‘Les Miserables’: The Staged Concert – Do we need yet another cast recording?

Emily Fletcher

Les Misérables is one of the world’s longest running musicals, featuring on West End stages for 32 years in various re-imaginings with a variety of musical theatre stars across its time. This past week the latest cast recording of the musical has been released, recorded live from the concert production at the Gielgud Theatre, that was also aired in select cinemas across the country. It includes an all-star cast of Alfie Boe in the leading role of Jean Valjean, Michael Ball as Javert, Carrie Hope Fletcher as Fantine and Matt Lucas as Thenardier, all of whom have been involved with the musical before. But do audiences really need yet another recording of this popular musical?

The main cast share a history with this particular production, and an established stardom within mainstream media. Alfie Boe has appeared countless times on television to perform his rendition of songs from Les Misérables and beyond, gaining popularity for his soaring lyric tenor voice. Michael Ball has taken on a few presenting jobs on TV, and also has frequently appeared on TV for musical performances.

Boe and Ball have also created an album together and were set to embark on a tour (which the cinema showing diligently advertised before the performance began and during the interval) that was cut short by the pandemic. Carrie Hope Fletcher also has fame outside of her musical career through her YouTube channel. Both Ball and Fletcher have an extensive history with this particular musical. Ball has previously played Marius Pontmercy and Jean Valjean, and now takes on the role of Javert in this version. Fletcher has also covered many of the main female roles, having played Young Eponine as a child, going on to play older Eponine in the West End, and now Fantine in this production.

Some of the most interesting moments come about from an actor’s on-the-spot decisions on how to interpret their character

The appeal of this recording, aside from its all-star cast, is that it was recorded live. This allows for unique intonations that may be erased in the confines of a recording studio, where moments aside from whats written can be edited out to achieve ‘perfection’. Particularly in theatre, some of the most interesting moments come about from an actor’s on-the-spot decisions on how to interpret their character, so its certainly nice to have these moments captured within this recording. Immediately, the roar of an audience distinguishes this from any studio recording, placing the listener right in the midst of a theatre. These reactions also work particularly well for the moments of comic relief in the production, as the response to the Thenardiers with laughing and clapping from the audience creates a more enjoyable, immersive experience in these light-hearted moments, which are certainly a necessary relief for such a generally dark musical.

Although the character of Fantine spends a relatively short time on stage (which didn’t stop Anne Hathaway winning on Oscar for playing the role on the screen), Fletcher is able to permeate her performance, particularly the popular musical hit I Dreamed a Dream, with intense emotion which accurately depicts the tragedy of the character’s experiences. As always, Boe’s rendition of Bring Him Home hits the mark perfectly, and the following ovation suggests the live audience felt much the same.

Sometimes the voices can seem somewhat strained

The cast outside those with mainstream fame also present excellent performances with the likes of Marius (Rob Houchen), Cosette (Lily Kerhoas), and Eponine (Shan Ako), unsurprisingly providing equally strong vocals with the contrast of innocence necessary to the nature of their characters. Sometimes the voices can seem somewhat strained, perhaps a reflection of actors working to project across a theatre audience, rather than merely within a sound booth singing straight into the microphone that we are used to in studio cast recordings. However, this does not take away from an overall engaging and powerful performance, well worth taking a listen to even if you are already well-acquainted with any of the other 73 cast recordings that already exist in various languages, 5 of which are in English.

The pandemic has unfortunately delayed the reopening of the re-imagined full stage production in the newly renovated Sondheim Theatre (previously the Queen’s Theatre) which this concert version served in place of while renovations were under way. If this is all we have in the meantime to tide us over, I’m certainly not complaining. The emotion and quality of this exceptional performance has been perfectly captured, and to have the capacity to re-listen again and again (as I will be doing) is great for a limited time performance such as this concert.

I highly recommend you give it a listen, and inevitably struggle through trying to sing along to every part in One Day More, as I did

To answer the question: is there any need for another cast recording? I say, yes. The unique nuances of this recording lend itself to a fantastic theatre experience with a dream cast that will unlikely been seen in the same capacity together again. I highly recommend you give it a listen, and inevitably struggle through trying to sing along to every part in One Day More, as I did.

Emily Fletcher

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