The new film version of the musical, "Les Miserables" had tremendously high expectations. An all-star cast, made up primarily of movie actors, though some could claim varying numbers of Broadway and West End credentials, was assembled by producer Cameron Mackintosh, director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"), and writers Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer to perform arguably one of the best composed scores in musical history.
The musical itself has been performed around the world, grossing over $1 billion. How could the film possibly raise the bar on this international sensation? The creators decided to have the performers sing live directly onto the film, as opposed to pre-recording their voices with the aid of studio microphones, and then lip-synching their already taped singing, as has been traditionally done for movie musicals. It was a gamble that yielded, at best, moments of interest, but mostly moments of wishing for a studio version of this soundtrack.
Now we have the CD of the music from the movie, albeit only "highlights," and though the majority of the listening enjoyment comes from the orchestra, there are some moments of pleasant surprise among the mixed levels of performances.
One element of distraction has nothing to do with the actors' performances: the orchestra was clearly recorded in the studio, enabling us to hear every gorgeous nuance of Anne Dudley and Stephen Metcalfe's arrangements.
But without a voice that is stage trained, as was clearly the case whenever Helena Bonham Carter or Russell Crowe were singing, their voices came across as weak and dry, as opposed to Anne Hathaway, Aaron Tveit (Broadway's "Next to Normal"), and Samantha Barks (London's "Les Miserables"), who were able to deliver the lyrics with the same passion as the accompaniment behind them.
Hugh Jackman tries his hardest as the classic hero, Jean Valjean. With Broadway credits including "Oklahoma" and "The Boy from Oz," one would expect him to be able to handle one of the most challenging roles in musicals.
However, with the exception of his scenes with Hathaway (as Fantine) and Colm Wilkinson's Bishop (who can still deliver the tone and emotion that earned him the original stage role of Valjean when the show was created), his strong acting cannot overcome his singing deficiencies.
If you're familiar with the show, but haven't seen the film, the CD won't alter your opinions, as it will merely be snippets of themes from what you've come to appreciate about the show. If you've seen the film, proceed with caution in checking out the CD, as it will magnify your opinion (whether positive or negative) formed when you went to the cinema.
"Les Miserables: Highlights from the Motion Picture Soundtrack"
CD and Digital formats
Universal Republic Records/ UMG Recordings