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Les Misérables
Album Cover Art
2012 Highlights
2013 Deluxe
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed and Co-Produced by:
Claude-Michel Schönberg

Additional Music, Co-Orchestrated, and Co-Produced by:
Anne Dudley

Co-Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Stephen Brooker

Co-Orchestrated by:
Stephen Metcalfe
Rael Jones

Lyrics by:
Alain Boublil
Herbert Kretzmer
Jean-Mark Natel
Trevor Nunn
John Caird
Labels Icon
Universal Republic Records
(December 21st, 2012)

Universal Republic Records
(March 19th, 2013)
Availability Icon
For the movie soundtrack, the 2012 highlights album and the 2013 2-CD expanded set are both regular commercial releases. The 2013 expanded product was typically only $3 to $5 more expensive than the 2012 highlights album in the months after the 2013 set's debut. In both albums' cases, the download option tended to be more expensive than the CD releases, an odd inversion of the norm.

All of the recordings of the stage production mentioned in this review are also regular commercial releases, the various sets generally under $20 in new retail cost.
The song "Suddenly" was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... on either of the albums representing the film's soundtrack if you witnessed the movie and appreciated the performances of the leads, an outcome not guaranteed given the absolutely wretched singing of the badly cast actors when compared to their stage counterparts.

Avoid it... in its film adaptation completely and continue to enjoy the many far superior performances of the popular musical from its stage renditions, the 1995 10th anniversary concert version remaining the best all-around representation of this classic work.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 8/9/13
Les Misérables: (Claude-Michel Schönberg/Anne Dudley) If the number "24601" has an immediate impact upon you, then the verbosity you are about to encounter in this review will have meaningful significance to your passion for the musical Les Misérables. If not, then you are still probably among the millions of people who have seen and enjoyed the long-running production and own one of the compilation or concert albums featuring French composer Claude-Michel Schönberg's memorable score. Originating as a concept album in France in 1980, Schönberg's music inspired by Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name eventually caught fire five years later in Great Britain, where the English adaptation featuring additional songs by the composer and lyrics by Alain Boublil became a sensation after initially tepid reviews. For Schönberg and Boublil, Les Misérables represented an early pinnacle of their careers, Miss Saigon immediately to follow but other subsequent projects lacking the same popularity. Depending on how you calculate its success, Les Misérables is intertwined with Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera atop the various charts of greatness for London and Broadway musicals, both productions revolutionizing the sound of the stage in the mid-1980's and running for extraordinarily long times, in longevity and also in their actual duration for each performance, the latter something of a joke for those in the audience (and cast and crew) with no tolerance for long productions. Both stories are tear-jerkers as well, brief interludes of comedy only temporarily distracting from the death and despair that these tragedies bring to their narratives. They ushered in a return of operatic, symphonic romance to the stage, a sound that was predicted to fail, oddly enough, by some involved with the original productions. Musicals had typically featured a dominant amount of pop-informed instrumentation at that time, and the transition to orchestral majesty was definitely worth noting for its uniqueness. In the case of Les Misérables, the original British and American recordings did feature prominent contemporary instrumentation alongside a diminished orchestra, though these electronic sounds became increasingly marginalized in the mix of each successive propagation of the production. By the time the musical was finally adapted to the big screen in 2012, nearly all of the synthetic elements, including the trademark electric bass, had been eliminated in favor of organic alternatives, punctuating the shift to symphonic grace that had truly begun at the show's debut.

