Friday, March 16, 2012

Maddening Movie Musicals

In 2002 Chicago became the first musical to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since Oliver! won in 1969. Prior to that, three other films won Ocsar's top prize during the 1960s: West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965). Grease (1978) may be one of the most well known and beloved musicals, but as much as it was celebrated it did not resonate with the Academy, much like the 2007 adaptation of Hairspray. These two films might just be too cheerful and exuberant for the Oscars.

My reason for this post centres around last year's announcement of a film adaptation of Les Misérables. The musical is based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel and was first staged in English in London's West End in 1985. It is the second longest-running musical ever and has played over 10 000 performances in London. It was announced in October 2011 that Les Misérables will return to Toronto for part of its 25th Anniversary Tour. When I was 9 we traveled across Canada to visit my grandparents and all we listened to was the soundtrack for Les Misérables. I have seen the show once - compared to six for my mother! - and it truly is one of the best musicals ever staged.

Unfortunately, there is some disappointing news: Tom Hooper, Academy Award-winning director of The King's Speech, is currently filming a feature film adaptation of Les Misérables. The project was announced back in March 2011, and instead of using stage-trained veterans, Hollywood A-listers have been cast in the film. Hugh Jackman (who is incredibly talented?) as Jean Valjean? Russell Crowe as Javert? Anne Hathaway as Fantine? Amanda Seyfried as Cosette? I want to vomit. The only casting choice I agree with is Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier - though Sacha Baron Cohen will play her husband. Can you imagine him singing Master of the House?

Maybe Les Misérables will go the way of Chicago (which I loved, and deserved to win) and amaze me. Or, far more likely, it will be more akin to Joel Schumacher's 2004 disappointment The Phantom of the Opera. Has Emmy Rossum's reputation recovered? All she does now is take off her clothes on Shameless.

Before Chicago won in 2002, Moulin Rouge! reminded audiences of the power of movie musicals in 2001, the first musical nominated for Best Picture in a decade. But since then it has been disappointing.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was just another Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Hairspray thrilled audiences but was a little too sugar-coated. What has been the biggest disappointment? Rob Marshall's over-hyped and ill-conceived Nine. I fell asleep within the first five minutes of the 2009 film, even though it starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench and Nicole Kidman.

There is no reason to adapt Les Misérables for the big screen. The stage production is too fantastic to be ruined by Hollywood. I have been waiting years for Les Misérables to return to the stage in Toronto, but I would rather wait another decade than watch Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe lay waste to it on film.

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