Morpheus on… “Les Miserables”

The stage musical version of The Glums has been around since 1985, but only last year did the film version finally emerge – which is less than surprising.

The thing is, stage musicals generally take eight to ten years to graduate to film (to avoid damaging the theatrical box office). Like, “South Pacific” first hit the stage in 1949 – but the film version did not follow until 1958. Whilst “My Fair Lady” opened on stage in ’56 and on film in ’64.

However, since fashions did not move quickly in the period between the late Forties and early Sixties, this was not problematic.

But when “Hair” burst forth at the end of The Summer Of Love (1967) it marked a radical change in the genre. Very much a product of its time (hippies, nudity, funky music, free love, drugs, etc.) it was a laughable anachronism when the film version was finally released in 1979.

Actually, it did not so much get released as escape. And it lost millions.

And while “Phantom Of The Opera” was a huge success on stage in 1986, the film version – made EIGHTEEN years later – barely recovered its production costs.

The reasons were clear: the near-twenty-year delay meant that its original stars were simply too old for their roles. And while the initially-proposed leads Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway might have rescued the project, both were unavailable. In any case, by that time, public interest in Phantom had waned.

Thus it was that the filming of The Glums (or “Les Mis” as it is now affectionately known) while first proposed just three years after its stage debut with Alan Parker, then Bruce Beresford directing – and finally Cameron Mackintosh producing – the whole idea stalled.

It was not until Susan Boyle pushed it back into play by popularising the musical’s best song, “I Dreamed A Dream” – that The Glums movie finally got back on track.

The timing was now perfect, but it still needed to be done right. And it was.

In the old days, stage singers were often eschewed in film musicals in favour of more glamorous actors – their voices subsequently being dubbed. A classic example is the aforementioned My Fair Lady.

The original Broadway production starred a then-still-young Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. But eight years later, when the movie was cast, she was controversially passed over for the more attractive Audrey Hepburn.

And whilst Audrey was a fair singer, she was – again, controversially – dubbed by Marni Nixon. And Jeremy Brett was dubbed by Bill “Don’t Call Me” Shirley. The only non-dubbed songs were those (mostly spoken) by Rex Harrison – his voice being too distinctive to dub.

In fact, since Rex’s performances constantly varied, they were pretty much FORCED to allow him to do everything live.

But as both Jeremy and Audrey had fairly standard voices, they found all of THEIR songs being delivered on screen by singers other than themselves (apart from the early “harsh” bits sung by Eliza).

This sacrilege was corrected much later, when The Lady was restored – along with Audrey’s original singing. But tragically, she died just a few months before the completion of the work – without ever seeing it.

However, this sort of nonsense was not allowed to mar the 2012 film production of The Glums. Like grand operas, everything in it is sung. And this production DID end up with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway – both experienced singer/actors – and they were fabulous in it.

Which was just as well, since it was decided to take the bold step of making the film with LIVE SOUND.

Again, in the old days, the actors usually mimed to pre-recorded playbacks – or, as in the case of My Fair Lady, were recorded live, with the orchestra (and replacement singers, where required) added later, in post.

Even this last was tricky, since the actors had to keep the rhythm in their heads. But in The Glums, modern technology came through – with a piano track, fed to all the actors through radio-earpieces.

The result is a triumph. At the time of typing, the film and its participants have been showered with awards – and the production’s current net is triple its outlay.

Serious – and successful – film musicals have been thin on the ground for forty years now. But with Baby-Boomers retiring and the young eschewing* cinema, in favour of those little tablets they have now – perhaps The Glums is the vanguard of a REVIVAL.

*That’s twice I’ve used that word now – in this piece – and in this millennium!

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