Monday, December 8, 2014

Hollywood vs. Broadway- Les Miserables

In a couple weeks, it will have been 2 years since my mom and I saw Tom Hooper's adaptation of "Les Miserables." Among one of the most endearing, wildly loved musicals EVER.
Some time later, more of my family watched it with us. My younger sister fell more in love than anyone else. We can only assume that it's officially her #1 movie ever.
And more than anything, she wanted to see it on Broadway since a revival was announced.

Several months later, we found ourselves doing just that. As a belated 25th birthday present, we would be spending a weekend in New York City.
To me, there's nothing more magical than NYC in Christmas time. Thanks to "Home Alone 2" I believe that the Rockefeller Center tree is the biggest tree in the country. If not the most important. So there was that to be excited about.

The only real negative was the horrendous weather. All of us were packed under umbrellas, trudging the streets from the hotel to the Imperial theater, dinner afterwards and back to the hotel.
If not for the rain, I'd have taken more pictures... or pictures in general, really :P It would have been interesting to note that in the theater district, I was closer to more stars than I'd ever been... All of them just happened to be inside the nearby buildings.
  • James Earl Jones (You can't take it with you)
  • Emma Stone and Alan Cumming (Cabaret)
  • Idina Menzel (If/Then)
  • Bradley Cooper (The Elephant Man)
Whenever we go to the city, I always fantasize that I'll run into some celebrity since so many live there... but as of yet, it still hasn't happened. Not that I plan on giving up on that ;)
But one day it would be really cool to get a chance to see a celebrity I recognize in a Broadway show.

The Musical itself
Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't seen any adaptation of "Les Miserables"
Compared the 2012 film, everything was naturally scaled down quite a bit. Various set pieces came out of the walls. The most impressive was probably during the barricade scene in Act 2 where soldiers were actually in the balconies on the side of the stage to shoot at the students.
I especially loved the backgrounds. One scene, you saw a shrouded forest with snow falling. The way they showed Javert jumping off the bridge, falling into the water was super impressive. Great special effects.

With maybe one exception, all of the actors were just as good... if not BETTER than any of the actors featured in the film.


People have gone on and on about how Russell Crowe has a terrible singing voice. One even said he ruined the movie for them. Coming from someone who didn't even like the guy before seeing the movie, I was impressed with him. He certainly had the fear-inducing presence Javert needed as a villain. And his rendition of "Stars" was actually one of my favorite numbers in the movie.
Will Swenson didn't grab me as strongly as Russell Crowe during that one specific number. But overall, he played the bad guy very well. He was a powerful menacing figure you couldn't help but gravitate towards while fearing what he'll do. He also aged better than Russell Crowe (where the aging throughout the story barely registered).

In general, I'd say that I preferred the Broadway actors because I hadn't seen any of them before. I knew several of the film actors from other projects so putting them together almost feels like putting several pieces from different puzzles together.
Comparatively, not knowing any of the Broadway actors, they felt like they belonged together. The chemistry is more genuine and you truly feel like you're part of a collective experience.

As much as I love Anne Hathaway, I'll admit there are points in the film where her presence was a little distracting. Or maybe it's because I'd seen her in roles so different from this that she felt out of place. But she does come through where it counts... Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" was THE selling point of the teaser trailer.
In the musical, this famous song comes before her downward spiral towards death. So to me, it felt odd how she was lamenting when the worst she experienced was just being fired for the foreman. Yet the placement works. She sells her hair and her body and the transformation happens practically in front of your eyes... therefore more believable.
Caissie Levy really brought it for her big solo number [my first tears of the show] and how she appears at the end of the show to escort Jean Val Jean to heaven... nothing short of magical. Ethereal in a flowing white gown (not to mention all of her hair had grown back!) like she was an angel from heaven.

Vocally, I'd have to still place Samantha Barks ahead of Nikki M. James. Her voice wasn't quite as strong and at times it felt nasally or constricted.
However, as a street urchin like her parents, knowing what she knows and doing what she does, she fit the bill better. She certainly was a scrappy little thing.

