Theatre director Amy Hanson is the first to give her verdict...
As one of the most successful musicals in the history of theatre, it is unsurprising that LES MISERABLES has received more than a few recordings. To be precise, there are over 40, in a wide variety of languages. Now, trying to sing along to On My Own in Korean or Polish may not be to everyone's tastes, but let's take a look at four of the most accessible and best known recordings of this musical...
The Original London Cast Recording
One thing that makes me consider the original cast recording an indispensable part of my collection is that I utterly adore the original arrangements. It seems, since the nineties at least, that there has been a drive to make the sound of LES MISERABLES more classic; more emphasis on strings, fewer thumping bass parts and the electric guitar becoming unnoticeable.
On listening to this CD, however, any fears that the orchestrations would sound dated nowadays are quickly shown to be unfounded. These arrangements are, of course, supporting performances that are really iconic, setting the standard for the thousands of performers who would step into the shoes of the likes of Roger Allam.
The added bonus of two songs that you would not find in the show nowadays - Cosette's solo I Saw Him Once and the full version of Little People, now reduced to a short chorus - make this something of a must for anyone keen to get the full experience of the show. Alas, despite the inclusion of these, with a musical as lengthy as LES MISERABLES, there are still cuts of lovely transitional moments made to fit everything on to two CDs.
Obviously, the original London cast recording has one major drawback - it is only an audio recording. Some of the performances may be more harshly judged because of the lack of a visual dimension. Perhaps controversially, I have always found Patti LuPone's Fantine rather disinterested, but it is impossible to truly appreciate an actor based on only one aspect of a performance.
Nevertheless, the audio offers plenty to appreciate - based on the singing alone, you may, like myself, want to cry your eyes out at not having been born in 1985 to witness the original cast as much as at any of the tear-jerking numbers. Either way, a listen to this recording will definitely let you hear the people sing in the way that first took the West End by storm.
The Tenth Anniversary Concert
The only available video of any form of LES MISERABLES for many a year, the Tenth Anniversary Concert held at the Royal Albert Hall is dear to many. However, much as I love the concert, I insist on not using it to introduce anyone to the show. The script cuts do seem to make the already challenging story less comprehensible, further hampered by the fact that the show's clever and effective blocking is reduced to standing at microphones singing.
Nevertheless, it has much to recommend it. Comprising a "dream cast" of favourite performers from the West End and Broadway, the performances are generally very strong across the board, probably offering the most consistently high standard of any major recording: Colm Wilkinson and Philip Quast are very possibly the best pair of lead actors that the show has ever had.
Despite the restrictions of the concert staging, the cast put a huge amount of emotion into their performance, with Michael Ball's grief in A Little Fall Of Rain a premier example. The use of a full orchestra and huge choir adds extra punch to the music and a sense of occasion to the whole event, which is absolutely worth getting a copy of if you are already familiar with the show.
The 25th Anniversary Concert
The 25th Anniversary Concert, shot at the O2 in London was handled in a similar way, with improvements of hindsight and technological advancements. The undoubtedly better quality of filming is nice, while the incorporation of more staging and fewer script cuts make it a little more accessible to those less familiar with the plot and huge cast of characters.
One of the delights of this concert for me was being able to spot so many performers I recognised in the ensemble from the show's history. While it was lovely to see them again playing sailors, whores, students and factory workers, the principal roles featured the likes of Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas, minor celebrities outside musical theatre and cast in an apparent attempt to give the world's most popular musical a broader appeal.