Les Miserables – An Acting Through Song Triumph

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read countless reviews of the new film Les Miserables. Some favourable and some not so. One review explains how the journalist left the cinema before the end of the film, whilst others say there is no sixth star available but if there were, Les Mis would receive it.

David Sexton, of the Evening Standard, went as far to say that most people do not like musicals, which the twitter guru @westendproducer traduced so excellently with accurate and daming prose in his recent blog article that you can read here:

This short piece is not to do with picking the film apart and airing discrepencies or trying to find fault with it but instead to focus on how it is a brilliant acting lesson.

You will already know that having a faultless vibrato and perfect pitch no longer cuts the mustard in Musical Theatre and indeed, many would agree that this has always been the case. It has always perplexed me that Acting Through Song is not given its own class in every UK drama school and should be a pre-requisite of any acting training.

What Tom Hooper did to demonstrate this in the film was nothing short of outstanding. People, in the cacophony of negative reviews, seemed to focus on the quality of the singing alone, without paying any attention to how the wonderful complex story was brought to life with hardly any lines of dialogue, except when there was a specific decision made by Tom or the cast. Some, also found the closeness of the camera a major problem, branding it insensitive and overbearing.

Whilst this subjective view is not shared by myself, I preferred the negative reviews that were brave enough to explain why, rather than shout to the rooftops about their personal annoyance with Musical Theatre.

I have taught a number of Acting Through Song workshops and lessons with a varied calibre of vocal ability and in each and every case by the end of a workshop the student, regardless of their vocal talent has been able to move me emotionally. This doesn’t necessarily say anything about my teaching, neither does it really relate to their voice – it’s all to do with their understanding of the text that is in front of them – and the story that they are trying to articulate.

I would defy anybody who saw Les Mis and refused to say that the story was clear. More over, the actors’ character choices were incredibly clear in most cases. I have sat in the audience of Musical Theatre in the West End on occasion and been unmoved by the singing despite the performer having the most beautiful instrument inside of them. Although quality is often nice to hear, if the integrity and story is missing – then it’s entirely worthless.

Of course, the actors in the film are helped by a beautiful score, which guides them tremendously – every songs quality delivers a clear dictation of mood and demonstrates emotional clarity.

In my opinion, the brave choices that they made (knowing that they were not performing a concert version) but an up-close-and-personal portrayal of these characters’ lives, demonstrated an incredibly clear understanding of what each song was about and allowed you to empathise with the turmoil or love that they were experiencing.

Students and Teachers are perfectly entitled to criticise the quality of the voices within the film, but I would be surprised to hear anybody who would like to have a go at criticising the ‘acting through song’ decisions. That, of course, is the most important thing to be considered in any piece of Musical Theatre, before sets, costume, lighting and big budgets – which again, of course, is entirely subjective too!

Adam – Already Labelled


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