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Everyone's a critic as Les Mis hits or misses

Date

Ron Cerabona

<i>Les Miserables</i> ensemble cast member Kristin Zeitlhofer chats to Dave Smith who plays Jean Valjean about their upcoming performance with the Canberra Philharmonic Society.

Les Miserables ensemble cast member Kristin Zeitlhofer chats to Dave Smith who plays Jean Valjean about their upcoming performance with the Canberra Philharmonic Society. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

It won't quite be a case of competing versions of Les Miserables. Musical theatre companies whose productions are preceded by a movie adaptation of the same show sometimes worry about the competition. But the Canberra Philharmonic Society should not have anything to fear from the film of Les Miserables that opened on Boxing Day. It will be at or near the end of its run by the time the stage show opens in February.

About a decade ago, the award-winning movie adaptation of Chicago appeared, and that only seemed to pique interest in the Canberra stage production that appeared shortly afterwards, which was judged on its own merits.

But that did not mean some of those involved in the coming Canberra Les Miserables were not interested in checking out their big-screen rivals as early as possible. The feelings were mixed, but overall fairly positive.

Vanessa de Jager, who will play the tragic character Eponine, enjoyed the film. She said Samantha Barks, who played Eponine in the film as well as the 25th-anniversary concert version, ''was sensational, really excellent''.

She also had high praise for Eddie Redmayne (Marius) - ''when he sang Empty Chairs at Empty Tables I had goosebumps, I was crying'' - and Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) ''was truly excellent''.

But she found Russell Crowe as Javert ''disappointing … completely overpowered by Hugh Jackman. Javert is supposed to be an incredibly powerful character.''

Ensemble member Kristin Zeitlhofer echoed this, saying, ''I didn't think Russell Crowe was as good as everyone else: I didn't believe him, he didn't seem to have as much conviction.''

She had more praise for the ''amazing'' Redmayne and ''brilliant'' Anne Hathaway as Fantine.

Dave Smith, who will play Valjean, said that while the movie was ''an epic'' and ''beautiful'' it did not deliver as much musically as he had hoped.

Much has been made of director Tom Hooper's decision to film the vocals live rather than have them pre-recorded, as is standard practice, and Smith thought this had mixed results. ''It's an art to be able to film musicals and what they basically did with this one was cast actors rather than singers … it's all about the emotions and acting rather than the singing: it depends what you want to emphasise,'' he said.

Smith thought ''some of the cast choices could have been better, Russell Crowe obviously so … he looked like a deer in the headlights for most of the movie''.

He said Jackman acted well though some of the vocals seemed out of his range, but for him, the ''absolute standout'' was Hathaway. The rearrangements and cuts to the score were a little distracting since he was trying to sing along ''in my head'', he added hastily.

Smith said he would not be influenced by the film in his own performance: ''I have to sing it and project it. I don't have the luxury of being on a set where I can do a song more than once: I've got to pace myself.''

And he and the other cast members were excited about their own challenge in performing in Les Miserables. It does not matter what others have done, on stage or screen: it is up to them, at the end of the day.

The film of Les Miserables is now screening. See cinema listings for session times. The Canberra Philharmonic Society production of Les Miserables will be on at the Erindale Theatre, Wanniassa, from February 21 to March 16. More information: philo.org.au Bookings: 6257 1950.

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