Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

My Les Mis-full day – not glum at all

Les Misérables – On Film and Stage

Over the years, the one musical that didn’t appeal to me was Les Misérables. In fact, I turned down free tickets back in the early 1990s, such was my lack of enthusiasm for it – the very thought of having to sit through it made me feel glum.

But, dear readers, I am cured!  Vivent Les Misérables!

My daughter, for reasons I’ll come to later, was desperate to see it.  I said I’ll book for the summer. ‘No, can’t it be Easter?’ she asked.  ‘I’ll see what’s available.’ I replied, and found us tickets for yesterday evening – good seats at a price, but as an irregular theatre-goer these days, I’m willing to pay out a bit for a good view, (I chose the 2nd priced stalls at £67.50 each!!!).

les mis movie posterHowever, as my daughter likes to understand what’s going on before seeing shows, (something that spoiled seeing War Horse for her with her old school – she hadn’t read the book, and they didn’t explain the play at all) we watched the DVD at the weekend as Les Mis is a complicated story, (I benefitted from that too).

I loved it – especially Hugh Jackman of course, who has a great pedigree in musicals (my late mum saw him in Oklahoma and fell for him). Even Russell Crowe wasn’t so bad, and was suitably brooding, and Hathaway we know can sing and was so brave getting her real hair cut off – and her collarbones made her look skeletal as the dying Fantine. The naturalistic singing, which was live rather than dubbed as I understand, made it seem so much more … miserable.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter (SBC and HBC!) were great comic relief as the money-grabbing Thénardiers. I cried like a baby at the end.  I went through the story with my daughter and we were prepared for our trip down to London.

20140415_192219_resizedWe had a good afternoon shopping in Covent Garden, then a burger and shake at Ed’s Diner in Soho before the theatre.  Our seats were great (no need to pay £20 more for that prime central block).  Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue was smaller than I expected, but very plush.

On time, the orchestra struck up and we were transported to 19thC France. The staging was wonderful – using a surprisingly quiet revolving stage and clever lighting which allowed both props and actors to keep the action always moving.  Originally staged by the RSC at the Barbican, you expect the slickness and clever use of backdrops and props. An American party sitting behind me, although they loved the traditional theatre, had been expecting something on a bigger scale ‘like back in Boston’ (yawn!).

My daughter (left) gets Carrie's (middle) autograph

My daughter (left) gets Carrie’s (middle) autograph

None of the cast (except one) were familiar to me, but they were touts merveilleux! I  did have a sniffle when Eponine died, and could see lots of hankies being dabbed to eyes then and at the end.

Eponine was the reason for going at Easter, she was played by Carrie Hope Fletcher (sister of McFly’s Tom) and my daughter follows her on the web. So afterwards, we quickly went round to the stage door and found ourselves in a small cluster of waiting fans and she kindly signed our programme which made my daughter’s day.

Les Mis has now trumped both Oliver! and Matilda as her favourite musical and film. My favourite will always be the original Jesus Christ Superstar, but Les Mis will now vie with Oliver! for my second spot.

Victor Hugo’s story is epic in its scope, I started reading it around two years ago, and ought to resume – I got as far as Jean Valjean being given the silver, i.e. not very far, and paused. Seeing the musical twice has renewed my enthusiasm for it.

Musically, Les Mis is sung-through; there is no dialogue at all, and the score relies on recitative to link the main scenes. I was fascinated by the way there are really only about eight (guessing here) musical themes which get mixed up and reappear throughout the show, most obviously the Thénardiers’ comic song, and Javert’s brooding one, but they all blend together and never appear repetitive at all. This made it feel less of a musical, more an opera.  I loved it.

* * * * *
Here’s links to Les Mis at Amazon UK, in case you’re interested:
Les Misérables [DVD] [2012] starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway etc
Les Miserables 25th Anniversary [DVD] the concert at the RAH with Alfie Boe etc.

20 Comments

  1. What a lovely day for your and your daughter, Annabel! I had a BFF once who was obsessed with the musical and had seen it many times. I confess I’ve never seen or read it, but this does rather make me want to pick up the book!

  2. Hooray! So glad you enjoyed yourself Annabel, and your daughter too. I haven’t seen the stage version, but I love love love the film. I cried about five times in the cinema. I’m thinking of embarking on the book as my massive summer classic this year.

    • I must admit, I was slightly worried that after the film the stage show might be an anti-climax… but the live atmosphere, magnificent singing and clever staging swiftly assuaged those doubts. Loved both and can’t wait to see the film again.

  3. I saw this when the RSC first opened it at the Barbican and everyone was saying what fools they were. I loved it then and have gone on loving it ever since. I’m so glad you’ve been converted.

    • How lucky that you saw the original original (although the London production is still the original according to Cameron Mackintosh’s blurb at the official website). I couldn’t believe it when I read that the initial reviews were so poor. I’m glad I was converted too (I’ve ordered the DVD of the anniversary concert).

  4. I am glad you enjoyed it and are now converted to Les Mis. I saw it for the first time years ago and was simply stunned by everything about it. Since then I’ve seen it several times and it never loses its lustre or appeal for me. Don’t think I’d ever seen anything as good before or since. I watched version with Hugh Jackman et al in cinema with my sceptical family – I cried like a baby all the way through – so much so they moved seats to distance themselves from the hyper-ventilating, sobbing old wreck! You’ve made me all nostalgic to see it again.

  5. Oh I love Les Miserables! I’m so glad you liked it too. It really kept all 3 of mine glued to the cinema screen and I’d love to take them to a live show. Eventually.

  6. Great to see a post about the Theatre, I’m not happy to see Andrew Lloyd Webber at the top of your best musical list but I won’t hold that against you. I’m yet to see Les Mis as a musical but I’m sure it would be great, I know the movie is.

    • Hi Michael – nice to make you and your blog’s acquaintance. It’s the JCS original concept album that I adore the most with Ian Gillan as Jesus – I was a teenager and it blew me away, then I saw the original show – what can I say? It was a formative experience. (Oliver! comes very close though as I was Oliver in a school production).
      I wish I could afford to go to the theatre more often, but luckily with plays being shown live in cinemas now, that helps (I’m going to Lear with Simon Russell-Beale in a couple of weeks time).

  7. I was exactly like you — had absolutely no wish to see Les Mis, play or film. Then last year I set out with some friends to see quite another film, only to be told the projector had broken. The default option was Les Mis, so we went, and I was completely blown away. Went back the next week taking some other friends, bought the soundtrack. But people tell me the stage show is even better. Must be amazing, if so. I cried my eyes out both times — possibly even more the second time. And I don’t even like musicals.

  8. Like so many others I cried my way through Les Mis … so glad you’re converted!

  9. Hurrah! I saw Les Mis in London lo these many years ago, and it was such a good theater experience. It’s been one of my favorite musicals for ages. I invariably get chills during certain of the songs, and I always cry when the bishop lets Valjean leave with the silver. (Good deeds! They get me right here!)

  10. I have to confess I’ve never seen this. I just know I will cry my eyes out and I don’t really like that experience (I know – weird! Lots of people love it). But I’m so glad you had such a fabulous time. I’ve not been to many London stage shows, but every time I have gone I’ve been blown away by the amazing sets and the wonderful performers.

    • It takes nothing for the waterworks to flow with me! However, sometimes it’s happiness that makes me cry at a film or show, rather unpredictable. It is a marvellous film though, but it will make you cry, so perhaps the book is more for you Victoria :)

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