The Les Misérables Highlights CD soundtrack for the film scheduled for release in mere days went online for digital download through places such as Amazon at midnight this morning.
It may not be the end of the world as we know it, but for die-hard fans of the seminal classic Les Misérables, there may very well be a burgeoning sense of irritation at Universal and its music publishing arm.
As a die-hard fan of Boublil and Shönberg’s musical, and a former Javert from a community theater production a few years ago, I was very eager to metaphorically ‘get my hands on’ this teaser of the show’s impressive repertoire of 49 songs.
The biggest what-if for fans of the stage show and ‘the brick’ – a popular nickname within the fandom for Victor Hugo’s 1,300 page 1862 novel – is the singing voice of Javert actor, Russell Crowe. As someone who spent three and a half weeks in 2008 doing at least one performance of the Inspector’s demanding repertoire a day, I was rather firmly placed among those worried that Crowe – not an actor known for his singing – would unleash a calamity upon such classics as “Stars” and “Javert’s Suicide.” Following listening to his renditions of each twice, and the release of the clips three weeks ago featuring a snippet of “Look Down/Now Bring Me Prisoner 24601,” I can now give my full support to Crowe. He does not hit every single note, nor does he have the booming quality of Philip Quast, but the emotion and tonality in his voice more than make up for his quiet performance.
Hugh Jackman as Valjean delivers what sounds to be an emotionally charged performance, visible chiefly in “Valjean’s Soliloquy,” new song “Suddenly,” and the famous “Bring Him Home.” While Jackman does not chase all of Valjean’s high notes, his voice is surely one of the stronger things about this Highlights CD, which, sadly, someone editing it chose to liberally cut out snippets from certain songs (The total running time of “Look Down” is 2:23 on the CD).
There are not words enough to give my praise to Anne Hathaway. “I Dreamed a Dream” is an emotionally charged, heart-breakingly sad and defeated anthem of a woman’s personal suffering. She has reclaimed the song from the white-washed and emotionless performances of the like of Susan Boyle (no offence to Miss Boyle, I also enjoy her rendition) and has restored it to its proper place as the crowning moment in a woman’s personal hell.
Eddie Redmayne’s smooth and rich singing voice must surely come as a surprise to anyone who wasn’t aware that the former Etonian was a featured soloist in its choir. Like many, I was not aware of this until he was cast as the love-struck Baron Marius Pontmercy. “ABC Café/Red and Black,” switching between Redmayne’s rich tonality and crisp delivery, Aaron Tveit’s powerful and forceful projection, and George Blagden’s almost bell-bright tinkling delivery as Grantaire is a mesmerizing rendition which will alleviate anyone’s worries about the Barricade Boy’s vocal prowess – if there was any to begin with. Redmayne goes on to deliver a charmingly sweet, if nervous, rendition of “A Heart Full of Love” with Amanda Seyfried, which embodies the characterization of Marius just as well as Michael Ball.
Here we must pause and mention “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” While Redmayne’s version lacks the bombastic delivery of nearly any stage Marius, remembering that these actors performed these songs live on set for twenty-five or so takes one after another after another, Redmayne’s performance has now seized its place as my personal favorite – due to the rich and heart-shattering physical pain you can hear in his voice as he mourns his fallen friends, and his own self-blame for surviving without them – even if he does get his own happy ending.
Sacha Baron Cohen may be known for his wild characters (Borat, Bruno, etc.) but his performance as shady Thénardier sounds almost tame when one considers the stunts he frequently pulls as these characters. “Master of the House” starts out rather slow – with Cohen adopting a stereotypical French accent, accompanied only by a sole violin – but it has blown into a rousing song by the time Helena Bonham Carter (who possesses an incredibly petite and quite-un-Tim-Burton-y singing voice) joins with her lament of marrying the crooked innkeeper.
Samantha Barks, of course, wows again as Éponine. Quieter than her performance in the 25th anniversary concert, Barks still remains emotionally charged and poignant in “On My Own.”
In short, if this CD is anything to go on, moviegoers are due for a wonderful treat when they see Les Misérables in the coming weeks.
For a limited time, purchase the Les Miserables soundtrack for only $5 on Amazon!