Guest Post – Will Tom Hooper Be Able to Tackle Les Miserables?

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!

–Kristin

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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:

  1. The music is extremely hard for actors who are not trained singers to perform.
  2. 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!)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 (EnchantedHairspray), 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.

Eponine: 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 (RentChess), 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.

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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

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2012: A Peak for Film Series?

The year 2012 holds possibly some of the greatest film conclusions and beginnings of series (and then a few more . . . ) that have not only your typical fanboy jumping with excitement, but your average theater attender as well. Now, I will not be including Scary Movie 5 or Men in Black 3 (sorry Anna Faris and Will Smith) in this post, but that doesn’t mean I’m heartless. If anything, I shouldn’t be including the Twilight movie, but I think it’s too anticipated for me to leave it out.

Let’s start with the epic conclusions:

1) The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Perhaps the most anticipated film of 2012, Christopher Nolan plans to wrap up his Batman trilogy in July of next summer. Already photos, videos, a teaser trailer, and various rumors have leaked from all the proper channels, just fueling the fire of what Nolan fans expect to be better than The Dark Knight, a film considered one of the most remarkable and best of this generation. He has the same crew and a few new faces. The big question is . . . will The Dark Knight Rises live up to the impossible expectations of viewers, or will it *just* miss the mark and be considered the film that couldn’t? Being a Nolan fan myself, I have high hopes, but I’m afraid all this pre-excitement feels dazzling for now, but will continue to build until there is no momentum left. Let’s hope the pressure doesn’t get to him and he delivers an even more epic film than the previous Dark Knight.

2) The Hobbit

If I were to get technical, The Hobbit would actually be a pre-sequel, opening a slot for it in the “beginning series,” but since Peter Jackson has already given everyone three fantastic Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit actually places fourth in that line, making it the last. Tearing out a page from the X-Men series playbook, and following suite via J.R.R. Tolkein’s intended order for the series (he first wrote Lord of the Rings, and then later penned The Hobbit), Jackson expectedly unexpectedly is directing this epic beginning end film. He’s been posting production videos to his Facebook page, only egging on the film geeks that will watch anything LOTR they can click their mouses on.

3) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (can this title be any longer?)

Stop with the Twilight!

Unfortunately for any Twilight fans reading this (are there any . . . ?), I don’t have much to say about this film because the only one in the series I ever saw was the first one, which was a big disappointment for me with all the uproar of how fantastic the series supposedly was. I agree – it’s just my opinion, but even a fan would have to admit that the overexposure of Bella, Edward, and Jacob marketing is driving even proud fans into dark corners to hide their embarrassment over liking the series. Perhaps Stephanie Meyers really had something special, but what could have been something worthwhile got destroyed when it went viral. The nation’s critics never gave any one of the films in the series an overall positive rating. And don’t even get me started with the Harry Potter comparisons (you should know where my allegiances lie, anyway!). Anyways, I know I should include some kind of information about this film, but the only knowledge I really have to offer is that this is the final film in the series. After mimicking Harry Potter‘s successful technique of dividing the final book of the series into two films, the second installment of Breaking Dawn will be hitting theaters mid-November next year. Personally, I look forward to the end of it so I can finally stop hearing about it (I can imagine Taylor Lautner has similar sentiments). I digress.

OK, let’s hit up the beginnings now:

1) The Avengers

If you saw Captain America and then waited through the end credits, you were probably one of the first to see the teaser for the upcoming Avengers flick, due to be released in May of next year. Since then, posters and a fuller trailer mainly focusing on Robert Downy Jr.’s humor, have been released online. This year we got to see Thor and Captain America, and last year we got to see the second installment of Iron Man. Now we get to see all three grace the screen with an additional Mark Ruffalo taking a swing at playing The Hulk (not that we’re going to miss Edward Norton . . . ), along with Jeremy Renner playing Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson playing Black Widow (remember her from Iron Man?), and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. This should be a pretty epic cast lead by none other than Mr. Joss Whedon, who has a big enough fanbase of his own to bring in viewers.

2) The Revamped (“Amazing”)  Spiderman

The Amazing Spiderman

This decision to already redesign Spiderman has divided fans . . . loyalists cling to Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire while the newer, younger generation who worship Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield and were blown away by The Social Network are opening their minds to this new possibility. Especially since fanboys claimed the previous unfinished trilogy messed up the “true” story of Peter Parker’s love life (Spiderman wasn’t always in love with the slutty version of Mary-Jane Watson from the previous series?!), they believe Marc Webb, the ironically named director, will be able to make things right this time around.

3) The Hunger Games

I personally have a lot wearing on this first movie. I read the trilogy this summer and fell in love with Katniss, Peeta, and the world of Panem. But after the out-of-control marketing that spawned from the dreaded Twilight series, I feel a sense of nervousness that The Hunger Games might try to follow in Bella and Edward’s shoes. Between Winter’s Bone, the X-Men prequel, and a few other small roles, I believe in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting ability, but this new taste for over-marketing, tween obsession with fictional book trilogies turned film series has even me concerned for the overall appearance and direction that Ross might take the series. He’s made some gems in the past (Dave, Big), but I hope that in the end that the green isn’t the only reason this film series may become successful. Plus, Lawrence seems capable of taking a photo that doesn’t make her appear angry at the world or high or both simultaneously (Kristen Stewart, anyone?). So that’s a good start, right?

4) Superman: Man of Steel

Not much information has been floating around regarding this film, more than likely because of all the epic film conclusions/beginnings preceding it (just re-read this post if you’re confused). But the information we do have access to is that Jonathan Nolan, Christopher’s brother, will be directing, and that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams will be starring. I’m trying as hard as possible to not have some kind of vendetta against JNolan for casting Adams, a redhead, as Lois Lane (PLEASE DYE HER HAIR!?), but I’m finding it difficult. Since her role in The Fighter, Adams has proven that she can effectively play an edgy character. But that doesn’t mean she’s a great fit for Lois Lane. Personally, I find it difficult to imagine the Enchanted princess to properly fill the sassy character’s shoes without looking completely out of place, but any hope lies in that a Nolan is directing the film.