Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Les Mis Rant: The Best of The Best

Dear Readers,

Double feature tonight because I have had this saved in my drafts for a while now!

There's no doubt in my mind that I have somewhere already mentioned that my favorite musical ever is Les Miserables. Honestly, the theme, characters and music have changed my life. In fact, Les Mis was the musical that made me realize I want to pursue musical theatre professionally! That being said, it holds an extremely special place in my heart, so naturally I have listened to nearly every recording (professionally recorded or recorded by an audience member) that there is out there!

Today I will be talking about my favorite actors for each role, and why they stand out to me.

Jean Valjean: 
-Colm Wilkinson: Colm was the original Jean Valjean, and very possibly the best Valjean ever. I'm not sure anyone can live up to the incredibly high standards Colm set as JVJ! Cast: Original London and Broadway Casts. Strengths: Colm's voice is full of passion and forgiveness, two things Valjean is famous for. Whenever I listen to Colm singing, I feel as if he is Jean Valjean; he has suffered, he has overcome.


-Peter Lockyer: A Les Miserables veteran who played Marius Pontmercy on Broadway during its original run, Peter made his return to Les Miserables recently-but this time as Jean Valjean. Cast: The North American 25th Anniversary Tour. I saw this tour myself and was blown away. Strengths: His rendition of Bring Him Home. I cannot say enough about his voice in BHH.  The song is situated at the top of a male's range, which makes it quite hard to sing, and even more difficult to sing to well. Peter's rendition is lovely.

-Andrew Varela: Just like Peter, Andrew Varela is also a Les Mis veteran (he has played Jean Valjean). Currently, he is reprising his role of Javert in a regional theatre production. Cast: The North American 25th Anniversary Tour. (What can I say? This is one of my favorite casts ever!) Strengths: One of the most common misconceptions, I think, is that Javert is the bad guy. If you ask me, he's not. Javert's not a fluffy, happy-go-lucky, let's-make-small-talk kind of guy, but he's not the bad guy. Varela plays Javert with heart, dignity, pride, and dedication, that makes it evident Javert isn't bad, just different. Varela was a delightful actor and singer, as well.
-Genevive Leclerc: Genevive is currently playing Fantine once again in Les Miserables-Toronto. I cannot say enough about her portrayal of Fantine. Cast: Also the North American 25th Anniversary Tour. (Whoever cast that...THANK YOU!) Strengths: The moment I saw her onstage, I knew that she was one of the best performers in the entire show, but I fall more in love with her portrayal of Fantine every time I listen to an audio! One of the reasons I loved her portrayal of Fantine so much was because she combined hope with hopelessness, and misery with joy. Also, I must say that her vibrato is beautiful and comes through at the perfect times.
-Lea Salonga (Honorable Mention): Lea Salonga is pretty darn near perfect: she has voiced multiple Disney princesses, has had a highly successful Broadway career, and has portrayed both Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables anniversary concerts. Cast: The Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert. Strengths: Lea has a technically perfect voice, and a beautiful tone to it. Also, she has a fantastic belt.
-Brittney Johnson: Brittney has been with Les Miserables for quite some time now. She is currently understudying Eponine once again in Les Miserables Toronto. Cast: North American 25th Anniversary Tour. I have to admit...I have never seen Brittney perform as Eponine. However, I have heard audio of her singing Eponine's On My Own, and ever since, Brittney has been my favorite Eponine. Strengths: Her belting blew me away. I've never heard anyone make the B note 'pretending' seem so effortless before. Also, her tone is perfect: she 'sounds' the part of Eponine- she sounds desperate but not whiny. If you listen to only one song off this list, make it this one. Here's hoping that someday she gets to play principle Eponine. Brittney has it in her to.

-Samantha Barks: She originally rose to fame on a BBC Channel reality singing contest show called I'd Do Anything, and after coming in third, her career soared. Samantha has taken on the roles of Sally in Cabaret, Nancy in Oliver, Eponine in Les Miserables, and most recently, was Velma Kelly in Chicago. Cast: 2011 West End, 25th Anniversary Concert, 2012 Les Miserables Movie. Sidenote: I think that Sam performed her best onstage, although she was fantastic in the movie. Strengths: I am a very big fan of Samantha's voice. She has a powerful and bold belt, and a sweet-but not too sweet- tone to her voice. Also, her acting is superb.

-Kerry Butler: Kerry, just like all the others listed here, is a post 10th Anniversary Eponine. Prior to the 10th Anniversary Concert, when Lea Salonga famously transformed Eponine into a belter role, Eponine was portrayed as very helpless, desperate, and kind of weak. Kerry used Lea's belty ideas but kept some of the older Frances Ruffle-esque ones and incorporated them both into her portrayal... wow. She is phenomenal. Cast: Broadway 1998-1999. Strengths: Her tone is perfect, and she has such a big, beautiful voice. Kerry isn't afraid to go for all the huge belt notes, which is admirable, and makes her performance a bold, standout one.

