If it wasn't for the 10th anniversary concert I would call this album's cast the best that I've heard so far. Apart from one notable exception this album has a brilliant cast! I mean do I really need to point out how amazing Colm Wilkinson, Alun Armstrong and Michael Ball are?! Colm Wilkinson is a fantastic Jean Valjean on the 10th anniversary concert and vocally he's even better here. Alun Armstrong is still my favourite Thenardier because he's got a great voice and he strikes the perfect balance between being funny and being creepy/evil. Most of the Thenardiers that I've seen/heard lean too much towards one extreme or the other. And Michael Ball's Marius is just phenomenal. His version of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is vocally still the best that I've ever heard - and by quite some distance too! In Victor Hugo's novel Marius is quite possibly my favourite character but I'm not usually a huge fan of him in the musical because he's too flat and drippy for my liking. Michael Ball and Eddie Redmayne are still the only two Marius's (or Mari-i!) that I really, truly love.
There are even more fantastic performances on this album. The BBC radio sitcom Cabin Pressure has made me love Roger Allam and now that I've heard this album Allam has jumped straight into "My Favourite Javerts" list. He's brilliant. I love his voice and, just like Phillip Quast, Allam brings a certain "sneery" edge to the role. It really suits Javert. Then there's Rebecca Caine who is one of my favourite Christines from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Her Think of Me cadenza blows Sarah Brightman's version out of the water easily! Now Rebecca Caine is my favourite stage musical Cosette. It helps that her Cosette is the only one who gets to sing I Saw Him Once. But Caine has also got such a beautiful soprano voice. Her tone is just so lovely and pure. Her voice isn't grating and shrill like Tracy Shayne's on The Complete Symphonic Cast Album, and her voice is much more suited to the role of Cosette than Judy Kuhn's. And then there's Frances Ruffelle. Her Eponine tends to really divide Les Mis fans and a few years ago I absolutely hated her! I found both her voice and her interpretation whiny. It probably didn't help matters that my first Eponine was Lea Salonga either. Her voice is absolute perfection on the 10th anniversary concert and I really loved her strong, defiant and frustrated interpretation of the character. But much to my surprise Ruffelle's Eponine is now seriously growing on me! Her more wistful, quiet and fragile interpretation of the character is very different to Lea Salonga's for sure but it's equally valid. And although her voice isn't as beautiful and powerful as Lea Salonga's and Samantha Barks', I still think that Ruffelle sounds very lovely on this cast album and that she puts a lot of emotion and passion into the role. I won't go into how she sounds on the Original Broadway Cast Album. I'll leave that for another post. Ruffelle also puts on a cockney accent for quite a lot of her lines on this cast recording. The use of cockney accents in Les Mis tends to divide the fans as well. I can understand why it bothers some people but I can take it or leave it myself (because I think it works as a quick substitute for the Argot slang). In fact the only performance that I really dislike on this cast recording is Patti LuPone's Fantine. Yeah, yeah, I know she's a musical theatre legend and all that but as Fantine I still dislike her. Unlike Anne Hathaway, I get the impression that LuPone didn't think Fantine was a particularly great or significant role. Judging from a few quotes I've read I get the impression that LuPone didn't have a particularly strong attachment to the character, and on this cast recording it really shows. LuPone sounds utterly bored on this album and I felt no real passion or emotion coming from her. I wouldn't be surprised if she was painting her nails whilst she was recording her vocals!
The original London cast album should be an indispensable part of any Les Mis fan's collection in my opinion, along with the Original French Concept Album and the 10th Anniversary Concert. Firstly, because it has one of the strongest casts that I've yet come across. Secondly, because fans of the musical will be able to hear how the show first began. Again, I wouldn't say that this particular cast recording is better than the 10th anniversary concert recording. That version has the strongest all-round cast and it deserves all of the love and acclaim it gets. Also, there are some aspects to this particular album that I didn't like. I couldn't stand the longer version of Little People and I really missed Grantaire's solo verse in Drink with Me and Javert's final verse in Stars. I didn't mind the slower tempos on this album so much with the notable exception of The Confrontation. This album's slower version of that song means that it doesn't have anywhere near as much dramatic tension. But overall I still really enjoyed listening to this album. I wouldn't rank it as highly as the 10th Anniversary Concert but I enjoyed it more than the Original French Concept Album and the Complete Symphonic Cast Album. Another major highlight of this album is Cosette's solo I Saw Him Once. It's a beautiful song and it really didn't deserve to be axed from the musical! For your listening pleasure I've decided to include this song on my post :)