Saturday, November 10, 2012

Les Miserables the Movie: Maguire v. Warlow and the Role of Enjolras

Thinking about it, I could have done an X versus Y comparison for many of the roles in Les Miserables.  For instance, I could have done Colm Wilkinson versus John Owen-Jones, or Frances Ruffelle versus Lea Solanga.  Jean Valjean and Eponine are both characters upon whom, over time, actors have been able to place their unique stamp.  And to some extent, I do comparisons between the various performers in certain roles in each album post I do.  So why devote an entire post to the performers who played Enjolras, who isn't even a "main" character in the story per se?

Maybe it is just my bias at work.  Enjolras has always been a favorite character of mine.  He is the leader of the student revolution, dynamic, passionate, and romantic.  In the musical, his role is usually sung by someone with a distinctive baritone, and he is given endless opportunities to send notes soaring ("Before the barricades ariiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise!"  "They will come when we caaaaaaaaaaaaall!").  Finally, he is given a romantic death, draped over the flag of the cause that he believed in.

So that is why I chose to focus on Enjolras.  It isn't surprising that over the years, a number of performers have placed their stamp on the role.  What is surprising is that comparisons always tend to focus on Michael Maguire and Anthony Warlow.  Not, for instance, Maguire versus Jon Robyns, or Warlow versus Ramin Karimloo, or Maguire versus David Thaxton.  Sure, there are various "comparison" videos showcasing about 12 different Enjolrases singing a specific part, but no major loyalties are expressed for any of the performers save maybe Karimloo and, of course, Maguire and Warlow.

How did this unofficial rivalry between Maguire and Warlow spring up?  Part of it could be because they were both a smash in the role, but you could say that about other performers as well.  (Such as David Thaxton.  How has he never been on an official recording?*)  It could also be because at the time Maguire and Warlow performed the role, the musical had not been around long enough for there to be a "definitive" Enjolras.  Since both Maguire and Warlow put their own powerful stamp on the Enjolras role, there are debates as to which one is the "definitive" Enjolras.  Then there is the fact that whatever stamp either placed on the role, both performers have strong similarities.  Both have booming baritones and a strong presence.  Both wear the distinctive black ponytailed wig of the early Enjolras period.  And both, ironically enough, set a mould for Enjolras that couldn't be more different from Victor Hugo's image of the character.

Enjolras about to be killed by French
soldiers (date/artist unknown).
In the novel Les Miserables, Hugo describes Enjolras as "angelically handsome."  "Already a man, he still seemed a child.  His two and twenty years appeared to be but seventeen."  Enjolras had "that face of a youth escaped from college, that page's mien, those long, golden lashes, those blue eyes, that hair billowing in the wind, those rosy cheeks, those fresh lips, those exquisite teeth."  At the same time, "it did not seem as though [Enjolras] were aware there was on earth a thing called woman.  He had but one passion -- the right."  Also "[h]e was severe in his enjoyments.  He chastely dropped his eyes before everything that was not the Republic.  He was the marble lover of liberty.  His speech was harshly inspired and had the thrill of a hymn.  He was subject to unexpected outbursts of soul."

As described by Hugo, Enjolras is intense and highly committed to his cause, but also very young.  Far from the mature man Maguire and Warlow would portray him to be.  Of course, the maturity of the performers couldn't be helped unless the producers started filling the role with kids just out of school.  Still, it is interesting to note how far the student element of Enjolras's character is removed from both Maguire and Warlow's portrayal.  Productions would try to bring the Enjolras role closer to its roots as time went on, with David Thaxton in 2008 possibly representing the first step.  He was still a manly man in control, but now blonde, like Enjolras in the novel.  By the 25th Anniversary Tour, Jon Robyns is not only blonde (like all other performers in the role), but could be just another young scrapper at the pub.  Even when productions did not try to bring Enjolras back to his novel roots, they seemed to let go of the idea that Enjolras had to be some superman/army commander.  For instance, in the Broadway revival, Drew Sarich as Enjolras is almost anti-charismatic.  Nerdy and peevish, he all but dares people to leave him.  Likewise, Aaron Lazar is the stern lecturer you might have had in a college biology class.

But Enough About That.  Despite the changes over the years, Maguire and Warlow both remain iconic in the role of Enjolras.  So which do I think is better?  That is a difficult question to answer.  The one I prefer is Michael Maguire, for reasons I will go into.  But is he better?

As I noted in the Complete Symphonic Recording post, it is more difficult to draw direct comparisons between the two than one might think, because only Warlow has been recorded singing the entire role -- in air-tight studio conditions ideal for producing good vocals, I might add.  When people compare Warlow with Maguire, they frequently compare Warlow's performance on the Complete Symphonic Recording with Maguire's live performance in the 10th Anniversary Concert.  That is a flawed comparison at best.  A live setting is not guaranteed to produce the best vocals -- for instance, Colm Wilkinson's vocals are not as strong in the 10th Anniversary Concert as they are on previous recordings.  That does not mean Colm Wilkinson is a bad singer, unless you just happen to dislike his way of singing.  In Maguire's case, the 10th Anniversary Concert took place after (a) he was reportedly getting over an illness and (b) he seemed to have retired from Broadway.  Listening to the 10th Anniversary Concert, it is evident that Maguire's vocals are strained during moments when he would have sounded smooth in the past: for instance, his lines in "One Day More."  So while it is valid to compare Warlow's vocals with Maguire's using those two examples, it should be noted that you are comparing the absolute best of Warlow's vocals to the worst of Maguire's.

