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Sunday, November 21, 2010


On October 8, 1985 - 25 years ago - Les Misérables the musical (English version) debuted in London’s Barbicon Theatre before transferring to West End’s Palace Theatre in December of that same year.  The famed musical by Claude-Michel Schöenberg (composer) and Alain Bublil (libretto) has since become a worldwide favorite, translated into 21 different languages and played in 42 countries and 291 cities including Serbia, the Channel Islands and the Philippines.  In 1995, Les Misérables celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a “dream cast” concert at Royal Albert Hall starring Colm Wilkinson (originated the English language role) as Jean Valjean, Lea Salonga as Eponine, Alun Armstrong as Thénardier and Michael Ball as Marius (both of whom originated their English language role).  For the most part, I wouldn’t argue this “dream cast” and often looked at it as my quintessential Les Misérables cast.

The 25th anniversary musical concert was comprised of some unknown talent (to me) like Alfie Boe (Jean Valjean), Ramin Karimloo (Enjorlas), Samantha Barks (Eponine) as well as "known" Broadway talents like Norm Lewis (Javert) and Lea Salonga (Fantine).  Then...there was Nick Jonas as Marius (more on that later). Like many of you, I feel confident in stating that I consider myself well-versed in Les Miz having first seen it (on tour) in the early ‘90s.  Since then, I have seen various productions of it locally, on Broadway, in concert, staged reading and as a result seen some great and not so great productions.  While I will always think of Wilkinson as the quintessential Jean Valejan, I have been highly impressed with the last few actors I’ve seen in the role including J. Mark McVey (Hollywood Bowl) and particularly Boe (25th Anniversary concert).

Alfie Boe (who incidentally has a solo album coming out December 27th) is to put it mildly, an incredible talent.  As a trained operatic singer from Royal Academy of Music in England, Boe's credits include the lead in Baz Luhrman’s La Boheme (Tony Award) as well as appearing with Michael Ball in Kismet in London’s West End.  Though I had never heard of him before, I am sure to follow his career now!  To say that his voice is just phenomenal is an immense understatement.  Really, there’s nothing more to say other than to watch and listen:

Unfortunately, the rest of the 25th anniversary cast didn’t blow me away like Boe did.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t have anything to say about it.  I have long been a supporter of Norm Lewis and have not heard him sound anything but great in everything.  He was probably not the most convincing Javert I’ve ever seen, but he was still good nonetheless.  Samantha Barks as Eponine and Ramin Karimloo as Enjrolas I thought were great finds too as I’ve never heard of either of them before.

Who would've ever thought I'd have a photo of a Jonas on my blog!
Now comes my real issue with this (mostly) terrific 25th anniversary concert of Les MizNick Jonas.  Let me first start by saying that though he is a member of the tween-loving boy band, The Jonas Brothers, I had no expectations of him as Marius.  I have no prior experience with him as a singer and a lot of pop singers can actually be really good singers.  My goal was to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Could he be that bad?  Before I answer, let me start off by saying that the role of Marius is a relatively big one (it is one of the major characters in the story after Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Cosette, Eponine and M. and Mme. Thénardier).  The character is important and the actor cast must be a good singer (naturally) and sound like the strong, revolutionary scholar that he is – without these important qualities, he would be just another ordinary extra cast in Les Miz.  Here are my observations of Jonas throughout Les Miz:

  1. When he was onstage, Jonas looked as if he didn’t know where to look.  As a performer who probably often makes eye contact with his adoring and screaming teenage fans, he looked like he was making a concerted effort to try not to break the 4th wall (it looked forced to me), but where was he looking?  He was looking up, looking down, when he was interacting with Cosette or Eponine and should have been looking at them...he was not.
  2. In addition to not knowing where to look, Jonas' demeanor looked highly uncomfortable on stage – very stiff as if he knew he didn’t belong on that stage with the likes of Boe, Salonga Lewis and the 300 chorus members of various Les Miz casts. 
  3. He was certainly the most timid, wimpy Marius I’ve ever seen.  I’ve never seen a more miscast actor in the role and this really disappointed me. As one who is considered a singer, I don’t think Jonas was strong enough of a singer for this role.  He could barely hit the notes, he sounded flat and just didn’t do the role justice (understatement).
  4. Jonas receded into the background and every actor he sang with (particularly Barks as Eponine and Katie Hall as Cosette) completely overpowered him.  There was no power in Jonas' voice, he looked and sounded as if he were straining to just to complete his songs.  He was completely forgettable.
  5. To be honest, Jonas' performance at best was cringe-worthy.  I literally could go on and on about my disappointment of Jonas as Marius, but these are my top 5 reasons why I was displeased with his performance.  I hate to be so mean, but Jonas’ performance just didn’t work.  
Moral of this list?  Neither Jonas nor his voice were suited for the role of Marius.  My question is really for the casting director (or whoever made the final decision on Jonas).  I know that he has previous experience on Broadway (as the final Gavroche in the original Broadway production of Les Miz) but he simply did not work this time.  Was he having an off-day when this concert was filmed?  What was the  real reason for casting him as Marius?  Was it stunt casting in the hopes of getting the tween contingency to attend Les Miz (we certainly had them screaming in the theatre for this screening).  I just don’t get it.  Someone, send me an email and explain it to me.

All in all though (with the exception of a certain casting faux pas), I thought that the 25th anniversary Les Miz concert was a hit.  It reminded me why I have loved the show for over 15 years and counting.  Ironically, the stand-out moment of the entire concert was Valjean quartet.  Amazing.  Breathtaking:


This was a close second:


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