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Stars Sing Live in New Movie Musical

This Christmas hear Les Miz as you’ve never heard it before… -says Kathy Alexander

Once you get over your surprise that Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway actually sing in the new film, Les Miserables, you may be interested to know:

They are not only singing – they are singing live.

Playing Jean Valjean, Javert, Cosette and Fantine respectively, these actors recorded and filmed their songs in complete, live takes.

When you look into Hugh Jackman’s eyes as he sings, “Bring him home,” you know that the voice you hear through the speakers really came out of his mouth in the exact moment unfolding on the screen before you.

How Did They Do This?

Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, John Adams) is making a bold departure from the norm.

Usually a film’s soundtrack is recorded in a studio months before filming begins.

Then for the filming, the actors have to fit their performance to their earlier recorded version.

No one is promising a soundtrack 100% free of overdubs, but knowing the bulk of what you hear was recorded live will surely have an impact.

In the Les Miz “singing live” featurette, Hooper said, “Singing live has a profound effect on the power and realism of this story.”

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius says “By recording it live, Tom is allowing us the spontaneity of normal film acting.”

Watch Redmayne and the other leads in the featurette:

Piano Accompaniment Only

Not only were the Les Miz vocals recorded live, but the actors sang with only a piano supporting them.

The actors could hear the live piano accompanist through hidden, in-ear monitors.

Performing with only one other musician allows for ultimate expressive freedom and musical flexibility.

No orchestra, no conductor, no miming to a pre-recorded track – just a singer and a piano player and an incredible story to tell.

The orchestra was added later and shaped its interpretation around the actors’ performances.

Top-Notch Performances?

Giving this much control to the singer is only a good thing if he or she can deliver a top-notch performance.

So, what of these actors’ singing abilities?

They all have decent singing experience in their past, but not the level of technique that comes from a dedicated career of singing.

It remains to be seen if they can pull off vocal performances that will satisfy fans of the Broadway version.

Fans of Colm Wilkinson (Jean Valjean in New York and London) may be the hardest to impress.

There is little doubt, however, that Les Miz fans the world over are chomping at the bit to be swept away by this moving story once again.

With 6,680 performances on Broadway, Les Miserables the musical, had the third-longest run in history behind Cats and Phantom of the Opera. On the West End, it holds the record for longest-running musical in history.

Hooper’s film promises a fresh new experience of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s beloved score and gives its actors a new level of freedom in delivering their songs.

Useful Links

Click for more reading:
A sound engineer on Tom Hooper’s approach to Les Miz

Kathy Alexander is a writer, singer, vocal coach and choir director. She has appeared in Vision TV’s Let’s Sing Again, The Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria International Jazz Festival (main stage). You can see more of Kathy’s work here.

  • Kathy

    The acting in this film was spectacular! It was an incredible trip for the senses to see this story as a big-budget film. I was totally transported. Only one actor was a disappointment: Russel Crow. Bad casting choice, I think. I actually like his voice, but it lacks the power needed for this role, and even his acting was far from the level of his cast-mates. Otherwise, all the performances were brilliant. The filming and recording approach certainly made for a stronger impact. Loved it. My face and my heart were physically aching by the end. Any limitations I noticed in the actors’ singing chops (which were only minor) were instantly forgotten due to their immense commitment to the characters. Oh, and as for the actors who are actually career singers with more traditional training – it was pure delight to hear them, and they sure held up their end on the acting side. Eddie Redmayne’s “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” was one of the most moving musical performances I’ve experienced. Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” was equally heart-wrenching. Jackman’s singing was more than adequate all the way through and in many moments I forgot that he lacks the vocal training of his predecessors in this role. He more than delivered the goods on the acting side. How cool was it to see Colm Wilkinson make an appearance!?! Did you notice how his acting style was more ‘stage’ than ‘film’? Still, seeing and hearing Colm made my day.