But how do they sound under similar circumstances?  Comparing them under studio conditions is of limited use as well, since the Original Broadway Cast recording is so bare bones compared to the Complete Symphonic Recording.  The only songs they can be compared on are "Look Down," "Red and Black," "Do You Hear the People Sing?", and "One Day More."  So a quick run through:

Look Down:  Warlow.  I hate the way he yells in this song -- "Where are the SWELLS who run this show?" -- but he does belt quite nicely.  Maguire sounds good, but does not have as strong a belt.

Red and Black: This one is a wash.  Warlow has more of a belt, but Maguire's voice sounds richer.

Do You Hear the People Sing:  This one is also a wash.  Both Maguire and Warlow sound commanding and powerful.  I can't adequately judge the "LaMarque is Dead" section because it isn't included on the Original Broadway Cast recording. 

One Day More:  Maguire.  No Enjolras enters this song better than he does.  There is something about the way he sings "day" and "freedom" -- deep, rich, commanding.  By contrast, Warlow hits freedom -- "free-DOM" -- in a way that sounds discordant.  You may disagree, but just listen.

So what does this comparison reveal?  Warlow has a more powerful belt and Maguire has a richer voice.  On the whole, I would say that is correct.  Warlow's voice is quite powerful, but when he's not belting, I don't find it all that pleasant.  He sounds flinty and a bit cold, and he yells at times when I would prefer he just sing it straight.

But are there other circumstances under which we can compare the two performers?  There are always the various Enjolras comparisons on YouTube, such as this "LaMarque is Dead" comparison of Maguire and Warlow on the stage.  Listening to this, I honestly can't say that one is superior to the other.  Same with the "Final Battle" comparison.

Oh Come On, Get Off the Fence.  So which Enjolras is best?  Max Von Essen, of course.  My God, listen to him (on the LaMarque is Dead video, around 4:20).

Just kidding.  That's my way of saying that I just don't know.  It depends upon what you want in your Enjolras.  If you love power and a great belt, then Warlow is your man.  If you prefer your Enjolras to be a cool commander, Warlow is also your man.  It would not be out of step with Enjolras's characterization in the novel of being stern and intense.

That said, based on all of the evidence available, I prefer Maguire for the following reasons.  First is that I think he has a richer voice that is just nicer to listen to on the whole.  While his belt isn't as strong, it is still pretty good.  Second, while you would never mistake Maguire for a student, he does manage to project some of the enthusiasm you would expect a student to show for a cause -- a cause so beloved that he would recognize nothing else.  And if I am watching Enjolras on stage, I want to believe that he is not only truly excited/passionate about his cause, but that he can make others feel excited as well.  Otherwise, why would they be drawn to him?

That is what I see when I watch Michael Maguire's performance in the 10th Anniversary Concert and other scattered video evidence.  In the key "LaMarque is Dead" sequence, Maguire sings fast -- maybe too fast -- and sounds like he needs to take a breath before the final "Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaall!", but you can believe that he is genuinely excited by what he has heard.  I don't get that from Warlow, recorded or live.  That doesn't mean that people who prefer Warlow aren't justified in preferring him, just that this is the reason I prefer Michael Maguire in the role.

Next Time: Now that this diversion is over, it's off to the 10th Anniversary Concert!

* Oh never mind.  David Thaxton was on the 21st Anniversary recording of Les Miserables.  So he was on an official recording, just one to which the general public has no access.  Great.    



  1. Just discovered and am really enjoying these, especially your posting about Enjolras. He and Javert were always my favorite characters ever since I discovered LM in 1993. In my own opinion, you haven't seen Enjolras until you've seen David Bardsley. He was Enjolras in the West End version in 1996 when I was in London, and if I'd been a student, I would have followed him right into hell. He is playing Combeferre on the 10th Anniversary Concert, the one in the tan vest and teal scarf, the one who asks us "to join in our crusade." He reprised "Enjolras" in the Chelmsford 10th anniversary concert, and if you can get hold of that one, oh, it's to die for. I only have it on audio but ahhh, it's magnificent, and I would still follow him right into hell. He had that kind of raw authenticity...

    1. Thanks, mlktrout! I will try to find David Bardsley on YouTube. It's a shame I'm not better located to take in several different productions. I remember seeing on YouTube an Enjolras on Broadway who was very good, reminiscent of Michael Maguire. It was around 2002, and I looked him up, but alas, I forgot his name

  2. Wow, this was incredibly well thought-out and written, amazing amount of thought and details!

    There seems to be the inherent presumption among fans of Anthony Warlow that had he been the one at the 10th Anniversary Concert, he would've given a flawless vocal performance - and while there's every possibility that could've happened, there are so many contingencies in a live recording - he could've been ill or tired or whatever else. Incidentally I've read claims that Warlow was the original choice for this concert, but couldn't make it (the reasons for this seem to vary from source to source, but none of them seem to have official verification), so Maguire was brought in at short-notice - possibly another reason he wasn't performing up to par that night.

    1. Many thanks! Re: the rumor about Warlow being the original choice, that sounds a lot like those "Frances was the original choice for Eponine" claims. I'm inclined to think that there's no truth to it because without Maguire, the only cast member to represent the United States was Judy Kuhn. I'm sure Mackintosh wanted to reach as broad an audience as possible and wanted to ensure that the U.S. was well represented. Australia already had a great representative in Philip Quast. Kuhn was good, but Maguire was a smash in the role on Broadway.

  3. I definitely prefer Maguire for his richer vibrato and the high, clear, timbre of his voice. His high notes are exquisite! Just can't say that about Warlow.

    Thank you so much for this article! As an die-hard Les Miz nerd (and currently playing Cosette in my high school's production), it was really interesting to see this so deeply analyzed. I am sharing this with all my friends!

    1. Thanks for your comments! This was definitely a fun article to write.