Sunday, 4 March 2012

Les Miserables (10th vs 25th Anniversary Concerts)

There are two DVD concert recordings of Les Miserables. There's the 10th anniversary concert that was recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall and the 25th anniversary concert that was recorded live at the O2 Arena. The actors stand still for the most part and sing into stationary microphones rather than moving around the stage, and both concerts don't contain the entire show of Les Mis and leave out a few minor scenes. If you're a newcomer to Les Mis then you might be wondering which version you should go for. Well, I say the 10th! I much prefer it to the more recent 25th anniversary concert. The 10th anniversary concert was my introduction to Les Miserables but my preference for it isn't just down to personal bias. I can admit that the visuals and staging in the 10th aren't as slick and eye-catching as they are in 25th concert, and at times I do wish that the actors would move around the stage and interact with each other more in the 10th. The 10th anniversary concert also makes more cuts than the 25th anniversary concert does. You don't even get to see Marius and Cosette meet for the first time, and the first time you see Eponine is during the In My Life scene. Most of Turning is left out too although I actually think this is a very good thing because it's the only song that I dislike in the show and the quicker we get through it the better as far as I'm concerned. Its inclusion in the show doesn't serve any real purpose and I really dislike the lyrics. The students weren't naive schoolboys who had never held guns before! They were all intelligent, political men who knew exactly what they were doing! And they didn't die in vain! Grr! I really hope that they leave this song out in the film.

Ahem... the reason why the 10th anniversary concert is better is because of the performers. It is quite simply the greatest coming together of Les Miserables talent ever. It featured talent drawn from the West End production of Les Mis (Colm Wilkinson, Ruthie Henshall, Michael Ball, Alun Armstrong and Jenny Galloway); the Broadway production of Les Mis (Michael Maguire, Lea Salonga, Judy Kuhn and Anthony Crivello); and the Australian production of Les Mis (Philip Quast). When you watch the show you can really tell that every single performer is having the time of their lives yet they still manage to stay in character and almost every one is fantastic, even performers who play minor parts. I love the Factory Bitch who gets Fantine sacked, the prostitute in Look Down and Matthew Cammelle's Feuilly (the blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of Fraaaance!) I will now analyse why I prefer the majority of the performers of the major characters in the 10th anniversary concert. I'll score it too. A win gets 3 points, a draw gets 1 point.

Colm Wilkinson vs Alfie Boe
I know some have criticised Alfie Boe's acting in the 25th and I wouldn't have wanted him to star in the upcoming screen adaptation of Les Mis. However, I think his acting is perfectly fine for the stage version. Boe is also a technically better singer than Wilkinson and it does make for an interesting change to hear the role of Valjean being sung in a more operatic style. I do really like Alfie Boe and I think his Valjean is really good but I love Wilkinson's Valjean. He's still tied with John Owen-Jones as my favourite Valjean. Wilkinson doesn't change his facial expressions all that much and his singing isn't as technically good as Boe's but his version of Bring Him Home is so much more moving because he sings it with so much more emotion and feeling. I also love Wilkinson's high notes in Who Am I? and The Confrontation. It will be nice for us to see Wilkinson in the movie, he'll be playing the Bishop in it. Wilkinson wins.

Philip Quast vs Norm Lewis
Norm Lewis has a great voice but he comes across as being too nice to play Javert. You never really believe that Valjean, Fantine and the students are in any danger from him. Lewis's Javert talks tough but you suspect that deep down he wouldn't hurt a fly. I've seen Lewis live and he is better in the actual stageshow than in the 25th anniversary concert but Philip Quast is just fantastic as Javert! He has this certain sneer in his voice and I love it whenever he says Javert's name! He's threatening, commanding and badass but he still makes it clear that Javert has principles and is genuinely trying to do good. Javert is an antagonist. Yes, he's trying to stop Valjean from reaching his goals but he's not a bad person and he's far from evil. At times Quast has me believing that he is Javert! The only actor I've seen who comes close to matching Quast's portrayal of Javert is Earl Carpenter but they had him playing the Bishop in the 25th anniversary concert instead. Quast wins.

Ruthie Henshall vs Lea Salonga
Lea Salonga plays Eponine in the 10th anniversary concert and plays Fantine in the 25th anniversary concert. Seeing her play Fantine in the 25th took quite some getting used to! I enjoyed Salonga's performance as Fantine more the second time I watched the 25th. By then I'd gotten used to her and I thought she was very good. But Ruthie Henshall still wins for me. She makes for an epic Fantine and I loved her! She sings and acts with so much emotion and feeling. She gives me goosebumps every time I watch the 10th. Ruthie Henshall wins this round. I prefer Salonga as Eponine.

