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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Recast Edition: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)

Eventually I’ll get around to reviewing Dr. Horrible, but until then, I wanted to do a special “recast edition” post on the web movie. “Recast Edition” is a type of post where I think of various actors that could potentially fill lead roles in a movie.

Penny

Penny is played by the pitch-perfect Felicia Day, who still might be the most-suited person to ever fill that role (point for you, Joss Whedon!). While she’s played a variety of guest roles on TV,  she’s primarily known for her web series that she created and stars in, The Guild.

My sister, Jenn, and I talked about the idea of recasting these roles, and one actress we both agreed on to play Penny was Zooey Deschanel. I think she is able to fill the shoes of an innocent, caring girl caught between a guy at the laundromat and local hero who just saved her life. Deschanel also has that quirkiness factor that Day has, and on top of that, Deschanel can sing pretty well, making her a nice fit for a supporting role in a web musical.

Captain Hammer

Nathan Fillion does an excellent job of bringing on the cheesiness while being hilarious at the same time. Basically, he plays the perfect douche. Jenn and I battled over this role more so because there are quite a few actors out there who are capable of this. But the big question was, can any of them sing? So after we rifled through various douche-like actors, I came to the conclusion that Jason Sudeikis would make an on-par Captain Hammer. The guy proved he could sing through his long-time running on SNL, and not many actors are capable of evoking a great amount of cheesiness such as Mr. Sudeikis.

Another interesting option to consider is Jon Hamm. Between his hilariously douchey portrayal of Kristen Wiig’s friend with benefits on Bridesmaids to his nice work on his hosting gig for SNL, Jon Hamm has a douche character down. But can he sing? Sudeikis is still my first pick, but I think Hamm would make an excellent back-up plan.

Dr. Horrible

I labored over this role more than the others. It’s nearly impossible to consider seeing anyone else pulling off this role quite like Neil Patrick Harris did. His excellent enunciation, his subtle humor, his clear dedication to taking over the world–is there really anyone else out there who could ever play Dr. Horrible? While I struggle to maintain only a single choice for this role, a few actors who came to mind include Ben Feldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Morrison, Bill Hader,  and Dominic Cooper.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Thirty-one year old actor Ben Feldman isn’t known for much more than his most recent and successful role playing Fred on the Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva. Why would he make a good Dr. Horrible? He looks young and vulnerable, yet capable of showing a dark side. And the dude can sing . . . well. After hearing him sing on DDD, I thought he should be in more musical productions.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Right, right, I know–he and Deschanel starred in that little, awesome movie called (500) Days of Summer. But why would he be a good fit for Dr. Horrible? First off, he has a certain look that’s similar to NPH, having a slimmer frame. Second, he’s into more grassroots projects, such as his own company he started called “HitRECord,” so the idea of being in a web movie would be appropriate for him. And third, he’s proven he can sing in movies as well as at some of the HitRECord meetings.

Glee’s Matthew Morrison has hit it big since he joined the ever growing-in-popularity FOX show. And many congrats to him for that. The guy came from Broadway like NPH and has a fantastic voice. He even looks the part. My beef with this choice, however, is the question of whether he can act the part. Personally, I regard the guy as a little arrogant from various stories/interviews, but then again, how can we know what a person is really like?

Another SNL guy, Bill Hader easily looks the most different of the group, and that is why I thought of him as an option. He’s great at playing all different types of  characters on SNL, and Dr. Horrible is definitely some kind of character. I’m curious as to whether he can sing or not, but I’m convinced he could play a silly villain easier than the rest of the bunch.

Probably the least known of this group is Dominic Cooper, who was in the film version of Mamma Mia as the character Sky, who played opposite Amanda Seyfried. Why this guy? Well, we’re assured he definitely has the vocal chops. Cooper also has a different look to him. He’s English, but he would probably be fine using a convincing American accent.

So, who to choose from the list? This is the order I would choose them in:

1) Joseph Gordon-Levitt

2) Ben Feldman

3) Bill Hader

4) Dominic Cooper

5) Matthew Morrison

What do you think? Am I way off in my choices? Who would you cast as the leads if you were casting director?

New Dr. Horrible Dream Team?

Long vs. Short Character Arcs

Before we had technicolor filmstrips, composers, and some serious technological advances, film and TV competed against one another for viewers’ attention. Although people today don’t choose to be a fan of either one or the other, there are still interesting comparison/contrasts between the two entertainment media. Many actors prefer one channel or the other to perform in, while some like taking part in both.

Earlier this year, I was reading this interview in Collider.com with John Krasinski and Ginnifer Goodwin for their then upcoming movie, Something Borrowed. Krasinski admits that without a doubt, playing a character in a long-time running TV show, The Office, is far more fun than playing a character in a movie who has to let it all out in one scene.

I understand that TV shows allow actors to flesh out their characters, continually building on what they know and adding and taking away from characters they play. It’s fun for the actors. But what do viewers prefer? I never really considered this question before I read the article and thought back about how television and film used to compete for viewers’ attention. Film was the beginning, and since then TV has become a huge medium in today’s society. And most people you ask may prefer one or the other, but are typically not opposed to either. And that’s really what it is–a preference, not a “must have,” or “should be.”

If you look at Krasinski’s character on The Office, Jim Halpert, you know that eventually he and Jenna Fischer’s “Pam” will get together. But we also know that it isn’t going to happen right away, because why would there be a need for a television show then? No, it must be drawn out. In that particular case, it takes three full seasons for the inevitable to happen. In Something Borrowed, his character, Ethan, has an arc–but a very short one. In fact, he drops a big bomb on the main character, Rachel, in one of the last scenes.

Whether it be television or a movie, the characters always start at a starting point. That way, there’s room to grow, learn, and develop relationships. While a movie typically has two hours on average to get it all figured out, TV shows often have multiple seasons with as many as 25 episodes a season. So which is better–the short or the long character arc? I believe it all comes down to context. And if the character arc fits the time allotted to the medium, then it suits it well. Although today, both media have clearly lost their predictability all around. Today, a TV show’s main character’s relationship will inevitably reach some resolution between seasons 3 and 5. Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Glee, Psych, the list goes on. Everyone has to stick around for a later season to see the characters get together; therefore, there always must be a certain amount of relationship drama occurring in seasons 1-3.

In movies, typically something bad happens in the beginning of the film to the main character. Then, that character makes a life or environmental change to their situation. He or she is introduced to someone, and a new relationship begins, develops, deals with drama, splits, and inevitably comes together in the end. Many movies are exceptions to that rule, but this is a very common foundation screenwriters use for movies.

Jim and Pam

Obviously, this is all just my opinion on characters arcs in television and film. So here’s a pro/con list I came up with to conclude the topic:

Long Character Arcs (in television):

Pros: Well-developed character, more detailed, more room to be less predictable = possibility of more surprise, greater relatability

Cons: Ability to have over-written characters, drastic changes to characters can anger audience, space to be over-dramatized, repetitive

Ethan and Rachel

 

Short Character Arcs (in movies):

Pros: Challenge for actors to adapt, well-written characters, writer is forced to follow a direct path, typically less dramatic

Cons: Less originality, ability to have under-developed characters, less relatability, predictable story arcs, lacks in detail