Last week, Universal released Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert on Blu-ray and DVD. I was lucky enough to get a screener of the Blu-ray, and I have to say, I was highly impressed! I was a little hesitant to watch it, since I have never seen the show, though I’ve really wanted to for years. Plus, this is a concert, not a full-blown performance of the musical. The singers mostly just stand in front of microphones. But all hesitation was wiped away within minutes of starting the disc.
The picture and sound are flawless. Cameras frequently zoom in on whomever is singing to provide crystal clear closeups of the faces. Even when viewing a wide angle shot, the details visible on this Blu-ray are amazing. The sound is mixed perfectly, allowing you to hear every note of the intricate, rich harmonies with no static or feedback. In a packed arena, I am in awe of just how well this disc looks and sounds. It couldn’t have done any better in an empty studio.
The staging is simple. The background fits the piece well, with barrels and big wooden wheels and other period-appropriate things tucked in. Performers mostly enter and exit through a door in the middle, but also use stairs on either side. A row of microphones dominates the front of the stage. Behind and a level up is the orchestra, and beyond them, a choir made up of cast members from several companies. I am more than 500 performers are a part of this, and at times the wall of sound just blew me away. Not to mention the lighting, which is so well done; it is a spectacle unto itself. Whole gun battles are fought with just red and white lights.
As mentioned, I haven’t seen the show, so I don’t know if anything is cut out. The story seems to flow along in linear order, with all of the beloved songs intact, including “One Day More,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” Alfie Boe is superb as thief-turned-hero Jean Valjean, and Norm Lewis shines as his hunter, Inspector Javert. Both are definitely the heart of the show. While almost everyone is stupendous, these two are sheer delight, and their talent fills the entire O2 space with ease.
Unfortunately, Nick Jonas (yes, that Nick Jonas), though hyped in the press info and on disc cover, is underwhelming. I’m not calling his singing voice into question, but he suffers from camera close-ups, as he really demonstrates no ability to convey emotions with his face, or act in any manner. Also highlighted is Lea Salgona, who has not only won a Tony, but is also the voice behind the singing Disney characters of Mulan and Jasmine. Salgona takes on Fantine, and fares much better than Jonas. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” inspires an immediate second.
Matt Lucas, the famous comedian behind Little Britain and Little Britain USA, among other projects, is clearly a crowd favorite, playing Thenardier, the “Master of the House.” While not as strong vocally as the others, his wild turn in a comic part is more than good enough, though I can’t decide if his singing style is a choice or of necessity.
The show itself runs a little less than two and a half hours, but don’t turn off your player during the applause, as there are still almost thirty minutes left. Four Jean Valjeans, including original Colm Wilkinson, sing together, followed by a 1985 cast-led “One Day More.” Then lots of speeches and acknowledgments that, while certainly deserved, drag on, and ending with school children flooding in to join the casts for a rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” that might very well bring you to tears.
The Blu-ray edition is unique only in that there are tons of language options for subtitles. While the DVD offers merely English and Spanish, the Blu-ray adds to that French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Polish, Turkish, Icelandic, Mandarin, and Cantonese! A plethora of choices for people all over the world. Considering the international impact the show has had, I think that is probably a wise option.
Of course, the sound and picture quality are also far superior to the DVD, but the rest of the disc features, well feature, is the same. The lone special is a five-minute series of clips tracing Les Miserables from its inception twenty-five years ago, up through today. It is essentially a trailer for the stage show, with pictures and footage from various productions, as well as staggering statistics boasting to the amount of times and places Les Miserables has been performed, and ending with a clip of Susan Boyle’s now infamous performance on British television. Honestly, I was inspired watching just this, before I even put on the film proper.
Amazon is currently selling the Blu-ray for $26.99. Or you can rent it from Amazon’s Instant Video service for a mere $3.99. It is worth every penny, and begs for repeat viewings, which is why I recommend the purchase over the rental. Do yourself a favor and check it out.