Les Miserables Live! Dream The Dream

by Steven Bergman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Apr 3, 2014
Les Miserables Live! Dream The Dream

The epic musical theater work, "Les Miserables," has been seen in 42 countries, and has grossed over a billion (with a "b") dollars in box office. The show was recently exploited into an award-winning movie, and there are several live DVDs depicting the timeless journey of Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption and forgiveness. With this wealth of archival material of Victor Hugo's classic novel available, do we really need a new recording?

Impresario Cameron Mackintosh says "yes," so First Night Records has re-released "Les Miserables Live! Dream the Dream," created over eight performances in 2010 in Manchester, originally to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the show, and now being promoted for its new orchestrations that will be used when "Les Mis" returns to Broadway this year.

John Owen-Jones and Earl Carpenter, two relative unknowns to American audiences, now take on the roles of Jean Valjean and Javert, respectively. Their performances come across on CD as energetic and passionate. However, these attributes do tend to sacrifice some of the melodies that have been ingrained into musical theater fans for a generation, particularly in the transitional sections that give us story line instead of the "hits." The recording frequently comes across as a presentation of the well-known songs bridged by very quickly transmitted plot, which is unfortunate for those who have appreciated Valjean's tale on past recordings.

Rosalind James (Eponine) and Katie Hall (Adult Cosette) give "American Idol"-friendly versions of "On My Own" and "A Heart Full of Love" (with Gareth Gates in the thankless role of Marius). The Thenardiers (Ashley Artus and Lynne Wilmot) are devilishly entertaining in "Master of the House" and "The Bargain," sequences that have always emphasized characterization over melody.

The orchestrations, emphasized as one of the selling points for this "new" release, are now performed by a pit reduced to 15 musicians, and are mixed to keep most of the force of the original score. The average listener won't notice that sparse chamber arrangements now accompany "Castle on a Cloud" and keyboard strings are most prominent in "On My Own," and so they won't appreciate the growing trend by producers to shrink orchestras for these productions.

"Les Miserables Live! Dream the Dream"
Claude-Michel Schonberg / Cameron Mackintosh
CD and digital formats
First Night Records

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.


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