Once the musical for Les Misérables debuted in London, the adaptation of Hugo's narrative was largely set. There have been alterations to it over the years, but these changes are minor. Some listeners may believe there are more differences between the productions than there actually are because of either the inconsistent album presentations of the various recordings, most of which cutting out bits and pieces, or because there are abbreviated versions of the musical available for schools and other smaller groups to utilize. The story remains one of redemption, a highly religious tale of personal transformation that follows the life of French convict Jean Valjean as he leads a second life after spending nineteen years in a slave gang for stealing a loaf of bread and attempting to escape. He reforms himself into a wealthy mayor and factory owner who takes pity upon one of his workers and raises her daughter, only to be chased by his former captor, Inspector Javert, who is relentless in his pursuit of Valjean. All of this takes place over seventeen years and against the backdrop of the Paris Uprising of 1832 that saw students unsuccessfully attempt to rise up against the monarchy of France. The 2012 film version of Les Misérables adds a new Schönberg song and a few additional arrangements by veteran British composer Anne Dudley without disrupting most of the fundamental features of the prior incarnations of the score. Producer Cameron Mackintosh, who has very successfully guided some of the most noted stage productions in modern history, tackled this adaptation after handling The Phantom of the Opera in 2004. While there had always been non-musical adaptations of the Hugo story to cinemas through the years, efforts as far back as the early 1990's to bring the Schönberg musical to the screen had stalled. And, as with the Webber musical, by the time Mackintosh and director Tom Hooper managed to go ahead with their film of Les Misérables, the original actors iconic to the production were arguably too old to reprise their parts, allowing the concept something of a reboot mentality. As expected, there was pushback involving Mackintosh's choice to all but abandon experienced stage actors (except for one major player) in the film, instead opting to throw famous film actors into the lead roles instead. Also controversial was the recording methodology that conveyed the actors performing their takes live within the scenes rather than lip-synching to a prior studio recording. That said, however, while some viewers found these choices to be catastrophic, the film itself was a wild success. It became the second-highest grossing movie musical of all time in 2013 and enjoyed significant awards recognition at the same time.

If there is one reliable way to predict how well you will embrace the 2012 cinematic adaptation of Les Misérables, it would be your reaction to the 2004 film version of The Phantom of the Opera. If you recall all the criticisms of that movie, and there were many (it was a tremendous disappointment financially, no less), they can nearly totally be applied to Les Misérables. Essentially, if you care simply as a casual fan of the concept, the 2012 film will likely not offend and will probably be a positive experience for you. If you grew up with the stage versions and the actors who made them famous, then what Mackintosh has done to this musical will be just as offensive as what he did with The Phantom of the Opera. Once again, the decision was made to hire actors rather than singers, a fatal flaw for die-hard enthusiasts of the musical who value the singing performances over all else. The orchestral mix is questionable in parts, the 70 players reduced in ambient force to match the dry intimacy with which the actors were recorded delivering their lines. The photography of the actors is also a point of contention in Les Misérables, Hooper's direction emphasizing extreme fish-eye styled close-ups that don't always even get the singers' faces completely in the shot. Some sequences, in fact, are borderline nauseating. The major difference between Les Misérables and most prior musicals was Mackintosh's absolute insistence that the actors actually deliver their lines live in the action of each moment. This meant that every shot in a scene needed to be recorded over a dozen times so that the editors could take the best rendition of each line and carefully reconstruct them into a fluid song. Given that the lead actors really can't sing anywhere near the level necessitated by the score, it's no surprise that an ungodly number of takes was required to make each scene work. Likewise, the fact that the actors are delivering the lyrics within the context of the action means that they act more than they sing, a byproduct of this process in part but also a likely result of a cast that doesn't have the capability to truly nail any particular sung line in the musical the first time. In the final mixing process, of course, you have sound effects from the environment and props, grunts and breathing, sobs and chokes, and all sorts of other artifacts that make an album presentation little more than an isolated audio track from the film. Without recording a studio version of this cast, you also have no ability to raise the power of their enunciations up to meet the force of the orchestra, which at times is considerable in this score. As such, the instrumental backing has to be constrained down to a very dry, small ambience to match the filmmakers' desired method of recording the vocals.

The Casting of the Stage and Film:

In approaching this review of Les Misérables, there are inevitable comparisons that need to be made to the stage lifetime of the musical. The first of these comparisons involves the cast, the second examines the score, and the third contrasts each individual song. After that, discussion of the album situation for the film will follow as well. For true enthusiasts of Les Misérables, it's the discussion of the cast that really matters the most. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the musical across the world, there have been individual performers of the work who have together been considered a "dream cast" for the concept. In 1995, a 10th anniversary concert collected most of these prime performers together for what many fans consider the most definitive version of the musical ever performed. Ironically, it was Mackintosh who brought this group together. The role of Valjean has always been the domain of Colm Wilkinson, who created the role in London and carried it over to Broadway and Canada. Wilkinson's extremely versatile voice can achieve reaches not usual for a tenor, and his expressiveness has often been cited as being perfect for the role of Valjean. Having also tackled the titular role in The Phantom of the Opera, his singing prowess is legendary in the stage community and actor Hugh Jackman was nervous about competing with him in the film version. Wilkinson was featured in the original London and Broadway cast recordings and returned for the 10th anniversary concert with a somewhat aged but still fantastic presence. He continued to sing the famous song "Bring Him Home," among other snippets, from this musical in cameo appearances as recently as 2010, though degradation of his voice was a distraction by that point. As beloved as Wilkinson is in the world of Les Misérables, it is no surprise that Jackman stood no chance in a direct competition. At the urging of Wilkinson, Jackman didn't even try to emulate that legend, instead making the role "his own" and thus, predictably, faring about as well as Gerard Butler did trying to follow Michael Crawford in The Phantom of the Opera. Jackman does not even attempt to hit all the notes in each stanza of his songs, bypassing many of the subtle flourishes and accents that an accomplished stage performer could hit in a single pass. Instead, he ends up speaking too many of his lines or, in some cases, oddly omitting several phrases. There is no projection in his voice and he fails to capture the fatherly, loving tones necessary for his interactions with Fantine and Cosette, leaving him dwelling in the angry and desperate side of the role. This musical hinges upon the performance of Valjean, and Jackman is simply no match for the material, regardless of your affinity level for Wilkinson.

Ratings Icon
Average: 2.33 Stars
***** 122 5 Stars
**** 90 4 Stars
*** 113 3 Stars
** 192 2 Stars
* 367 1 Stars
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Colm Wilkenson's Valjean is a struggle.
Wilczak - May 4, 2017, at 6:47 p.m.
1 comment  (352 views)
2010 CD & 25th Anniversary DVD
Phil - October 31, 2013, at 2:34 p.m.
1 comment  (620 views)
gliljas - October 28, 2013, at 3:30 p.m.
1 comment  (515 views)
I should have expected something like this.   Expand >>
Richard Kleiner - October 1, 2013, at 11:54 a.m.
2 comments  (1128 views)
Newest: October 19, 2013, at 7:54 p.m. by
Mr. Big
Not that bad
JFC - September 28, 2013, at 3:47 p.m.
1 comment  (730 views)
Hardly a frisbee
Michael Horne - September 28, 2013, at 4:17 a.m.
1 comment  (726 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
2012 Highlights Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 65:20
• 1. Look Down - performed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Cast (2:23)
• 2. The Bishop - performed by Colm Wilkinson (1:34)
• 3. Valjean's Soliloquy - performed by Hugh Jackman (3:18)
• 4. At the End of the Day - performed by Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Cast (4:27)
• 5. I Dreamed a Dream - performed by Anne Hathaway (4:38)
• 6. The Confrontation - performed by Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe (1:55)
• 7. Castle on a Cloud - performed by Isabelle Allen (1:11)
• 8. Master of the House - performed by Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, and Cast (4:52)
• 9. Suddenly - performed by Hugh Jackman (2:32)
• 10. Stars - performed by Russell Crowe (3:01)
• 11. ABC Café/Red & Black - performed by Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, and Cast (4:21)
• 12. In My Life/A Heart Full of Love - performed by Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Banks (3:12)
• 13. On My Own - performed by Samantha Banks (3:11)
• 14. One Day More - performed by Les Misérables Cast (3:39)
• 15. Drink With Me - performed by Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Huttlestone, and Cast (1:41)
• 16. Bring Him Home - performed by Hugh Jackman (3:37)
• 17. The Final Battle - performed by Les Misérables Cast (3:17)
• 18. Javert's Suicide - performed by Russell Crowe (3:00)
• 19. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables - performed by Eddie Redmayne (3:13)
• 20. Epilogue - performed by Les Misérables Cast (6:20)
2013 Deluxe Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 114:59

Notes Icon
The insert of the 2013 deluxe album contains extensive notation from the composer, producer, and a journalist. That of the 2012 highlights album contains condensed versions of this material.

The various albums representing the stage production typically feature far more in-depth notation about the musical in their inserts.
Copyright © 2013-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Les Misérables are Copyright © 2012, 2013, Universal Republic Records (Highlights), Universal Republic Records (Deluxe) and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 8/9/13 (and not updated significantly since).
Yes, we did hear the people sing, and they were awful!
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