And her solo ("On my own") got me choked up me, more than I had while watching the movie.

Samantha Hill had a heck of a range! Which leads me to believe this is one of those Broadway roles that demands a mezzo-soprano range. Amanda Seyfried, unfortunately, doesn't quite have that. Samantha's voice also complimented the actor playing Marius better than Amanda with Eddie Redmayne.

For his first big role, Eddie Redmayne did this role really well. But again, I have to give it to Andy Mientus, his current Broadway counterpart. Both are strong vocally, but the acting was better. The chemistry between him and Cosette was better.
Then two other big differences:
Marius mourned Eponine's death much more on Broadway than he did in the movie. That reaction was great to see. He may not have loved her like Cosette, but they had been friends for a long time.

The staging of "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" was also more emotional on Broadway. In the film, we see Marius singing in a room filled with empty furniture. In the Broadway show, he was on stage with a series of candles. Each would come to be held by one of his fallen brothers who appear as ghosts, one candle for each.
If not for the waterworks, I'd have gotten chills over that.

The Thenardiers

In this particular case, I might have to call in a draw. Just because there were bits and pieces I enjoyed from both versions. I loved Helena Bonham Carter in this role and certainly love the camaraderie between her and Sasha Baron Cohen.
But with John Rapson and Christianne Tisdale, the chemistry was different yet it worked just as well. She stole a lot of applause and laughs from him because she spends her time mocking the kind of person he is. A dysfunctional marriage more than partners-in-crime. They also got more "screen time" during the wedding scene, leading to more shenanigans and even more laughs. Especially when she's laughing at HIS expense.

The boy who played Gavroche (the youngest member of the student rebellion), Gaten Matarazzo... he was a real scene-stealer. Every second he was on stage, we were all endeared to him. He also got away with some obscene stuff that come off as adorable instead of offensive :P
On those grounds, the explicit content of the show was handled cleverly. Whereas in the film, it was a bit more obvious. However brief, the two sex scenes (one involving Fantine, the other at the Thenardiers' inn) either disrupted the illusion or (in the case of the second) felt awkward, out-of-place and unnecessary.

And the girl who played young Cosette... her voice was SO GOOD at her age. Angeli Negron. My mom swear she started sobbing when she sang her first note.

Which just leaves me with one. One that is Jean Val Jean.
Nathaniel Hackmann... where do I start? He had us all bound to him from the beginning. He aged more naturally than Hugh Jackman did, showed a better range of appearances (other than adding or removing wigs and facial hair). His voice had one of the most spectacular ranges I'd ever heard.
Everyone projected well and there were no bum notes, but it was up to him to produce the perfect first impression. Since he was the first character we got to see on the stage.
While he has some credits in smaller venues, on national tours for various other musicals, what makes him particularly impressive was this being his first BROADWAY gig.

And December 6th just happened to be his birthday.


I think I must have cried 5-6 times throughout the show. Once in the first act. Almost during "One Day More". Then multiple times in the last hour. If not for the emotions, I would have cheered louder for my favorite actors. Which was practically everybody at this point.

What I really liked was what happened after the curtain call. Nikki James and Will Swenson told us about a charity they were promoting called Broadway Cares/Equality Fights AIDS, which raises money to fight AIDS. It's something all the shows are collecting for. Supposedly "Phantom of the Opera" (probably my all-time favorite musical, even now) is kicking their butts. And they had all kinds of goodies to give away for each donation.

I gave $5 and got a "Dream the Dream" wristband. (In the back of my mind, I was close to picking a Team Javert button... but the wristband was something I'd likely have more use for).

I guess the nice thing I found about it was that we got to spend a little more time with these actors. There was that interaction with them. That bond we spent 3 hours forging. We all shared this amazing collective experience together so seeing them step away from their roles was cool.
It also left room for much needed laughter, helping us get over ourselves.

Will Swenson joked about why the child actors wanted to get into Broadway and whoever races to the counter first can get the conductor's autographed baton in exchange for a donation :P

Yep, by the time it was all over, I hated to leave, but we had other places to go. And we had to face the rain again soon or later.

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