With a hefty Broadway run from 1987 to 2003, Les Misérables has gone down in history as one of the longest running shows around. The heartbreaking and powerful tale became a symbol of musical theater and it remains one of the most influential works of the industry. Reception of Claude-Michel Schönberg's masterpiece is obviously universal and to be quite honest it stands firm as my favorite musical. I don't like bringing bias into my reviews but when I saw the opportunity to check out this release for the 10th Anniversary Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall I simply couldn't pass it up.
If you are a fan then you undoubtedly know what the 10th Anniversary Concert was. In 1995 a production was put together to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the London West End's opening of Les Mis. Taking the stage was an all-star cast made up of some of the best performers ever to slip into the role of the show's characters. With a huge orchestra backing them this performance was less like the musical and more like a concert. Trappings from the show were skipped though the actors wore costumes representing their characters and a brief narrative with scenes such as the barricade appeared on a screen in the back.
The likes of Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Ruthie Henshall, Jenny Galloway, Lea Salonga, and Michael Ball joined many others to make up the "dream team" of sorts. With a majority of the music from the show, this presentation was epic by any fan's standards. Sure there were a couple of numbers missing such as "The Death of Gavroche" but overall this was amazing and complete from start to finish.
In case you have not seen this performance there are some numbers that truly stand out from the rest. For instance, Quast's "Stars" proved to be one of the most haunting renditions of the song I have ever heard. Salonga brings a fantastic amount of emotion into "On My Own" and Ball truly stands out with "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables". And of course, anything Wilkinson touches is instant gold as he set the standard by which all Jean Valjean's should be portrayed.
All around this is the definitive recording for Les Misérables and it stands as the archetype that everyone should hold the musical to. It doesn't get any better than this though I must say that it's not a true representation of what you see on stage. Due to that fact I'd have to say that the 10th Anniversary Concert will be appreciated most by people who have seen the musical and know what's going on. The lyrics and music tell much of the story but the real experience is sitting in the audience and watching it performed in front of you.
Ten years ago Les Misérables: 10th Anniversary Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall found its way onto DVD. Since then the disc has obviously gone out of print though you can still manage to find it if you want to pay upwards of $100. Due to that fact I unfortunately did not have the original to make comparisons to and let's face it, my VHS tape isn't exactly source material. With that being said this reissue is of very good quality and it presents the original concert wonderfully.
Released by BBC, this new 2 disc edition must be picked up by anyone who loves Les Misérables. Both acts of the musical have been placed on the first disc with the second being reserved for a documentary of sorts that's covered in the extras section of this review. The 10th Anniversary Concert is the definitive presentation for Les Mis at home and in that regard this DVD truly stands out.
Les Misérables: 10th Anniversary Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall is presented on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The video quality of this release is very good and stood out compared to our VHS release of the performance (as stated we did not have the original out of print DVD to make comparisons). A few flaws did permeate the image here as grain was constant and ranged from light to heavy. Compression artifacts were noticeable as well though this may have been due to the transfer as both acts were placed together on one disc. Given the fact that this performance was taped about 13 years ago the video also has a very soft edge to it. Overall this release is more than adequate but it may disappoint some looking for a high quality digital master.
This release is presented on DVD with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track. While watching this disc I felt the urge to crank it up and thankfully the sound quality did not falter much. The output that's here is more than adequate but a truly immersive 5.1 offering would have been greatly appreciated. Without hearing the sound as if you were there the powerful music loses some of its impact thanks to the fact that the soundstage is more or less flat. A nice addition to this release is the inclusion of lyrics that play on screen like subtitles during the concert.
The second disc of this release includes the only bonus features. "Stage by Stage" is a 57 minute featurette that was aired in 1988 as Les Misérables was coming into the height of its popularity. Many people who were involved in the production of the show appear here to provide commentary about the making and reception of their musical. Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Cameron Mackintosh, John Caird, and many others chime in and offer some interesting details. To be honest the commentary is kind of dry though with a smattering of video from opening nights and performances around the world this documentary proved to be interesting. I particularly enjoyed watching the behind the scenes practices and rehearsals. Content like this is pretty rare and though it's not as definitive as it could have been, as a fan of the show I certainly appreciate having it.
If you consider yourself a fan of the musical you absolutely must have Les Misérables: 10th Anniversary Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall in your collection. Pop the disc in and sit back as the best performers sing the music that made the show a sensation. Newcomers may not appreciate the material as much but then again, they aren't who this release is aiming to entice. This 2 disc edition features a timeless musical and is a welcome reissue. Highly Recommended
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