-Carrie Hope Fletcher (Honorable Mention): Carrie, who started acting by playing Young Cosette on the West End when she was much younger, has made her return to Les Miserables at age twenty to portray Eponine. Cast: West End 2013-2014. Strengths: Carrie portrays Eponine to be a romantic, which I personally like. In her On My Own, Carrie makes it clear that Eponine is fed up with the injustices she has been facing, and looks to Marius as her only salvation. Carrie has a wonderful singing voice, and is a great actress!
-Rebecca Caine: In my opinion, Rebecca is pretty much untouchable as Cosette, just like Colm. Rebecca is a musical theatre/opera performer, and you could definitely hear it in her voice. She has a bright and optimistic tone in her voice which makes her the perfect Cosette. Cast: Original London Cast. Strengths: Many people don't know this, but originally, Cosette had her own aria, called I Saw Him once! It is a lovely song, and Rebecca's voice makes it hopeful and romantic. However, it was cut before show even made its Broadway debut and I can't understand why. Listen to it below.
Marius Pontmercy:
-Michael Ball: I know, I have an obsession with Original London Cast members. Michael originated the role of Marius on the West End production and went on to portray the character again in the 10th Anniversary Production. Cast: Original London Cast, 10th Anniversary. Strengths: Michael is an emotional Marius, which I love about his portrayal. Some people who play Marius portray him to be a bit of a do I put this nicely- jerk. Marius is definitely not a jerk; not in the musical, anyway. However, Michael isn't afraid to show Marius' softer side, and really he really gets into character.

-Eddie Redmanye: Eddie Redmayne is a British film actor who has been nominated for a handful of prestigious awards for his portrayal of Marius Pontmercy in the 2012 Les Miserables film. Cast: 2012 movie. Strengths: Even though Michael will forever be my favorite Marius, Eddie is a close second. Much like Michael, following his friends' deaths, Eddie didn't attempt to act completely put together. When Eponine died, Eddie's Marius kissed her on the forehead (a detail from the book that I appreciate Eddie put into the movie!). And can I mention his face when he first sees Cosette? It is brilliant. His voice is fantastic, as well, and reminds me a bit of Michael's.
-Jonny Purchase: Jonny Purchase is currently performing as Combeferre in the London production, while understudying for Marius. Cast: 2013-14 London Cast. Strengths: Based on what I have heard just from listening to audio recordings of Jonny as Marius, he is pretty fantastic. For starters, his vibrato is perfect. When he goes up on the lyric "the very words that they have sung/became their last communion", his voice is full of power and heartbreak. Here's hoping that Jonny stays with Les Miserables long enough that I can fly from the US to London to see him perform as Marius.

-Craig Mather: Craig's debut EP "View of You" (which I will definitely be ordering because of how talented Craig is!) is to be released November 11th, and he is currently in a band called About Juliet. Cast: London 2012-13. Strengths: Craig is young. Marius is young, and sometimes doesn't yet know how to handle situations. Through Craig's portrayal of Marius, it is obvious that Marius is still growing up. Of course his Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is wonderful- he does a fantastic job of making it clear that Marius is still haunted by all that he has endured-especially when he sings about phantom faces at the window. Craig's A Little Fall of Rain with 2012-13 understudy for Eponine Lily Frazer might be my favorite version of the song. The urgency and concern for Ponine in her voice is perfect.
-David Burt: David is famous for his many performances in West End shows such as Little Shop of Horrors, Chess, Jesus Christ Superstar. He originated the role of Enjolras. Cast: Original London Cast. Strengths: I love the character Enjolras. He embodies the heart and soul of the revolution so much that he is referred to as 'The Chief'. That being said, to me, casting the perfect Enjolras can make or break a production. David's Enjolras isn't belty as Ramin Karimloo portrayed him. He is composed, refined. My favorite lyric Enjolras sings is always 'It is time for us all to decide who we are'. In fact, how well an actor sings that line is how much I enjoy their portrayal. David sings this line beyond perfectly; the tone in his voice makes the audience aware that he knows what needs to be done and intends to do just that.


-Jason Forbach: Jason will be understudying Enjolras and playing Feuilly in the 2014 Broadway Revival of Les Mis. Prior to that, he will be in a production of Miss Saigon. Cast: 25th Anniversary US Tour. Strengths: Jason plays a strong, passionate Enjolras. Through every line he sings, it is evident that Jason's Enjolras knows his motives and everything he does is for the good of the people he is representing. Jason sings each lyric with passion, and more importantly, hope for the future.


-Aaron Tveit: An original Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can cast member, Aaron has appeared in shows on Broadway such as Wicked (Fiyero) and Hairspray (Link Larkin). Aaron currently stars on Graceland, a crime show on T.V., and is currently working on another movie. He has said that he cannot wait to return to Broadway. Cast: 2012 Movie Cast. Strengths: Aaron Tveit has passion as Enjolras. In Red and Black, the longing, desperation, and tears welting up in his eyes are authentic. Singing wise, Aaron, a Broadway veteran, is top notch. His vibrato is perfect, and his voice easily reaches up to Enjolras' highest notes. Impressive.

If you made it all the way down here, WOW! I am stunned because honestly? I don't think I could have made it all the way down here! Do we have any favorites in common? Do you know of any people not mentioned on this list who are worth a listen to? Let me know! Comment!
p.s. Do you hear the people sing? ;) 

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