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Book Review: Les Miserables: From Stage to Screen by Benedict Nightingale and Martyn Palmer

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Les Miserables: From Stage to Screen (Applause Books, April 2013) is like one of those big gift boxes in which as you sort through the tissue paper, you discover lots of little surprises wrapped within. Theater critic Benedict Nightingale and film journalist Martyn Palmer have created a comprehensive and gorgeous gift book for Les Miz fans, and for anyone interested in the evolution of a compelling story from its origins in novel form to its successful translation first to stage and then to screen. 

When Victor Hugo wrote his hefty social novel Les Miserables 150 years ago, he never imagined that his story of redemption, revenge and turbulent times would resonate well into the 21st Century. Yet, first with Cameron Mackintosh’s operatic telling of Jean Valjean’s remarkable story, Hugo’s words come to life. Les Miz is not a story mired in the red and the black of 19th Century Paris, but is something to which we can all relate: the injustice of a man imprisoned far too long for stealing a loaf of bread, the redemptive power of  a single act of kindness, the blindness of a justice system that can never see beyond the ex-convict to the almost-saintly man he has become despite the cruelty he has endured. 

Nightingale and Palmer’s book guides readers from the beginnings of the story in Hugo’s Paris through the long and difficult process of creating first the stage play and then the film. Casting, costumes, sets and settings, and of course the music, are all explored. We are transported well behind the scenes and into the iconic revolving stage set; we are brought to opening night at the Barbican in London for the world premiere of the musical. 

The book dives into each of the main characters: Valjean, Javert, Fantine, the Thenardiers, and the rest, and all the actors who have played them over the years, interpreting and reinterpreting them for new audiences all over the world. 

Then we get to the film and Tom Hooper’s (The King’s Speech) cinematic vision to transform the musical to the screen. Readers are taken into the filming, the casting, and the brave choice of having the actors sing “live” rather than in a studio.

The book is filled with hundreds of photographs and images that will take days and weeks of enjoyment to appreciate. But even better are the surprises that await readers as they flip through the book. Starting with the inside and outside flaps of this hardcover volume, readers will be delighted with “extras” hidden within flaps and envelopes scattered throughout, containing 20 items of Les Miz memorabilia, including posters, program extracts, original stage and costume design sketches, scene drawings and set designs for the film, call sheets, and much more.

For the Les Miz fan, whether a devotee of the stage play or a fan of the 2013 film starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne, this book could well be called the Holy Grail of Les Miserables love. It is, indeed, a “must have.” 

Due out in April, Les Miz rables: From Stage to Screen is published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.