Les Miserables stands as one of the most beloved musicals in the world and it's been going strong for over 25 years. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more celebrated show and over the years there have been many special events. In concert halls around the world different troupes and casts have gathered to perform the musical, and in October 2010 the 25th Anniversary Concert was featured at The O2 Arena in North Greenwich.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to review the DVD of 10th Anniversary Concert from 1995. It was a spectacle with performers such as Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Ruthie Henshall, Jenny Galloway, Lea Salonga, and Michael Ball. For the 25th Anniversary Concert the cast was as follows: Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, Norm Lewis as Javert, Lea Salonga as Fantine, Nick Jonas as Marius, Katie Hall as Cosette, Jenny Galloway as Madame Thénardier, Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras, Samantha Barks as Éponine, and Matt Lucas as Thénardier. While this most recent selection of performers doesn't quite live up to the gravitas of the 10th Anniversary Concert, this release is nothing to sneeze at.
There are a few things about this 25th Anniversary Concert that stand out from the very start. For one thing The O2 is an amazing venue and it allowed for the producers to do things with lightning and staging that simply weren't possible during the 10th Anniversary Concert's Royal Albert Hall. As such the visuals are stunning and this is quite possible the very best Les Miserables has looked on stage in a while. Then again it's more of a concert venue and it focuses more strongly on singing, rather than acting, so set designs and whatnot are minimal.
Another thing that really sets this concert apart from the previous one is the fact that dialogue and more pieces of the script are included. The 25th Anniversary Concert feels closer to the actual musical than its 15 year old counterpart and it's rather authentic in that regard. The audio sampling is more complete with this release and it's a must for fans, even if they own the original 10th Anniversary Concert already.
Now, as far as what's actually here and what performances stand out, the quality varies greatly. Alfie Boe makes for a good Valjean and he nails all the hard notes. Likewise Lea Salonga, Jenny Galloway, Katie Hall, Ramin Karimloo (the current Phantom in Love Never Dies), and Matt Lucas all stand out in their roles. Samantha Barks, a contestant from the BBC's I'd Do Anything even steals the spotlight as Éponine with her performance of "On My Own". Contrasting these performances are some underwhelming acts and possible miscasting. Norm Lewis doesn't have the bite that Javert requires and Nick Jonas stands out as woefully inadequate compared to the rest of the cast. As a result "Stars" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" are lackluster.
After the full show there some fantastic surprises in store for viewers. The least of which is the creators of the show coming on stage and talking about what has made Les Miserables special over the years. The big surprise, which I will not spoil for you, makes this release worth picking up on its own. It's a nice way to pay homage to the show and it's a great piece of fan-service.
At the end of the day (pun intended) Les Miserables: 25th Anniversary Concert is highly recommended to fans of the musical. It's full of powerful performances, it's gorgeous, and, thanks to the inclusion of dialogue that wasn't apart of the previous release, it's much more complete. This isn't the greatest cast put on stage, but it's more than adequate and there are stellar performances throughout.
Les Miserables: 25th Anniversary Concert is presented on Blu-ray with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and full 1080p high definition with VC-1 encoding. The video quality on this release is spectacular with a great deal of sharpness and clarity. Being on stage with all the lighting, black levels are appropriately rich and shadows are deep. With that being said the image is somewhat flat with no real texture to it, though that varies depending on camera and angle. The 10th Anniversary DVD release hardly holds a candle to the quality represented here. Overall this is an outstanding looking release that has plenty going for it.
For audio this Blu-ray offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (48kHz, 5Mbps) for its main source. There is a secondary Dolby Digital Plus 2.0, but that's far too flat and standard for the material in this instance. The DTS track is outstanding with phenomenal acoustics as recorded live. The sense of immersion is wonderful and one really gets the sense that you're sitting in the audience, especially considering the abundance of noise from the crowd. Pitch, bass, and balance are wonderful all around and the orchestral score is breathtaking here.
For supplemental content there's feature named "A Whiz Thru Miz" (4:56) which is basically an overview of the musical's success around the world. There are some interesting news clips and interview segments here, but it's little more than an extended trailer for the show.
If you were ever a fan of the musical, Les Miserables: 25th Anniversary Concert is an easy purchase. The cast here is full of ups and downs, but it's epic in so many ways. From visuals to music and surprise at the end of the show, there's plenty to love about this release. The Blu-ray also maintains strong quality all around and is totally worth the additional cost. Les Miserables: 25th Anniversary Concert is Highly Recommended.