Musical theater prevails with Hooper’s adaptation

Courtesy of MCT

Courtesy of MCT

As hushed hearsay infiltrates the public of a movie adaptation of a stage musical, theater fans are conflicted as to whether to sob into the nearest pillow or re-sync the soundtrack to their playlist.

The release of Les Misérables on Christmas day caused an eruption of criticism and praise (often backhanded) from the oh-so-refined theater patrons. In this elite, cultured bubble, isn’t it always the case that they could have cast it better themselves? Directed it better themselves?

Of course they could. But until they breakthrough into Hollywood, and cast and direct their first movie, only subjects of actuality will be discussed.

Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an honest gentleman living as a convict for breaking his parole.

Valjean, forever scampering from the reach of police officer Javert (Russell Crowe), promises Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a former employee on her deathbed, to help her daughter, Cosette.

Valjean adopts the child and a later, grownup Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) falls in love with student revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne) in the moments leading up to Paris’ surge with chaos and violence in the anti-monarchist uprising of 1832.

The 1,488-page Victor Hugo novel, originally published in 1862, has surfaced in four film adaptations—including director Tom Hooper’s 2012 interpretation—and since the re-opening of Les Misérables’ musical adaptation in 1980, it has secured its title as the world’s longest running musical.

Amid all the negativity surrounding the film, what cannot be dismissed as lack of achievement in Hooper’s adaptation of the stage musical is the film’s striking visual impact.

No stage set, even if conceived by the most brilliant of set designers, can contest the visually staggering, gothic-esque feel of the 2012 film.

But a common gripe with Hooper’s film adaptation of the musical is its overwhelming intensity and forcefulness—vocal cord-straining, vein-bulging performances caught in a series of close-ups as to better inform the audience of that which is important and, perhaps less deliberately, familiarize them with each actor’s foundation-teemed pores.

There is truth to theater’s beauty in its nature as a less-governed presentation. The live toured performances of Les Misérables afford greater accommodation to individual interpretation of the grimly emotive tale.

But, alas, film is not the stage, and a director’s creative license is in limbo when working on such an adaption. Pressure mounts to create a discernable resemblance to prior productions while straying enough to give the project a purpose.

Those familiar with the story of Les Misérables told in the musical production must be familiar with its misery and gloom.

The story is based on the dismal conditions of early 19th-century France when the destitute, the ailing and the progressive were cast beyond society’s bounds into the abject and rendered social mutants.

Presumably, 19th-century France as a story’s setting would qualify on most accounts as “intense.” And the intensity of the characters’ misery is merely captured by a camera that can expose what a view from a fourth-row seat cannot.

Another unrelenting grievance is from audibly-offended musical-lovers. But the mediocre vocal performances aren’t shocking—although an expectation of greatness is. Big names bring in big audiences.

Why does that need to be clarified? And, more importantly, why did we expect these actors to have the vocal abilities to match their stardom?

If unrecognizable vocalists from the theater were cast would the film have done so well in the box office?

As a formerly trained singer, I am familiar with the musical and its ballads. And, yes, more than once I found myself yearning for a “mute” button – specifically when faced with Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe.

But overlooked in essentially all damning reviews of the film is its significance to those shielded from the world of musical theater and those unequipped with the $53 needed to secure a single, why-even-bother seat at the 2013 Les Misérables tour.

Found in the responses of those generally unfamiliar with musical theater, two common themes arise: the film’s approval and a hint of boredom embedded in the viewing experience.

I’ve heard incessantly since the movie’s release: “It drags at times, but I found the film pleasurable overall.”

The film was created to reach a mass audience and the endorsement of the average moviegoer is confirmation of the film as a respectable interpretation of this classic story.

About Alexandra Soto