Hey all! I’ve been in need of a serious break from blogging, so today, my sister, Jennifer, will be guest posting on the Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of Les Miserables. The first half of the post is more introductory on the story of Les Mis, and the second half is a “Recast Edition,” a fun type of post where the author will recast a film if he or she thinks there is a cast who can better fill the roles. Feel free to chime in and share your opinions below. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out more about Jennifer!
By Jennifer Griffin
A Little Introduction to Les Miserables
There’s been a great deal of hype regarding the upcoming film adaptation of the novel (Victor Hugo) turned musical Les Miserables (Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg). According to director Tom Hooper and cast member Hugh Jackman, the casting is still being finalized, and the actors are just being to learn the music this month.
Les Miserables has been credited as the most successful musical ever written. A little over three decades ago, Boublil and Schönberg finished adapting the novel to musical format and premiered the musical in Paris. Five years following the premiere, the musical opened in London as a 3-month touring group engagement. The show sold out within the first week, and the box office received several record orders. Two years later it hit Broadway and did not close until after 6,680 performances. Les Mis is the third longest running Broadway show today and has been since revived on Broadway as one of its most successful shows. Altogether, the musical has been produced in 38 countries and translated into 21 languages, with over 70 different official recordings.
All of that to say . . .
Hooper obviously has a huge legacy to live up to in his bold decision to make this musical a successful film. Despite already having 6 film adaptations, Hooper’s version will be the first to actually have the musical–not just the book (or dialogue only)–adapted for film. Converting Les Mis to a musical film production will be an incredible task for Hooper to take on for several reasons:
- The music is extremely hard for actors who are not trained singers to perform.
- The novel is one of the most well-known pieces of historical fiction, and like adapting any novel to the film format, doing it justice is not easy—(it was debated that writing a musical based on the novel would be “sacrilegious”—there are many negative reviews in England and France if you look at articles from the 1980s!)
- The musical itself is extremely beloved, so living up to it in film with singers who can equally sing/act the roles is a challenge.
- Finding a cast that have ample acting experience both on stage and screen is normally necessary when making this sort of film—actors like this are not as common as they used to be.
- A great nonmusical film adaptation of the book with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush came out in 1998 and was very successful, possibly making this film version look unnecessary until more time had passed.
- The resources—the elaborate prison, battle, and abbey sets, the rights to the music, the large stage and off-stage chorus needed, the orchestra, etc.—are very expensive.
While I look forward to seeing Hooper’s take on Les Mis, I have two major reservations:
- the cast
- the way Hooper has decided to film/record the singing
Recast Edition: Tom Hooper’s upcoming Les Miserables
Below is Hooper’s main cast, and who I would cast in place of them:
Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman
Character Description: Dramatic tenor—very, very high voice in this musical—burly French peasant imprisoned for 19 years who vows to turn his life around after he escapes prison and in so doing helps Fantine and later adopts her daughter, Cosette.
Hugh Jackman actually does have screen and stage experience as well as singing experience, but Jean Valjean is probably one of the top 2 hardest tenor roles in all of musical theatre (the other one being the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera). Perhaps Hooper feels like he needs an actor with a big name in the title role in order to successfully market this movie, but in the case of casting this particular character, he would actually do well to err on the side of screen experience because of the difficulty level of musicality as well as vocal range and ability the role demands.
My first choice for casting Jean Valjean would be Alfie Boe because he has a great deal of screen and stage acting experience, and he played Valjean in the London 25th Anniversary version of Les Mis (check out the video here). Other singer-actors I would choose include Matthew Morrison (Glee) and James Marsden (Enchanted, Hairspray), although both would have to buff up.
Inspector Javert: Russell Crowe
Character Description: Baritone—high officer of the law, sets out to bring Valjean to justice.
I believe Crowe is miscast altogether. The police inspector is a commanding force in the novel and the musical, but not physically. He is commanding because of his reputation as a successful inspector, his reputation of dedication to the law, and the nobility as well as the rest of the police force supporting him. Javert needs to be smaller than Valjean, not bigger; plus, Javert is a vocally-demanding role. I have never heard Crowe sing, and I fear that this will remind us all of the “lovely” singing of Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia (2008).
Norm Lewis (25th Anniversary edition as Javert) or Michael Ball (the original London cast of Les Mis as Marius) tie for my first spot in casting Javert, because both have a great deal of screen acting experience. Philip Quast would also be an interesting choice, despite his older age.
Fantine: Anne Hathaway
Character Description: Mezzo-soprano or alto—sickly woman that sells everything, including her body, to support her daughter Cosette after Cosette’s father leaves her.
Based on a couple of instances on SNL, the Oscars, and Princess Diaries, I think Anne Hathaway sings decently. The role of Fantine, however, is known as one of the toughest belter roles in all of musical theatre, including the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” song. I wish Hooper would have picked someone with more singing experience. The only trait about Hathaway that matches Fantine’s description is the that the character looks like she is dying of consumption or suffering from anorexia.
