Les Miserables has been considered a benchmark in musical performances for 25 years now. The stage production has found itself impeccably representative of the current mindset regarding Victor Hugo's classic novel (from which it is based) with multiple versions performed around the globe to countless large and adoring audiences who truly seem to be passionately devoted to the music and the show.
This latest rendition was performed at the remarkable O2 arena which will take any viewer's breath away simply by the profound nature of where the concert is being performed. The cast includes the likes of Alfie Boe (Jean Valjean), Norm Lewis (Javert), Lea Salonga (Fantine) and Katie Hall (Cosette). Nick Jonas (yes, that Nick Jonas, the teen pop star sensation) perform in this 2010 edition.
I have a confession to make. It's not a deep, dark secret or anything of the sort (no need to worry). Be that as it may, it could help readers to make sense of my own voice and opinion on this latest version of this musical experience. Les Miserables, as written by Victor Hugo is my all time favorite novel. It is not even simply in the running for one of my favorite books. It is literally the one book I would take with me to a deserted island if I could choose only one, and I'm not even referring to one of those rather redundant abridged versions either. My hardbound copy of the Signet translation with 1,463 complete and unabridged pages is the definitive reading experience in my own eyes: the work of an unparalleled narrative genius who knew every beat you could possibly create within a story. To this day I have never read a better novel, and while I am sure that many other stories will continue to enchant me for decades to come I find it hard to imagine something of equal or higher-caliber overwhelming my senses in quite the same way.
So where do I stand on the 'musical event of a lifetime', as proclaimed on the case of this DVD release celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the now famous musical interpretation of Les Miserables? To be bluntly honest: I find myself somewhere around the middle ground of acceptance and disappointment. The strong performances represent the devotion of the performers. The cast is high caliber for the most part. While the staginess of the concert is less theatrical than I was initially hoping for and expecting it was still clear that an immense amount of demanding work was put into creating a visual and aural experience worth remembering for many years to come. The downside is that much of the original narrative is of course trounced upon. Serious fans of the novel will find moments of derision while both newcomers and long-time fans of this musical experience are more likely to find things to appreciate with this performance, ranging from the gorgeous music to the detailed costumes, and the shockingly large ensemble that comprises an entirely potent and powerful chorus.
The singing alone is superb on every single imaginable level. I was impressed by the vocal performances found in every member of the cast; even Nick Jonas (who is likely to receive the most criticism) was impressive in his role as love-struck Marius despite being outside of the caliber displayed by other performers. While Jonas lacked the musical abilities featured in the rest of the cast his singing was nonetheless worthwhile and I noticed a surprising amount of dedication to the role that was noteworthy for bringing raw, real emotion to the character. The other performers bring added depth to their individual roles as well but audiences already expect them to shine radiantly as seasoned performers (an unfortunate miscalculation on many levels).
Despite the fact that I was impressed by the cast, I found it unfortunate that most of these thespians rarely received an opportunity to directly interact with one another on stage physically and instead much of the performances required an injection of emotion into the vocals alone, with these presentations being directed outwardly - as if directly towards the audience. There is less focus on the acting itself and this easily decreased from my overall enjoyment of the show. That unfortunate aspect may have been regarded as a necessity in order to perform such captivating songs with bravura in a stage as enormous as the O2 yet it doesn't quite manage to take the entire sting away of feeling less emotionally involved in the depiction of Victor Hugo's legendary epic.
I was somewhat disappointed by the video quality on display. The visuals are often rich and filled with a decent depth of color. Nonetheless, the footage was often less sharp than I was anticipating - even for a DVD release - and sometimes seemed softer than what I would consider 'normal'. If viewers can choose between the DVD and Blu-ray format I would choose the High Definition release for what is surely a more impressive visual presentation.
Luckily, the audio fares significantly better. Both 2.0 and 5.1 sound mixes are provided. The 2.0 mix is somewhat underwhelming and not nearly as immersive as the 5.1 surround sound option, which provides added clarity and depth that helps viewers to feel as though they are literally participating in the concert event. The performers are all easy to hear and properly recorded - the music truly shines.
Don't approach this release expecting an array of behind the scenes bonus materials. You want extras? You won't find much to chew on. The only added extra appears to be nothing more than a brief promotional piece that doesn't add anything special to the experience. Stick around after the concert performance itself ends though - don't rush to eject DVD! Interviews and performances from special guests are featured afterwards that I won't spoil for longtime fans of the musical.
I found this 25th Anniversary Concert to be a powerful (yet underwhelming) performance based on one of the literary world's greatest accomplishments. Newcomers will likely marvel at the sheer spectacle of the event, and long-time fans of the musical will surely find some worthwhile moments of merit.
Recommended, but with the caveat that die-hard fans of the novel may be just as irritated as I was by some of the decisions made in adapting the original saga.