Les Miserables: Broadway Versus the Big Screen

Les Miserables: Broadway Versus the Big Screen

Revisiting Les Mis

It was 2002, about four or five months after the 9/11 attack on New York City’s World Trade Center. I was sitting on a board for a writing group and we were having a meeting in New York City. The experience was unforgettable for many reasons. First, New York is an experience that could never be described in words or on a movie screen. New York must be experienced in the soul and that can only happen in person. The heartbeat of the city was different than the other time I’d been there. The spirit of the people still strong, but the mood somber. Everyone around the world felt that horrible day, but no one as much as a New Yorker.

The hotel we stayed at was a few blocks from the WTC, which was now called Ground Zero. In fact, my hotel room, more than 20 stories up, had a long crack down the window and if I looked I could almost remember where the twin towers had stood. Now, there was just blue sky in that spot.

It was on this trip, this moment in time that could never be repeated, that I was introduced to my first New York Broadway play. Myself and the others on the board would go see Les Miserables that night.

The Somber Mood of the City

The city was still somber and grieving. It was almost as though a cloak of darkness had been thrown over the collective face of the city as thousands of people grieved from a shocking loss of life and sense of security. Nothing would ever be the same again. The last thing any of us really wanted to do was to go and see a play, but the truth was that this event had been planned many months previously. The tickets had been purchased, a short ride in the subway and we were there.

Falling in Love with Jean Valjean

From the moment the play started, I adored the character Jean Valjean and his internal battle between hate and love, good and evil. The inhumanity of his treatment because he wanted to save his sister’s child, the booming voice… I have always loved musicals, but I now loved Broadway as well.

The theater has a way of getting into the deepest corners of your heart. There are those places we hide from everyone around us — the hurts, the pains, the hidden longings – and the theater has a way of pulling those out and showing us a glimpse of the rest of humanity with the same longings, hurts and desires.

New Movie Les Miserables

When I heard that Les Miserables would be recreated for the big screen, I could hardly wait to see it. Then, I saw Hugh Jackman giving an interview on TV about how they recorded the scenes live instead of in a studio. I knew immediately this would be the closest thing to seeing it on Broadway again. I’ve always liked Hugh Jackman’s acting, so I couldn’t wait to see what he’d bring to the character and the story. Still, how would the big screen possibly do justice to a story seemingly meant for Broadway or written form?


hugh jackman
photo credit: Barbara.Doduk via photopin cc

The choices in actors for this movie were for the most part excellent.

  • Hugh Jackman: This Australian actor… What can one say? Wow! Looks, great acting ability, and now we know he can sing. I have liked him ever since I saw him years ago in a romantic comedy. Jackman has a way of playing a gritty character that you can still love because you know he is redeemable. He was perfect for this part. He brought a depth of emotion to scenes that not just anyone could have pulled off. Although I love romantic comedies, I have to say that his ability to perform a dramatic part may have been underrated until now. I would even go so far as to say that he could hold his own with any of the greats out there.

  • Ann Hathaway: We all knew AnnĀ could sing and act from her roles in movies like Ella Enchanted and Becoming Jane. However, what I didn’t realize is how powerful her acting could become through song. As she sings out Fantine’s last moments after falling into prostitution, she actually made me cry. I very rarely cry these days and certainly not in movies, but the raw emotions was so powerful that I felt a strange moisture trailing down my cheeks. “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living.” Wow! Bravo, Ann Hathaway. When you can make us forget you are playing a character and believe that you are Fantine in the throes of despair you have accomplished something only a few before you have. It reminded me of Jennifer Hudson’s performance in Dream Girls because of the depth of emotion through song.

  • Karen Siegfried: I only have one word… Why? I am sorry but I really don’t care for this bug-eyed little actress at all. she brings little depth to parts and her voice sounded like a bleating lamb in pain because of too much vibrato. I think her best part ended with the movie Mean Girls. I truly don’t understand why directors keep giving her parts in important movies because this is not her forte. Put her in a romantic comedy, because she does okay in those. Maybe it’s just me but when she comes onto the screen I actually groan in despair. She is that person you meet and instantly take a dislike to. She may be the nicest person that ever lived, I have no way of knowing, but I do not care for her acting at all.
  • Russell Crowe: Crowe’s solo at the end was his best performance as he wrestles with who he has always been and if what he has fought for his entire life in chasing Jean Valjean has been wrong. Ultimately, the character Javert can’t take the inner struggle and jumps from a bridge, killing himself in the process. It is a dramatic moment. Crowe did okay. He is a good actor, but his singing wasn’t great. Still, the raw emotion he showed at times made up for it. He was likely a good choice for this part and the interactions between he and Jackman worked very well, creating an on-screen chemistry between the two rivals that the story calls for.
  • Samantha Barks: I had not heard of Barks before and had to look her up. She is a relative newcomer, with some credits to her name. Wow! Great actress and great voice. Why didn’t we just blonde her up and let her play Cozette? She would have made the movie. However, she did a fantastic job as Eponine. Her longing for Marius was painful to watch and reminded everyone in the theater of that one crush you had that wasn’t returned and how painful that can be. I suspect we’ll see this young lady in many more films and rightfully so. Directors? Are you listening? If you’re thinking about calling in Siegfried, maybe you should give Barks a shot instead. I’m sure they are all taking notes, dear readers. ha ha ha

Rating Les Miserables for the Big Screen

The reaction of the audience in the theater speaks volumes. As the final scene ended and the credits rolled, the entire theater broke out in applause. It was a theatrical experience in a movie theater and one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.