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Our reviews of Les Miserables (published September 28th, 2004), Les Miserables: 10th Anniversary Concert At London's Royal Albert Hall (published March 3rd, 2008), Les Miserables (Blu-ray) (published December 25th, 2012), and Les Miserables In Concert: 25th Anniversary (published February 12th, 2011) are also available.
Now with 25% more Jonas Brothers!
A musical performance a quarter century in the making, Les Miserables in Concert: 25th Anniversary is an eruption of emotion and talent to rival any three hours of entertainment you will ever experience. On the downside, it has a Jonas Brother in it, but hey—nothing in life can be perfect.
A celebration of the longest-running musical in the world, Les Miserables in Concert: 25th Anniversary has a pretty self-explanatory title going for it. Cameron Mackintosh's English-language adapted musical (from the French, of course) has taken the world by storm, proving it to be one of the most enduring and emotionally charged productions in musical theater history. This anniversary performance combines the talents of two London ensembles, a massive stage production, a full symphonic orchestra, and hundreds of choir vocalists.
If you have watched the previous anniversary shows (Les Miserables: 10th Anniversary Concert At London's Royal Albert Hall), you will know what to expect here. The performers stand in a line in front of microphones to sing their parts, cantata style, instead of romping about the set and stage. The end result is less dynamic and engaging than a proper West End or Broadway treatment, but this sacrifice the third dimension is a necessary evil to scale the production to the massive O2 Arena in London. Once you adapt, you'll find you hardly even notice. After all, the star of the show is the music itself, and the performers rise to the challenge with expert precision.
It should be noted that Alfie Boe is ridiculously talented. At thirty-seven, he sings the role of Valjean like he has a lifetime of experience at his back, not like an auto mechanic who stumbled into musical theater by chance. Seriously, that is a true story. His performance is powerful yet nuanced, full of emotion and empathy, and he gets more than one standing ovation before the evening is through. Purists may clamor for Colm Wilkinson, but after "Bring Him Home," you'll be sold.
Norm Lewis is a strong Javert, appropriately stern-faced and grim as the single-minded inspector. Kate Hall and Samantha Barks as Eponine and Cosette are operatic angels, beautiful in presence and voice alike. Ramin Karimloo turns out a marvelously energetic Enjolras and Matt Lucas (Little Britain) is a delightful surprise as the oafish Thénardier, who uses his comedic presence in perfect synchronicity with Jenny Galloway, a veteran Madame Thénardier. You wouldn't expect a comic to have such killer stage presence and voice, but darned if the two of them don't bring down the house—which is more than you can say about the actual rock star in the midst.
Yes, there is a Jonas Brother in this production, and the less said about it, the better. There is honestly no point discussing the merits of this alcohol-influenced casting decision; we are stuck with it, and we must be content with watching Nick Jonas get his pants kicked on stage. You almost feel bad for this poor kid, a multimillionaire rock star and pop icon extraordinaire in his own right, looking genuinely unnerved to be in the company of actual singers. And with good reason: Nick sings like a pop star, not a musical theater star. His voice is tremulous and weak compared to even the most anonymous of company singers on stage, and he is outperformed in every direction he turns.
What else needs to be said? It's Les Mis, people. The cast is tremendous and the performances are dynamite. Even in a stripped-down production, the set and lighting are top-notch; each sequence feels perfectly realized through slight changes in stage lighting and shadow, shifting from sewers to the streets of revolution-torn Paris to interior so smoothly that you barely notice. The end result is a three-hour cavalcade of music and emotion, a perfect tribute. Just try and stay seated during "One Day More." You'll be on the edge of the couch, fists in the air in triumph without even realizing it.
A concert film like this begs for a top-notch Blu-ray transfer and Les Miserables in Concert: 25th Anniversary delivers, mostly. Closeup shots are where the Blu-ray shines; the razor-sharp detail lets you can count the follicles on the faces of the performers. As the camera pans back, things get murkier as the powerful stage lights play silly buggers with the contrast and detail. Colors bleed and bloom, funky artifacts appear around light sources, and grain dances through the background like a snowstorm in New Jersey. It's an improvement over standard definition to be sure, but the transfer is too one-dimensional and soft to be the reference quality fans demand.
Recorded at the O2 Arena in London, a venue more suited to U2 than a tenor solo, the mix is cavernous and reverberating; a wall of hundreds of instruments and amplified vocals cascading from all directions. What it lacks in order, it makes up for in sheer enthusiasm—here is a concert film where you actually feel like you are in the audience! Bass response is moderate; vocals sparkle and shimmer, mixed evenly against the orchestra and choir.
In terms of extras, all we get is a five-minute promotional reel showcasing the twenty-five year history of the play; a slick advert, but an advert nonetheless. Amusingly, we also get enough subtitle choices to allow two-thirds of the population of the planet to enjoy this Blu-ray.
In all seriousness, this disc is worth the cost of admission just for the finale, a Valjean Quartet anniversary performance with Colm Wilkinson, Alfie Boe, John Owen-Jones, and Simon Bowman reprising their roles in perfect jaw-dropping harmony. If that wasn't enough, they finish out with the original London cast belting out "One Day More" alongside their modern-day counterparts. If you're lucky, you'll just get goose bumps. More than likely, you'll be in full tears.
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