Universal // 2010 // 170 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // February 12th, 2011
"Do you hear the people sing?"
In October 1985, a show premiered in London's West End that not only saved Britain's musical theatre industry, but captured the hearts and minds of tens if not hundreds of millions of people. Twenty five years later, producer Cameron Mackintosh stages an anniversary for this little-show-that-could at The O2 (formerly known as The Millennium Dome) in South London, featuring a full symphonic orchestra, a massive choir, and the combined might of two extremely talented London revival ensembles.
Jean Valjean -- Alfie Boe
Javert -- Norm Lewis
Fantine -- Lea Salonga (Mulan)
Young Cosette -- Mia Jenkins
Madame Thenardier -- Jenny Galloway
Monsieur Thenardier -- Matt Lucas (Little Britain)
Eponine -- Samantha Barks
Gavroche -- Robert Madge
Marius -- Nick Jonas (Jonas)
Enjolras -- Ramin Karimloo
Cossette -- Katie Hall
Director Nick Morris does an astounding job recreating the atmosphere of the full stage show, while streamlining the narrative to focus exclusively on the music. Three huge screens hang above the stage during which live shots are intercut with transitional scenes to flesh out story elements lost in its condensing. With no set pieces to speak of, the lighting become critical in establishing the mood and movement, and it is brilliant. From the gritty streets and the barricade, to the depths of the sewers, we're fully immersed in each location. Perhaps most important to the DVD presentation is how masterful the editing is, seamlessly flowing from long, midrange, and closeup shots, to unique views from the orchestra, choir, and audience.
Despite playing nearly everything to the audience, this version of Les Misérables is surprisingly non-presentational. The cast goes full emotional tilt, most refusing to break character even during extended audience applause. Veteran stage actors Alfie Boe and Norm Lewis do a magnificent with the roles of Valjean and Javert respectively, as does Ramin Karimloo as the rebellious Enjolras. Nick Jonas -- undoubtedly the most talented of the Jonas brothers -- tries to keep pace vocally (sporting a strangely affected British accent), but fails to fully embrace the role of Marius; this becomes painfully obvious when nearly everyone on stage outperforms him. The stunning Samantha Barks, who came up short in Andrew Lloyd Webber's BBC reality series I'd Do Anything, shows up Nick and Katie Hall (Cosette) with a dazzlingly emotional performance as Eponine. Seeing Lea Salonga (who played Eponine in the original Broadway run) now sing the role of Fantine is fantastic, but she has to bust her chops to hit those lower notes. While Jenny Galloway manages to upstage the great Matt Lucas as the show's legendary comedic pair, never fear. Matt steals the spotlight back in Act Two.
The icing on this cake is the welcoming of the original 1985 West End cast for the encore, during which four Valjeans (Colm Wilkinson, John Owen-Johns, Simon Bowen, and Alfie Boe) perform a quartet version of "Bring Him Home," before being joined by the rest of the ensemble for a reprise of "One Day More." If this doesn't stir your blood, nothing will. And we close the show with Cameron Mackintosh's introduction of Les Mis creators Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, followed by a performance of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" by a mass of students who have performed the school edition of the show throughout the UK.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the colors are astonishingly rich. Many music performance DVDs tend to lose resolution in the dark transitions inherent to stadium shows, but credit the camera crew because that doesn't happen here. The Dolby 5.1 mix is lushly robust, albeit more front heavy than I assume the Blu-ray's DTS-HD Master Audio version to be. Here the surrounds aren't fully utilized until the battle at the barricade. In contrast, the Dolby 2.0 mix proves to be a more intimate experience, but no less powerful.
Only one bonus feature to speak of...
A Whiz through Les Miz (5 min) -- A promo piece created for this performance looking back through the history of the show from its 1985 premiere to today; more than 45,000 performances worldwide!
The 10th Anniversary concert had replaced the original ('80s synth heavy) cast album on my iTunes rotation, and Les Misérables in Concert: 25th Anniversary may well supplant that, although you can't ever truly replace Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean. That would be akin to replacing Robert Preston in The Music Man or Yul Brynner in The King and I. Some performances are eternal.
Given the events of the past three weeks in both Tunisia and Egypt, the context of Les Misérables becomes frighteningly relevant. Change isn't impossible, if claimed and fought for by the passion of young people who want a better life for themselves and the generations to follow. "Liberté, egalité, and fraternité!" And long live musical theatre!
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 170 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated