is that it is accepted, much like Visa, everywhere in this country.
Last night, I saw Les Misérables, the movie. High production value, large cast, beautifully shot, moderately engaging Les Misérables. For the most part, I understand why everyone is going gaga for it. However, I find myself in a precarious minority that not only did not enjoy the movie, it actually made me angry.
As I said before, the production: sets, costumes, makeup etc., was great, but there was one key area that was missed. The singing. And I do not mean the talent level of the actors, well not all of the actors. To understand this fully, let's talk about why musical productions exist.
Productions centered on music are written that way because the emotions the characters are experiencing can no longer be adequately expressed with speech alone. The music is there to take the intensity up a level, to help the audience feel the angst/joy/sadness/excitement the character is feeling. In the context of the character's world, they are not standing there singing a song, that is just for the audience to perceive; a peek behind the curtain, if you will.
You cannot ignore this fact. You cannot distract from this fact, and by that I mean put acting first and singing second. It is a musical. Not a play. Musical. The music is the defining factor there.
Every good musical production has what is known as a coaching staff. "Coaches" as they are called, are not voice teachers. Voice teachers deal with what is happening inside your head, physically. Placement of the voice, musculature involved in singing, technique, breathing, how the voice works. Coaches deal more with what is coming out of your mouth; fine tuning vowels, making sure you sing all of the right notes, all of the right words, how you phrase lyrics and frankly, to make sure you sound good. Teachers give you the tools; Coaches make sure you are using them correctly.
It is in this latter area that the movie fell apart to those of us with musical knowhow. Starting off with Anne Hathaway...actually, she did exponentially better than the previews lead us to believe. Hats off to her. She sang as though she needed to be singing and used her voice appropriately. Is she the best Fantine I have heard? No. But did she do her job? Absolutely. Eddie, too. The rest of the cast, in this respect, did not.
Throughout the movie the actors were disengaged when they began singing. It looked as though someone came over a loud speaker somewhere and said "Please, sing about how you're feeling. Your invisible orchestra is behind you. Go." On top of that, all of the big chorus scenes were muted, underscored. Paired with the decision to allow more than a few lines that were supposed to be sung to be spoken...multiple eyebrows were raised. Again, musical.
The biggest question is: Where was the music staff to say,
"Hugh, you're starting sound nasal and strained. Relax, add some warmth to your sound. Take a low breath and start again, not so far forward.";
"Amanda, take a nice big breath and really sing. Sing more than you think you need to, it will help even everything out.";
"Samantha, you nailed this in the live 25th Anniversary Concert, just sing it that way again." (No really though, listen to this.);
"Russell, you sing the end of your suicide scene well, let's focus on reproducing that sound."?
And then to ask the entire cast (except Anne and Eddie), "Why are you singing this? What prompted you to sing this instead of just speaking it? Do not say why, show why. Show them why you're singing." Also, as much as it sucks to hear, "This does not sound good. What do you need from us to make you more comfortable with the material?" A rehearsal of mine was stopped once to address my inability to keep up with Mozart. It was the first day of rehearsal and I was almost fired on the spot because my recitative wasn't smooth enough and I have a Master's degree in this stuff. It goes to show that sometimes you just need to be told what's up. "Yes Men" get you nowhere. Trust me.
If it were my movie, I would have called a production meeting promptly upon noticing that 'Lead Whore' and 'Unnamed Solider' were the strongest cast members. Honestly, the supporting cast sang the leading cast under the table. Aaron Tveit, the revolutionaries, the soldier who orders the cannon attacks on the revolutionaries (best voice in the movie); the prostitutes, factory workers and slaves all kill it through the movie. Why? Because they are theatre people.
Before I wrap it up, let us address Russell Crowe and Eddie Redmayne for a second. Russell, obviously not the most skilled singer, but there is a voice there, he just needs help using it. Again, where was the help? Other than being a mediocre singer, he looks terribly uncomfortable while singing. Comfort is a difficult thing to accomplish that only comes from practice. With Redmayne, Empty Chairs was great and a wonderful example of "singing because he needs to." Although he has a pretty voice and of the main cast, was my favorite voice; he has so much tension while singing that he shakes. His jaw and his head wobble so noticeably while singing that the camera is barely on him 5 seconds before changing angles. Again, where were the teachers or coaches? Director? You have a 20ft-wide head on a theatre screen that is shaking to produce sound, you should probably, and definitely can, fix that.
There was a time when we as a people, not just me or my friends, other musicians, music nerds etc., but the majority of the population recognized the difference between Paul Potts and Pavarotti, Susan Boyle and Patti Lupone, Jackie Evancho and Renee Fleming. It's not snotty to know the difference between good and excellent, run-of-the-mill and exceptional. This movie was not exceptional. In the real music world, you do not get a trophy for participation; this is not little league. You must deliver or be replaced. I am eager to get back to that, if we can.