on the West End to rave critical reviews.) Lea's Eponine is more intense, has more depth, and is more felt. She's also more effective in getting the audience to empathize with her. Frances does a great job, of course, and has been recognized for it -- good for her! -- but Lea gives the role more than just character; she gives it PRESENCE. In the past, people took the role of Eponine for granted -- everything was all about Valjean and Javert, sometimes extending to Marius and Cossette. With Lea joining the cast, people have actually started noticing Eponine. Lea Salonga has given the character the recognition it deserves.
Orchestration-wise, I prefer this version over the London recording. The faster beat makes the movements more exciting.
Overall, this is an excellent recording and one that you should definitely get. But don't forget the anniversary concert set (it has the best cast -- the "dream cast" indeed) and the complete symphonic version (which has all the music and songs) --they're the most important Les Miserables recordings.
on June 30, 2005
I've been a huge fan of Les Misérables for many years now, and while I do not own every version, I do have both the Original London and Broadway Recordings, and I have heard selections from the Complete Symphonic Recording (CSR) and the Tenth Anniversary Recording (TAR). Before I break it down by character, let me just say that any recording of Les Misérables is worth your money, even the highlight recordings are enjoyable.
Orchestrations - London. The Broadway recording is fuller and clearer, however, it is also a lot more rushed. Now, for certain songs like "One Day More", that works, but at other times it can be a problem. The orchestrations on London seem more refined, they're slower and you have to opportunity to catch more and experience it better.
Jean Valjean - London. Colm Wilkinson is the definitive Valjean, and plays him on all of the recordings with the exception of the Complete Symphonic Recording. On Broadway he is rushed too much, he speaks quickly, and tends to say every word like it is its own sentence; it ruined "What Have I Done?" for me. What makes Wilkinson the best Valjean, while he is good in the TAR, is exemplified in the London recording. He is a wonderful actor, and appropriately conveys every emotion needed for such a complicated character. His voice is full and powerful, and he hits some truly high and difficult notes with such perfection that he makes it seem easy.
Javert - Tenth Anniversary Recording. Philip Quast is by far the best Javert, without any questions. He performs Javert in both the CSR and the TAR tremendously. While the Javert from London, Roger Allam, is quite good, he leaves a lot to be desired, and I have a strong dislike for Terrance Mann's performance on Broadway, it felt weak. What Quast did that was truly impressive, at least to me, was that he took a character I never really liked, and made me love him. I was blown away by his rendition of "Stars" in the TAR, truly amazing. He fills the characters shoes perfectly, he sounds tough and intimidating, a truly complex and interesting character performed beautifully.
Fantine - This is a matter of taste. I prefer Patti LuPone's Fantine on the London recording, though all of the other Fantines are excellent as well. No matter which recording you end up with, you'll get a good Fantine.
Thenardier - London. Alun Armstrong plays Thenardier on both the London and Tenth Anniversary Recording, and he is spectacular. Yes, he does have a cockney accent, which is somewhat confusing since all of the characters are French, but he is still amazing. He performs Thenardier exactly as he should be, crooked, rude, conniving, and just a little bit skeevy. His renditions of "Master of the House" are just fun to listen to; you can see why that song is such a crowd pleaser.
Enjolras - Broadway. Even though I don't think Michael Maguire is the perfect Enjolras as so many make him out to be, he is quite good. He performs on the TAR as well, though he was vocally less than perfect there. His Enjolras is tough and determined and convincing, though Craig Pinder on the London recording is very good as well, and I've never heard the CSR Enjolras.
Cosette - Tenth Anniversary Recording. Now don't get me wrong, I adore Rebecca Caine's Cosette on the London recording, but Judy Kuhn is just a better performer. Vocally I would say the two are equally impressive, but Kuhn really makes Cosette seem so much more real. She's equally as good on both the Broadway and the TAR, but I would give it to the TAR, simply because Cosette sings many of her songs with Marius, and the Marius on the Broadway version is awful. A final note, on the London recording In My Life and A Heart Full of Love are not only lyrically different (and In My Life is much shorter) but they are all one track, entitled "Love Montage" which includes a song not present on any other recording I have seen called "I Saw Him Once". This song is absolutely beautiful, one of my favorites on any recording; it's definitely worth searching for and getting a hold of.
Marius - London! This is not even a question, there is absolutely no debate here, Michael Ball is, without a doubt, the definitive Marius, no one has ever surpassed him. I cannot say enough about his performance, it's powerful and nuanced, and you sense the conflicting emotions that Marius goes through at different parts of the show. His rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is truly breathtaking and heartbreaking, one of the most powerful performance I've ever heard. He is wonderful on the London, TAR, and the CSR, however, I would choose London only because it is the one I have listened to most. The only other Marius that there has been was David Bryant on the Broadway recording, and he is awful.
Eponine - Here is the only character where I'm not sure. Truthfully, I wasn't blown away by any renditions of "On My Own", Eponine's main song and one of the most popular from the show. The three Eponines are Frances Ruffelle on the Broadway and London Recordings, Lea Salonga on the TAR, and Kaho Shimada on the CSR. It really seems like there are four different portrayals of this one character (I didn't at first believe that Frances Ruffelle did Broadway, she sounds so different). I guess this comes down to a matter of taste. Of them all, I guess I would have to go with Frances Ruffelle on the London recording, her "On My Own" has an understated elegance, and it's quite beautiful, though Kaho Shimada did an excellent job as well.
As for the other smaller characters, Young Cosette is enjoyable on all the recordings, as is Gavroche, though the boy who plays him on Broadway for some reason bothers me. I guess if I could suggest only one recording, I would have to go with the Original London Cast Recording as being the best overall. Though some of the songs have slightly different lyrics (including "Stars", "Drink with Me," and "On My Own") it is never a problem, and you have to remember that the London recording was the first, and it is truly spectacular.