Hannah Chick vs Mia Jenkins
I like the girl who plays Young Cosette in the 10th more than the girl in the 25th. At one point a balloon explodes above Hannah Chick's head when she performs and you can see her flinch but she still carries on singing and sounds good. I like her voice more than Jenkins and other young actresses I've heard play Young Cosette too. I think it's because she's slightly older and her voice sounds a bit more mature. Chick wins.

Alun Armstrong & Jenny Galloway vs Matt Lucas & Jenny Galloway
I know a lot of people really love Matt Lucas's performance as Thenardier. His singing is very good, he is very funny and his version of Master of the House is very entertaining. However, Matt Lucas never really conveys the sinister, nasty side of Thenardier's character. In contrast Alun Armstrong strikes exactly the right balance when it comes to portraying Thenardier. He's funny, creepy and evil. His version of Dog Eat Dog is much more chilling and menacing than Lucas's. Jenny Galloway plays Madame Thenardier in both the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts but she's better in the 10th. You get the sense that she isn't having as much fun playing the character in the 25th anniversary concert, and she has better chemistry with Armstrong than she does with Lucas. Armstrong & the Galloway from the 10th anniversary show win.

Adam Searles vs Robert Madge
Robert Madge is one of the few kids I've seen play Gavroche (in the musical and in other adaptations) who isn't annoying or too young. Searles isn't bad as Gavroche but the Gavroche in the 25th anniversary concert is funnier, doesn't seem too young and has more charisma. Madge wins.

Michael Maguire vs Ramin Karimloo
Ramin Karimloo played the Phantom in the 25th anniversary concert of Phantom of the Opera and he plays Enjolras in the 25th concert of Les Mis. I do love Karimloo and he is very good at playing Enjolras but I prefer him as the Phantom. Michael Maguire wins this round. He hadn't played the character for years when he did the 10th anniversary concert and was a last-minute replacement for Anthony Warlow but you'd never know when you watch him in the concert. He's fantastic in the 10th and you can see why he won a Tony when he played the character on Broadway. He has so much passion and charisma and his voice is great. Also, I get much more of a sense of Book Enjolras from him. I get chills when he sings One more day before the storm! in One Day More and during his parts in Look Down and Red and Black.

Michael Ball vs Nick Jonas
Well it goes without saying that Michael Ball is a VASTLY superior singer to Nick Jonas! I don't even care that Ball was a decade too old to be playing Marius in the 10th anniversary concert. He does a much better job at playing Marius than Jonas does! In all fairness to Jonas, his singing isn't as bad as I thought he was going to be when it was announced that he was going to be starring in Les Mis. His version of Marius's solo song Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is surprisingly decent. However, the problem is that the rest of the time Jonas is accompanied by performers who are far better singers and have far more experience in musical theatre. Jonas gets completely outsung by Katie Hall, Samantha Barks, Ramin Karimloo and the rest. His acting is even worse. He looks so uncomfortable the entire time. He's clearly the weakest performer in the ensemble. Jonas tries his best to match the quality of his fellow performers (and is visibly struggling at times) but it's clear that he was miscast. Cameron Mackintosh should have really chosen a better singer with more experience instead of trying to pull in a younger audience by casting a famous pop star. Michael Ball wins.

Judy Kuhn vs Katie Hall
If Nick Jonas is the weakest performer of the 25th anniversary concert then Kuhn is the weakest performer in the 10th anniversary concert. Her acting is decent but her voice sounds too heavy and chesty for Cosette. I wish they'd gotten Rebecca Caine from the original London cast to play Cosette instead of her. I think I prefer Katie Hall's Cosette over Kuhn's too. OK, Hall isn't perfect and she does play Cosette as being angry with Valjean in In My Life. I'm not keen on this because I dislike angry Cosettes. They come across as spoilt and ungrateful and remind me of Claire Danes' Cosette in the 1998 movie. But overall I still prefer Katie Hall because her acting is good on the whole and her voice fits the role better than Kuhn's. Hall's soprano voice is lighter, which is lovely and nicer to listen too. I like the fact that she's blonde too. Cosette is a brunette in the book of course, but Samantha Barks (who plays Eponine in this) is more attractive than Hall and is a brunette. Because Cosette and Eponine have different hair colours in the 25th you can then justify Marius preferring Cosette because Eponine isn't his type or something. I'm looking forward to seeing Hall play Christine in Phantom of the Opera when I see it again in May.

