I first heard of Les Miserables in grade 4 when we sang Castle on a Cloud and Little People in my school choir. I didn’t know much about the story at the time, but I loved those two songs. I sang them over and over – long after the performances were over. I remember my dad wanting to take us to see it when we were pretty young, but I didn’t want to see a musical about “homeless people” because I would cry too much. He bought us the piano music book instead. I played Castle on a Cloud over and over on the piano. I think my sister even played it in a recital.
My love affair for the story and music really started in grade 12. Mlle Gaudette had us read Les Miserables in our French (immersion) class in high school. It came in 3 tomes: Fantine, Cosette and Marius. We learned a lot about the major themes and symbolism in the book, did character sketches and learned about revolutionary France history. We analyzed and interpreted the music from the Broadway Musical (in French) and we even planned a secret van trip to go see the Broadway production that was playing in Toronto during school hours (which never materialized). Later that year, the movie version starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean came out. Geoffrey Rush was brilliant as Javert (exactly what I had pictured him to look like when I read the book for the first time) and I thought Uma Thurman and Claire Danes were good choices for the women BUT always thought that there was something lacking.
During that time, I opened up an account to one of those BMG mail-in CD buying stamp programs – for the sole purpose of the Les Mis double-CD. (I ended up with some really random CDs because I had to order 20 more). I memorized those songs right away and listened to them all over and over and over again. I also bought a copy of Victor Hugo’s full 1000+ page (English) novel (one of the longest novels ever written?) and read it while on a school trip to France in OAC. On my own time I compared the condensed French versions we read in school with the huge novel and the musical adaptation. One Christmas our family gift were tickets to see Les Mis at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.
I played Bring him Home on my trumpet to audition for a spot in a pit orchestra and my heart swells whenever Glee features a Les Mis song. I had a pang of jealousy when I found out my friend’s cat is named Cosette (why didn’t I think of that?). Pop culture references get me giddy too – Principal Skinner’s POW number is 24601, George Costanza can’t get Master of the House out of his head for an entire episode and Joey sang On My Own in Capeside’s Miss Windjammer Pageant while gazing dreamily at Dawson.
The other night I saw the new movie (which I have been anticipating for a long time) Epic. Amazing. The music, the actor choices, the scenery, the intensity, the dramatics, the detail. From the moment Fantine sells her hair, I started crying. I don’t exactly know why. I know the story inside and out, I had to cover my mouth to avoid the neighbouring people to hear me sing along, I knew exactly what was going to happen next. “Fantine is going to die now, I probably won’t cry”. WRONG. bawled. For the entire 3 hours. I think it was the addition of the music and the extra detail that made it that much more amazing. I didn’t cry when I saw the play in Detroit or when I watched the earlier movie version. The historical and classically moving story that is Les Mis was portrayed perfectly for me. And I cried. A lot. It really moved me. The close-ups on the characters as they are belting out their epic songs – crying and snotty nosed Marius singing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. Oh my.
Was apprehensive about the casting of Javert for this film (since I loved Geoffrey Rush so much in the other film) – but I was pleasantly surprised with Russel Crowe’s performance. Hugh Jackman was simply stunning. I heard on Broadway Names with Julie James that he was playing the role of his dreams. Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seifreied exceeded my expectations. I thought Marius, Eponine and Enjorlas were perfectly casted. Sacha Baron Cohen (what?) and Helena Bohnam Carter were genius as the Thenardiers and added the much-needed comic relief, and casting Colm Wilkinson (the original Jean Valjean on Broadway) as M. Myriel (the bishop of Digne) was a brilliant cameo. I am also blown away that all of the songs were sung live in the scenes – there was no pre-recording of the songs for the actors to lip sync.
Not everyone will love (or appreciate) this film as I do. I know – especially if they don’t know the story or musical. Les Miserables is one of those musicals where there is virtually no speaking. Everything is sung. I love that about it. Many people will hate it. It added to the brilliance for me. Some might say that the storyline is sappy and stretched – That’s the story. The purpose wasn’t supposed to be to re-write Victor Hugo’s words (or the Broadway adaptation). The purpose was to re-create the production for big screen to expose more people to it.
I’m not telling you to go see it or not to. Do what you want. But know that I will be rewatching this film a zillion times and adding it to my Les Miserables love. There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes. xoxo.
ps. Erin – I hope you loved it as much as I did! Nobody else requests playing the soundtrack at New Years parties….. :)
pps. Since seeing the movie I’ve been breaking out in song all over the place.
ppps. Picture credits: Universal Pictures & ufooonek on fanpop?