Opening at The O2 Arena in South East London, successful theatrical producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh celebrates 25 years of the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic 19th Century novel, Les Misérables. The special concert event is a rather simple show, with minimum direction and a background design reminiscent of what's been seen before on the stage around the world. Little of the original show is actually acted in the traditional sense, and three gigantic screens hang high above so that even those in the far distance will not miss a thing. Performers dressed in costume, instead, walk unhurriedly to their designated spots with microphones and sing to a sold-out stadium crowd.
Nevertheless, the performance is a magnificent display of color and sound, allowing the audience, as well as viewers at home, to imagine Hugo's beautiful story of redemption at the time of the June Rebellion. With an orchestra and its conductor, David Charles Abell, sitting on an upper-level tier above the actual stage, this is purely a celebration of the music and lyrics of Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. Mackintosh has put together a wonderful troupe of world-class singing talents to give a passionate voice to the characters and their words. A few lighting visuals beaming the colors of France add a lovely touch, but the focal point is always on the songs and singers.
Leading the way is the phenomenal voice of English tenor Alfie Boe as our soul-searching hero Jean Valjean. Boe is an absolute marvel, delivering the words with a sense of painful regret and sadness which leaves listeners in awe. Whether he's singing solo in "What Have I Done?" or with others, his performance alone is the most memorable and should be rightfully celebrated as the standard for which future performances shall be compared. Not since Colm Wilkinson's original feat have we seen a Jean Valjean that leaves us in stunning admiration for such a talented singer. He's easily forgiven for a momentary break of character during his version of "Bring Him Home," smiling and taking a brief moment to acknowledge a well-deserved standing ovation.
The rest of the cast do well in keeping pace opposite Boe, especially Norm Lewis as the implacable Javert and Lea Salonga of Miss Saigon fame as the forlorn Fantine. (Salonga also provides the singing voice for Jasmine in Disney's animated musical of 'Aladdin.') Salonga, in particular, comes with a remarkable voice that provides "I Dreamed a Dream" with the kind of tear-jerking anguish we'd expect from the number. Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway play the innkeeper Thénardier and his wife, and they're an absolute hoot to watch. Standouts, however, come from Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras and the young Samantha Barks as Éponine, whose take of "On My Own" actually leaves chills.
Playing Éponine's crush and Cosette's love interest is the equally young Nick Jonas from the feel-good pop trio, Jonas Brothers. His rendition of Marius, unfortunately, is a disappointment, made most apparent when he tries his hand at "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" and makes it dull. Although the popular singer shows he has some talent on his own, he doesn't quite possess the chops for this sort of material, clearly unable to sustain the many long notes required of the role and cutting them far too short. When the original 1985 London cast makes a surprise appearance at the end, Michael Ball demonstrates how the music is supposed to be sung. Nonetheless, the still-growing star handles himself well on stage to make this a splendid concert performance of a much-loved stage musical.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Les Misérables: 25th Anniversary in Concert' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside the standard blue keepcase. The disc goes straight to a main menu with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
So much of this 1080p/VC-1 encode is worth applauding that's it's a real shame having to bring up any negatives. But that's just the case.
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the majority of the picture looks terrific with excellent contrast and brightness levels. We can see just about everything that goes on while the performers their songs and around the stage. Close-ups are quite revealing, and the lighting never gets in the way our view. Blacks are deep and accurate, except for a few scenes when overhead lights shine down extra hot. Fine object details and textures are strong though not quite the sharpest we've seen from a concert. Colors are bright and bold throughout with healthy flesh tones.
The few areas of concern were surprising, but not exactly unexpected. Some scenes expose low-levels of noise in the background. At first, it would seem an effect of the camera capturing the fog at the wrong angle, but it's actually a recurring nuisance that appeared even when fog was not in use. Every time the camera pans across the stage, motion blur, judder and aliasing also become a nagging issue, which makes me wonder if this transfer doesn't come from an interlaced source. In either case, it's these aspects which somewhat ruin an otherwise excellent high-def presentation of 'Les Misérables.'
The audio, on the other hand, is simply marvelous, taking wonderful command of the front soundstage with energy and charisma.
Voices come in loud and clear so that listeners can enjoy the singing talents of the entire cast with aplomb. As each performer expresses their character's mood, we can hear each emotive change and tonal inflection with excellent precision and amazing fidelity. The other two channels spread the beautiful sounds of the orchestra with a wide, spacious image that can quite overwhelming. But the instruments used at a given song come in crystal clear without the slightest hint of distortion or noise. The upper frequencies remain sharp and lucid, full of room-penetrating force, while the low end provides a healthy presence to the orchestration. Rear activity is generally reserved for the cheers in the crowd, applause and a few echoes from the front, making this a worthwhile listen for fans of the musical.
The only supplement offered for this Blu-ray edition of 'Les Misérables' anniversary concert is a short featurette titled "A Whiz Thru Miz" (HD, 5 min), showing various interviews and comments over the years since the musical's inception.
'Les Misérables' celebrates 25 years of performing around the world with a special anniversary concert that opened at The O2 in South East London. Although an actual stage performance would be much preferred, this concert performance is a great joy to watch thanks to such talents as Alfie Boe, Lea Salonga, Matt Lucas, Ramin Karimloo and Samantha Barks. The Blu-ray arrives with somewhat troubled video, an excellent audio presentation but an unflattering set of supplements. Nevertheless, the concert remains a recommended watch for fans everywhere.