LES MISERABLES Superfans Compare The Casts - Part Two!
It seems that I've "lived with" Les Miserables for most of my life. I grew up listening to the original cast recording and so, in many ways, they became my gold standard. Colm Wilkinson was the perfect Valjean; Michael Ball an incredible Marius; Roger Allam a clearly tortured Javert (singing some of my very favourite songs in the show); and Frances Ruffelle a beautfully powerful Eponine. There were no real low points to this recording, as far as I was concerned; the students (my favourite ensemble in the show) were compelling in their passion and even Cosette and the Thernadiers (in general my least favourite characters) were lively and engaging.
The tenth anniversary concert, however, somehow managed to exceed this original cast. Dubbed by critics "the dream team", I couldn't agree more. Again, Wilkinson and Ball shone, and, much as I had rated Ruffelle and Allam, Lea Salonga and Philip Quast were even more perfect for the roles of Eponine and Javert. Ruthie Henshall as Fantine gave a mesmerising performance and Jenny Galloway, much to my surprise, made the role of Mrs Thernadier truly entertaining.
For the 25th anniversary concert, then, my expectations were huge. (I had seen the show several times during the intervening years and had even directed the Les Miserables School Edition with my own "dream team"!) Did the concert live up to my expectations? Not quite: well, until the encores. Again, I highly rated Lea Salonga, this time as Fantine; enjoyed Alfie Boe's version of Valjean - he truly has an astonishing voice; and was moved by Samantha Barks' Eponine, but overall, I felt the company didn't quite reach the heights of the original or 10th anniversary ensembles. This view was crystalised for me with the encores - four Valjeans singing "Bring Him Home", with Wilkinson still being the definitive one for me, and then the 1985 cast passionately leading the rest in "One Day More".
And, finally, the film. I've already seen it twice (!) and feel very strongly that the show itself is its star. I enjoyed it largely because I love the music and story. In terms of performances, however, there are only three standouts for me: Anne Hathaway, who is the best Fantine I have ever seen - not in terms of vocal quality, but in terms of raw emotion; Eddie Redmayne - a fantastic Marius; and Samantha Barks, who seems somehow underused.
I thought good use was made of setting at times, especially when Valjean first leaves the chain gang, and again in the funeral sequence, though at times it looked too much like a studio set (the barricade) and the sense of scale was lost. I was also disappointed that some of my favourite pieces - especially One Day More - struggled to convert well to film: quickly cutting from character to character as they sing their lines, in no way achieves the same power as witnessing them all on stage simultaneously singing their stories.
So, there it is. I will certainly buy the DVD of the new film and will probably watch it many times, but the version that will remain with me the most strongly will be the 10th anniversary concert. (Well, until there's an even dreamier team gathered for a 30th, 40th, 50th anniversary...)