I come back to my blog after a short hiatus just as the Les Misérables excitement gets going around the world. This also obviously means that critics are out to review. There is just one simple question floating around the twitter-sphere and in online forums: why did the Guardian send someone to review Les Misérables who doesn’t appear to like musicals?
I am a realist and I am aware that no single thing can be liked by every single person. I am also aware that Catherine Shoard is the Guardian’s film critic and not a theatre one, so her interests lie elsewhere. That is all I will say in her defence because her review rarely discusses the actual film and spends a lot of time knocking the stage musical.
Shoard states: “It’s not strictly a musical. There’s no dancing, there are no jazz hands and there is next to no speech”. This is wrong in so many ways it is hard to get past the annoyance to state them. The lineage of musical theatre is as a variation of operetta, which was a lighter version of opera. Musicals are not less valid for being lighter; it is just their heritage and they have all evolved to become their own valid entities. Musicals are just a different way of applying music to a play. Les Misérables is a nod to operetta mainly due to it being a through-sung musical which explains the “next to no speech” comment. It explains it, but doesn’t make it right in Shoard’s context of proving Les Mis is not a musical, as many shows are through-sung such as Evita, Phantom of the Opera and The Last 5 Years.
The last part of that quote I find offensive is the implication that a musical must contain dance or jazz hands for it to be worthy of the title of ‘musical theatre’. In a world of integrated musicals, dance can only be there if called for by the plot or style. Billy Elliot wants to be a dancer, ballet girls live at the Opera House in Phantom of the Opera and the use of ABBA music in Mamma Mia put dance hand-in-hand with the show. Yet there are also shows where dance is not required like Sweeney Todd, Miss Saigon or The Last 5 Years again. There are still elements of dance and movement within Les Mis but big dance numbers are not needed.
Shoard does go on to discuss and praise the director Tom Hooper’s handling of the film adaptation. The writer even praises Russell Crowe for not being up to the professional level of Hugh Jackman – although fans of the show may disagree when they are used to stage performers such as Philip Quast playing Javert.
It is doubtful the film is a verbatim version of the stage production, but from what I can tell the film makers have gone to a lot of trouble to be faithful – including live singing. This is a new cinematic technique and should be applauded as such, as should the whole film adaptation and its talented cast. Nothing has the ability to dull my excitement though, to finally see this eagerly anticipated film.
Image via lesmiserables-movie.co.uk.