Lea Salonga vs Samantha Barks
Vocally I don't think there's all that much to separate these two but Salonga wins out because of her acting. Some Eponines sound whiny when they sing On My Own *cough Frances Ruffelle cough * but Salonga's voice is beautiful and she brings so much frustration and anger to her version of that song. Although her voice is obviously a lot more beautiful she does remind me of Book Eponine. I also find her lines I'll sleep in your embrace at last/the rain that brings you here is heaven blessed in A Little Fall of Rain incredibly moving. Barks has a great voice and I loved her when I saw Les Mis in 2010. I'm very confident that she'll do a great job in the movie. Her acting isn't as strong and distinctive as Salonga's though so Salonga wins.

Anthony Crivello vs Hadley Fraser
Crivello and Fraser are both great in their own ways and both have different things going for them. Fraser's Grantaire comes across as being a bit more likeable and he gives a greater sense of good humour. Victor Hugo said that Grantaire's good sense of humour is the main reason why the revolutionary students put up with him. However, Crivello does a better job at portraying the sceptical, sad side of Grantaire's character. His section in Drink with Me is much more sad and poignant than Fraser's. Overall it's a draw.

10th anniversary: 24 points
25th anniversary: 7 points
The 10th wins!

Although I do think the 10th anniversary concert of Les Mis is better I will be fair. The 25th anniversary concert isn't as good as the 10th anniversary concert of Les Mis or the 25th anniversary concert of Phantom but it's still worth a watch if you're a Les Mis fan. The 25th anniversary concert is more visually appealing than the 10th and there's more movement and character interaction going on between the actors. It makes fewer cuts than the 10th anniversary concert does too. You get almost the entire show. To get more of an experience of what Les Miserables is about then I think you should watch both - but it needs to be seen live too! If you haven't seen it then go!


Anonymous said...

If I had watched the 10th Anniversary before the 25th, I would have never watched the 25th, it was that bad. Singing and acting was far, far superior in the 25th rendition.

I agree, Jonas was a very bad addition to the 25th anniversary cast, but still far better then the 10th.

Much more feeling and emotional content.

Indigo Montoya said...

What?! I can just about accept you preferring the 25th over the 10th but saying that the 10th anniversary concert is "bad". I'm shocked! How can a concert with the likes of Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball and Philip Quast, possibly be "bad"?! The 10th isn't called the dream cast for nothing! I used to vehemently dislike the 25th and although I've warmed to it it doesn't capture the heart and soul of Les Mis in the way that the 10th does. The performers are all so genuine in the 10th and the quality of the singing and the acting is simply better overall. I can admit that the 25th has better production values but I actually quite like the simplicity of the 10th and I've never found it boring to watch.

Lyn said...

I can't count the number of times I've watched the 10th Anniversary concert and after watching snippets of the 25th on YouTube, I know which one I prefer. The 10th wins hands down.

Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball and Philip Quast are just brilliant. I saw the movie with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe and thought they did a pretty good job, though surprisingly, Russell is the better singer. It was wonderful seeing Colm Wilkinson playing the Bishop in the movie.

I could never tire watching the 10th. Thank you for such a good post.

Hannah said...

Thanks so much for the comment, Lyn :)

I'm a massive fan of the movie too. I think it's wonderful. I loved all of the extra book details that they put in and the standard of singing in that film is far better than the singing in the Phantom of the Opera & Sweeney Todd films. I think my favourite actors in that cast are Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Huttlestone, Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks... although I think almost everyone did a wonderful job. I loved Colm Wilkinson's role as the Bishop too :)

I'll never tire of the 10th either. It has such a fantastic cast and I'm so grateful that it was my introduction to Les Mis.

Anonymous said...

This is my personal opion:
Jean Valjean: Draw
Javert: Norm Lewis wins
Fantine: Ruthie Henshall wins
The thenardiers: Matt Lucas & Jenny Galloway win
Gavroche: Robert Madge wins
Enjoras: Ramin Karimloo wins
Marius: Michael Ball wins
Cosette: Katie Hall wins
Eponine: Samantha Barks wins
Grantaire: Draw