The past decade has been surprisingly fruitful and varied for Hollywood musicals. Rob Marshall’s Chicago kicked off the the trend with a uniquely effective re-imagining of the classic play, fit with fantastic performances and a sublimely integrated plot structure. The ball has kept rolling with such films as the throwback cartooning of The Producers, the ballad-ridden darkness of Phantom of the Opera, the bizarre whimsy of Sweeney Todd, the clever but uneven Nine, the too mainstream RENT, and the inspired redo of Footloose. The responses to these pictures hasn’t necessarily been overly kind, but each renders a different stylistic approach to their film’s fabrics, flexing the multitudes possible in the musical form. That said, no musical is yet to truly knock it out of the park (Chicago fans might think otherwise, of course).
That Tom Hooper will follow his Oscar win with a musical adaptation of Les Misérables has fans of the genre once again holding their breath for the breakthrough masterpiece they’ve been waiting for. I’ve been a bit skeptical about this project. While I do love musicals in general, I’m not thrilled about the source material and I don’t tend to be drawn to these types of Dickens-style period pieces. The pedigree of the creative team and the inclusion of an ever-underrated Anne Hathaway has me interested nonetheless.
A feature released today illuminates the challenging production approach taken by Hooper and his cast. Everybody sang live and in the moment, with the hope that this might bring an added level of authenticity to the material. Realism would be a breath of fresh air for a kind of film that could easily fall flat and stuffy.