The longest running and arguably the most powerful musical production to have ever hit the stage, Les Miserables has been seen by over 60 million people in 42 different countries across the globe.
Since its opening night at the Barbican Theatre on October 8, 1985, it has captured the hearts of many as it continues to break box-office records even in its 28th year. The story revolves around an ex-convict named Jean Valjean who broke his parole and is from then on pursued by a constabulary named Inspector Javert. Valjean then dedicates his life to becoming an honest man who tries to show love for people around him who are in need.
Les Miserables embodies a primarily historical performance, yet certain modern elements are present as well. Historical elements are manifested through its setting of 19th Century France. The use of language, the culture of the characters, as well as the costumes and outfits are also key indicators of the historical background of the production. Yet hints of modern ideas also turn up in the form of hierarchies, authorities, and causality within the story. Such a fusion of a historical setting and modern concepts helped spur the complexity and aesthetics of the entire production.Directed by Tom Hooper and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, Les Miserables the film starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway was released in 2012. It was a revolutionary production of film fused with musical theatre as it evoked tears from audiences all around the world. However, as a film, it deviated from certain norms of musical theatre and such is evident upon comparison with the 10th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables starring Colm Wilkinson, Lea Salonga, and Michael Ball among others.
A glaring difference between the two productions lies in the spectacle.While the costumes of both productions were vibrant and candy to the eyes, the 10th Anniversary Concert provided a powerful and striking display of ensemble and orchestra that was absent in the movie. Throughout the concert, the entire cast of characters was seated somewhere around center stage, easily visible to the audience. More so, the ensemble and cast members would occasionally participate in scenes that they did not have an on-stage role in. In contrast, the movie provided a very rigid and precise depiction of scenes and characters. Only characters that played active roles during a scene were tangible to the audience’s senses.In sum, the movie provided a “what you see is what you get” type of value to the audience, thus, giving them a clear idea of what was going on and exactly how the plot was unfolding.
However, the concert provided audiences with a more dynamic and holistic theatrical experience, and as a result, a more appealing form of spectacle. Both performance films had similar and contrasting means of unveiling the given circumstances for certain characters. For instance, both productions utilized the music in the confrontation scene between Valjean and Javert to uncover the character of Javert.
Following that scene, there was a sense of awareness that beyond his strict adherence to his duties and to the law, Javert was born in a jail and grew up in harsh conditions. On another note, Fantine’s given circumstances in the movie were revealed not only through the music, but also through her changes in costume, hair, and make up. In the concert, her given circumstances were revealed more through conventions. As it was refreshing to watch the complex plot of Les Miserables unfold in a straightforward manner as it did in the movie, it did not leave much room for theatrical conventions.The 10th Anniversary Concert on the other hand showcased such conventions that were lacking in the movie.
During the first scene of the concert, prisoners walking behind two guards around the stage signified that the prisoners were not yet free and were being led to do more slave work. In addition, the scene where men are tumbling around the stage in slow motion behind a cart imparts to the audience that they are running down the streets trying to avoid being run over and crushed by the cart. These conventions contributed to the dynamics of the concert and gave the audience a more active role in terms of performance evaluation.As an art form, Les Miserables the movie took on a very grand idea of audience as the film was released in theatres globally. With its large-scale production, such an idea proved successful for the film. In contrast, the concert’s idea of an audience was both a live audience as well as an audience who would watch the film from households due to the fact that the concert was not released on the big screen. As a performance, the concert’s organizing principles were grounded and focused on the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the staging of Les Miserables.On the other hand, the movie was organized more for the sake of publicity as well as higher profit margins.
Taking a step back to glance at the front cover of the theatrical film, it is clear that the movie offers a focused and detailed depiction of Les Miserables. The given circumstances will be crystal clear and the conventions will be minimal and very straightforward. Meanwhile, the front cover of the theatrical concert reveals a dynamic set up and a large-scale stage production. Such a poster reveals production’s capacity for grand and complex theatrical conventions that could aid in the disclosing of given circumstances.
In sum, both front covers are striking but the theatrical concert’s cover shows more dynamics than its subtler counterpart. In the postmodern age, where innovation and developments are abundant in the theatre, it is of utmost importance that critical questions brought up. In terms of the performances of Les Miserables, questions such as the following should be asked for optimum evaluation: What are the strengths and weaknesses of such a production? Are the musical pieces arranged in the most suiting manner? How can different art and performance forms be fused into such a production so that it can be improved?BIBLIOGRAPHY (ENDNOTES): * Patterson, Jim, Jim Hunter, Patti Gillespie, and Kenneth Cameron. The Enjoyment of Theatre. 8th ed.
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