My first choice for Fantine is Kerry Ellis. She was in one of the original casts of Wicked as Elphaba and in the televised version of Chess in London a few years ago. Depending on the age of the Valjean casted, other options I would consider include Lea Salonga, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Idina Menzel.
Taylor Swift Samantha Barks
Character Description: Belter or low alto—daughter of the Thénardiers, peasant, tom-boy in love with Marius.
As of January 31, Taylor Swift is no longer in the works to play this role. In her place, Hooper has chosen Samantha Barks to fill the role of Eponine. Barks’s experience includes screen acting on BBC television as well as playing Eponine in the 25th Anniversary edition performance of Les Mis.
Despite Swift no longer filling the role, I did want to give my opinion on the casting: most well-trained singers and musicians do not like Swift for the sheer fact that she is rarely on pitch when she sings live, her voice is weak, and she tends to whine. I won’t say any more as to not offend anyone who is a Taylor Swift fan, but nevertheless, it was a 100% miscast if nothing else.
Aside from Barks, my next choice for Eponine would be Lea Michele (Glee, Les Miserables). Other options I would consider include Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) and Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible). I’m sure there are many others that would be better for the role than Swift, but these are the first ones that come to my mind.
Cosette: Amanda Seyfried
Character Description: Soprano—innocent, beautiful, cultured daughter of Fantine, adopted by Valjean, in love with Marius.
I am extremely excited about this casting; Seyfried is typecast and sings very well.
If Seyfried couldn’t play Cosette, other people I would consider include Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera, film version), Hilary Duff (Raise Your Voice), and Katie Hall (25th Anniversary edition).
Marius: Eddie Redmayne
Character Description: Baritenor—student revolutionary, friends with Eponine, in love with Cosette.
I have never actually heard Redmayne sing, but he has both a big screen acting and musical theater background, so I will be eager to see what he brings to this role.
My first choice in casting Marius would be Josh Groban, because he is absolutely typecast in looks and voice. Darren Criss (Glee, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) would be my runner-up, and other considerations include Zac Efron (Hairspray), Ben Feldman (Drop Dead Diva) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd).
Enjolras: Aaron Tveit
Character Description: Baritenor—leader of the student revolutionaries, good friend of Marius.
Tveit is the other cast member I have yet to hear sing, but he has a nice resume as well including both screen acting and musical theater.
Ramin Karimloo (25th Anniversary edition) is the first person I would cast as Enjolras. Other people to consider include Adam Pascal (Rent, Chess), Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, original cast), and Neil Patrick Harris (Rent, Dr. Horrible).
Madame Thénardier: Helena Bonham Carter
Character Description: Alto—married to Monsieur Thénardier, Eponine’s mother, Cosette’s aunt, despicable pickpocket and thief who manages the inn with her husband.
I am also excited about Helena Bonham Carter in the role of Madame Thénardier. She’s also typecast and sings well (Sweeney Todd).
After Bonham Carter, other options to consider for the role include Bernadette Peters (Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun), Brooke Elliott (Wicked touring cast, Drop Dead Diva), or Dot-Marie Jones (Glee).
Monsieur Thénardier: Sacha Baron Cohen
Character Description: Baritone or tenor—married to Madame Thénardier, Eponine’s father, Cosette’s uncle, despicable pickpocket and thief who owns the main inn in town.
Sacha Baron Cohen fits the role characteristically and physically; however, has anyone even heard him sing? I just don’t know about this one.
Jason Alexander (Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, The Producers) has an incredible singing voice, so he would be my first choice to play Monsieur Thenardier. The only other option that came to mind was Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd).
The second issue is due to the way Hooper has decided to record the singing. Hooper plans to record the scenes with singing live as opposed to pre-recording with lip-synching in the actual scenes like most musicals are filmed. Normally, as a singer myself, I would be all for this; however, when you have a cast in which most are mediocre singers and fairly inexperienced musicians, I don’t think it is such a good idea. Those who are Broadway vets are obviously used to having to sing, dance, act, and do crazy staging all at the same time. Those that are not used to all of these aspects will struggle though, and it will come out in the recording process.
Again, I am very excited that they finally are making a film version of this awesome musical, but unfortunately I do not have the highest hopes of it coming close to measuring up to actually seeing it in a theater live with well-experienced singer/actors. I hope Hooper and the rest of the cast prove me wrong.
The seventh film adaptation of Les Mis will hit theaters December 7.
Jennifer Griffin is an Adjunct Music Professor at Northern Illinois University. With two Masters degrees in Vocal Performance and Musicology at the ripe age of 25, she makes music a priority in her life. In her free time, Jennifer teaches voice and piano at private studios, accompanies singers and instrumentalists, and daydreams about making it big someday at the Lyric Opera. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter at @jgprimadonna.