Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Les Miserables: The Dream Lives

from Jennifer AlLee

As far as I'm concerned, there's no art form quite as exhilarating as live musical theater, and Les Miserables is one of the best. Based on the Victor Hugo novel and set in 19th Century France, it's essentially the story of two men: Javier, who seeks a black and white following of the law, and Jean Valjean, who seeks redemption. I saw it performed in Los Angeles over 20 years ago and loved it. Of course, the big problem with musical theater is that you can't watch it over and over like you can a movie. It's a one-time experience, something that lives in your heart and mind, but can't be duplicated.
Russell Crowe as Javier
Until now...

Okay, you still can't relive a singular theatrical experience. BUT... we're going to get pretty darn close. Les Miz (as fans lovingly call it) is coming to the big screen this December. The stellar cast is made up of actors with both dramatic and acting chops, among them: Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javier), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), and Amanda Seyfried (Cosette). Impressive to be sure, but what makes this movie even more special is the way it's being filmed.

In traditional movie musicals, the songs are prerecorded in a studio. When the movie is filmed, the actors then lip-sync to their own performances. Les Miserables, however, is breaking from tradition. The actors are actually singing during the filming... in other words, when you watch Anne Hathaway sing her heartbreaking rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" you are hearing what she sang on the set, as the cameras rolled.

Anne Hathaway (Fantine) and
Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean)
This may not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind that all the dialogue in Les Miz is sung... nobody just talks to each other. Director Tom Hooper (who also directed The King's Speech), said this: "If you are miming to a playback, even if the synchronization is done very well, there is a part of you that knows something is off, something is false. When it's live, you believe it so much more. The actors have complete freedom rather than following a recording done three months before."

Hugh Jackman agrees. "When you are doing miming, 60% of your energy is just doing it correctly," says Jackman. "Even though it is your performance, you don't feel you are in charge of it."

It's a revolutionary new approach to the movie musical. And they're not just stepping out with their vocals. In a scene where Fantine's hair is being shorn for sale so she can buy food for her child, Hathaway's hair really is being cut off. The formerly long-haired actress has no regrets about her method choice. "I did it for a film, so it really wasn't about me and my security," she said. "I'm just so pleased with how I look, so I now quite like having short hair."

Enjoy the Les Miserables movie teaser below and decide for yourself if the risks these actors are taking are worth it. (My answer is a great big YES!)

How about you? What's your favorite musical? What musical would you like to see made into a movie?

JENNIFER ALLEE believes the most important thing a woman can do is find her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her novels. A professional writer for over twenty years, she's done extensive freelance work for Concordia Publishing House, including skits, Bible activity pages, and over 100 contributions to their popular My Devotions series. Her novels include The Love of His Brother (Five Star, 11/07), The Pastor’s Wife (Abingdon Press, 2/10), The Mother Road (Abingdon Press, 4/12) and the upcoming A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (Abingdon Press, 11/12). She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance.
Visit Jennifer's website at


  1. oooo... this looks like a must see - if only for Hugh Jackman (be still my beating heart *swoon*). that man is uber talented.

    i think it's great that they are trying it this way. technology is good enough so it can be done. i'll definitely have to check it out.

  2. Hubby and I have seen Les Mis on stage several times, both in NY and in Dallas, even a local high school production! We love it! But we've been skeptical about the movie. Enter the trailer. We were both mesmerized. Hubby even claims we'll see it the day it comes out! That is huge for us! I love the story of Les Mis (even read the unabridged version once!), but the music makes it an even more emotional experience. In fact, the hardest part about seeing the movie (as is with the play) will be restraining myself from singing along!

  3. Something awesome to look forward to. I love musicals and don't know if I could pick a favorite, but my favorite I've seen live with a Broadway cast was Legally Blonde. So much fun.

  4. Anne, I know what you mean about keeping yourself from singing along... my son and I saw Phantom together two years ago, and I had to bite my lip to keep quiet. Something about the music just gets in your soul and urges you to join in! As for Les Miz... everytime I watch this trailer, I get chills. Pretty sure I'll be there on opening day, too :)

  5. Deb, Hugh was the first actor I heard was attached to this, and that got me on board right away. Then the cast got better and better... I'm so glad they gave the part of Eponine to a relatively unknown actress. Some of then names being tossed around for awhile were downright scary!

  6. This is a great post, Jen. I'd go see this movie for the cast alone, but the music will make it memorable.

    Truthfully, I knew they lip-sync'd movies when the actor couldn't sing, but I hadn't realized they did all of it like that. Of course, I've only worked on non-musical TV and film productions and we had to be uber-silent so the actors voices were the only thing heard. They even made me take off a coat once because the fabric softly swished as I walked. And then the foley artists would add all the sounds in after. But the voices? This is new to me.

    Thanks, Jen.

  7. Dina, I've seen musicals in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Vegas, but have yet to see one on Broadway. That's definitely on my list of things to do before I meet Jesus!

  8. And you know what else comes out in December? The Hobbit... What lovely cinematic Christmas presents await us ;+)

  9. Oh, this looks great!

    I saw LM from the VERY (extremely, scarily) steep and high nosebleed section of a very old theatre in London. I could barely see the stage or understand the words, so I'm so looking forward to this movie!

  10. I keep hoping a surge of '80s nostalgia will result in a film of Tim Rice's Chess, but it seems unlikely.

    I can't pick a favorite, but the musical we saw live most recently was Spamalot. That was fun!

  11. Kristen, my son & I saw Spamalot together. It was SO much fun! We play the soundtrack in the car all the time.

  12. When I was at RWA New York, my roommates were all going to different broadway shows one night and I could have gone with one of them because she bought the tickets online that afternoon. And I had really planned on going to one, but there were so many and the ones that had seats were ones I'd never heard of. I couldn't see paying $120 to sit way up and watch a show I wasn't even interested in. I probably would've been glad I went later, but there was a 50/50 percent chance I wouldn't.

    Instead, I went out and discovered the area around Times Square. A Friday night, the place was alive and exciting. I saw things I never thought I would, and I thoroughly enjoyed the pastrami on rye in a New York deli which has now been crossed off my bucket list. :D

  13. Meh, I still cant take these actors seroiusly in roles like Valjean and Javier - and I dont think I have forgiven Russel Crowe for what he did to Robin Hood either.

    Personally, I dont like to see too much Hollywood Glamorization for stories like this, though perhaps I am prejuding it too much.

    I heard a few shots of this were filmed in Winchester- though they're likely too short and few to notice.


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