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Having recently been to see the Les Miserables film at the cinema (and if you haven't seen it, you should, its amazing), it reminded me of just what a great musical Les Miserable is. I have seen it twice at the theatre (including once in its early days at the Barbican) and even read the original book by Victor Hugo, so I guess I am a bit of a fan. Not a rabid one mind, but I do like it.
For me, Les Miserables marries together a good story, good characters, an epic background of French history, and simply some of the best songs you'll find anywhere. It's as perfect a fusion of music and story you'll find anywhere at the theatre.
So, after seeing the film, I dug out my Les Miserables album. There have been many Les Miserables albums down the years (international cast versions, just the singers singing the songs, reunion ones etc) but this is the original; its a recording of the original London cast, at the Barbican, in October 1985. It features Colm Wilkinson (Jean Valjean), Roger Allam (Javert), Patti LuPone (Fantine), Alun Armstrong (Thenardier), Michael Ball (Marius) among many others; interestingly Caroline Quentin is credited as 'whore' and 'blind beggar', whatever happened to her....!
The album is a 2 cd set, in the old 'chunky' style cases, with the famous picture of Cosette on the front. The CD's both helpfully list the tracks they contain on the actual discs, so no mixing up parts 1 and 2. This set also comes with something that's becoming a bit of a lost art, a cd booklet. Its a good one too, with full cast list, an appreciation by Sheridan Morley, and all the song lyrics reproduced, in order, with little story excerpts intercut so you know where the song fits in the story.
I have always been baffled why Les Miserables splits opinion so much. Yes, the story is sad in parts, but uplifting in others, and this benefits the music, as we have a range of great songs encompassing humour ('Master of the House' is audio slapstick par excellence), tear-jerking ballads ('On My Own', 'I Dreamed a Dream') and rousing anthems ('One More Day', 'Do You Hear The People Sing'). There are 32 songs in all, some solo, some chorus, all fantastic. Even the instrumental pieces will have you humming the tunes for weeks after!
The cast is outstanding, as is their singing, Michael Ball and Patti LuPone especially stand out for me. The sound quality is excellent, really crisp and clean, and does full justice to the material.
Les Miserables will probably never convert everyone, but if you are on the fence, give this a listen, it may surprise you. I am only a casual musicals fan, but I know this is one of the best you will probably see, or hear!
Many musicals soundtracks do not work when separated from what is happening on stage but, if anything, Les Miserable improves,as its just you and the music.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Prologue. Work Song
2 Prologue. Valjean Arrested/Valjean Forgiven
3 Prologue. What Have I Done?
4 At the End of the Day
5 I Dreamed a Dream
6 Lovely Ladies
7 Who Am I?
8 Fantine's Death. Come to Me
9 Fantine's Death. Confrontation
10 Castle on a Cloud
11 Master of the House
12 ThÃ©nardier Waltz
14 Look Down
15 Little People
16 Red and Black
17 Do You Hear the People Sing?
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Love Montage. I Saw Him Once/In My Life/A Heart Full of Love
2 Plumet Attack
3 One Day More
4 On My Own
5 The Attack
6 A Little Fall of Rain
7 Drink with Me
8 Bring Him Home
9 Dog Eats Dog
10 Javert's Suicide: Soliloquy
12 Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
13 Wedding Chorale
14 Beggars at the Feast