Sunday, February 28, 2016

Les Miserables: What Did I Choose for the Definitive Soundtrack?

For my articles about Les Miserables, I discussed the various positives and negatives of the different albums, at least five if you don't count the original French concept album and the movie soundtrack.  One reader asked me what album tracks I used to create my idea of the definitive Les Miz soundtrack.  I'll go through each track below, with an explanation as to why I chose it over the others.  Note that I created my "Ultra" version before the movie soundtrack was released, but I'll give some thoughts as to which of the movie tracks would be best suited for an "Ultra" version.

Overture/Work Song: Broadway Cast.  I use this album for a lot of the early Valjean tracks because I feel as though Wilkinson is in the best of voice here, though I suppose London would work as well.  While John Own Jones sounds great on the Les Miserables Live! album, I consider Wilkinson to be the definitive Valjean.

On Parole/The Bishop: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  This is the only cast that features Wilkinson singing this part, and I wanted it in for the sake of completeness.  A little ironic, since years later, this would be Wilkinson's biggest moment in the movie.

What Have I Done?: Broadway Cast. Wilkinson's voice sounds clean and strong here, whereas it sounds a bit foggy in the Tenth Anniversary Cast.

At the End of the Day: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Note that if you use this version, the beginning is slightly cut off.  I chose it for the glorious Ruthie Henshall, whom I consider to be the definitive Fantine (apologies to Patti LuPone and Anne Hathaway).

I Dreamed a Dream: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Ruthie Henshall sounds so sweet and sad.

Lovely Ladies: Broadway Cast.  Not sure why I chose this cast specifically, since there's nothing especially great about the rendition.  Maybe I just didn't care all that much.  No surprise, as this is one of my least-favorite songs.

Fantine's Arrest: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  I chose this one for completeness sake, and also because I love Phillip Quast's appearance and the way Ruthie says, "By a rat."  Note that the Les Miserables Live! album could work here as well, as that Fantine is really fierce in that moment.

The Runaway Cart: The Complete Symphonic Album.  This was chosen again for completeness, as no other album until Les Miserables Live! has this moment, and that one is abbreviated.  Still think Gary Morris sounds like a poor man's Colm Wilkinson, or like he's trying to be a poor man's Colm Wilkinson, but what can you do?

Who Am I?: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  This is one that I think could have been ably served by many of the albums, but I just flipped a coin and chose the Tenth Anniversary.

Fantine's Death: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  I love Ruthie's Fantine.  How could I not choose her version to be Fantine's death song?

The Confrontation: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  I chose this because it was the only one to have the definitive Valjean and the definitive Javert at each other's throats.

Castle on a Cloud: The Complete Symphonic Album.  Again, this was chosen for the sake of completeness, as it includes moments that aren't on other albums, or are at least abbreviated, such as Madame Thenardier yelling at Cosette and fussing over Eponine.  Otherwise, there's not much to recommend one version or the other.

Master of the House: The Complete Symphonic Album.  This one was also chosen for completeness, as it has an opening that cannot be found on other recordings.  If not for that, I probably would have chosen the Tenth Anniversary Cast again, as I cannot stand this version of Monsieur and Madame Thenardier.

The Bargain/The Waltz of Treachery: The Complete Symphonic Album.  Same reason as above.  Not until Les Miserables Live! did the Valjean song at the beginning appear on an album.  I think I cobbled my compilation together before I listened to Les Miserables Live!, or I might have chosen that version with John Owen Jones.  Though only this version has the full, charming "Lalalala" sequence with Valjean and Cosette, right before they cut to Paris.

Look Down:  The Complete Symphonic Album.  This was a tough one.  I would have chosen the Tenth Anniversary Cast, as it has my favorite Enjolras (Michael Maguire) and my favorite Marius (Michael Ball), but it's abbreviated, whereas this is the full version.  Anthony Warlow is in good voice here, even if his shouting is annoying.  The Les Miserables Live! has a good rousing version, too, but its Enjolras and Marius sound much weaker.

The Robbery/Javert's Intervention: The Complete Symphonic Album.  Again, this was due to completeness sake, as I don't really care about this song otherwise.  Always nice to hear Phillip Quast on any recording, though.

Stars: The Complete Symphonic Album.  I could have just as easily chosen the Tenth Anniversary Cast here, as it's Phillip Quast for both.  I could never pass over the chance to have him sing this number, though Earl Carpenter in the Les Miserbales Live! version is nearly as good.

Eponine's Errand: The Complete Symphonic Album.  Chosen for completeness and no other reason.  This isn't really a noteworthy song, and Kaho Shimada is not my favorite Eponine.

ABC Cafe/Red and Black/Do You Hear the People Sing: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Chosen because it features my favorite Marius and Enjolras, as well as the "Lamarque is Dead" sequence, which is cut from albums like London and Broadway.  Maguire as Enjolras sounds better at times on the Broadway Cast album, but he acts believably excited and delivers a fiery, "They will come when we caaaaaaaaaaaaaaall!"

In My Life/A Heart Full of Love: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Although Judy Kuhn sounds too vocally mature to be a teenage girl, she does have a really strong, nice voice, and manages to hold her own against Michael Ball.  No small feat, considering Ball's vocal power.

The Attack on Rue Plumet: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  I can't really bring myself to care about this number, and Valjean sounds stupid no matter who sings it.  But if I had to hear a Valjean, I'd rather hear Wilkinson than Morris. 

One Day More: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  It's a bit of a mystery why I chose this, as I actually think the Broadway Cast version is better.  I think because I wanted to hear Michael Ball's Marius in stead of David Bryant's.  Otherwise, I'd recommend the Broadway Cast version, with a stronger-sounding Wilkinson and Maguire, and Frances Ruffelle as Eponine.

At the Barricade (Upon These Stones): The Complete Symphonic Album.  Chosen for completeness, as it has the fullest version of this sequence.  Future albums would trim this section.

On My Own: Broadway Cast.  I'm on record stating that Frances Ruffelle is my favorite Eponine because she actually sounds like she lived in the streets, compared to whispery Kaho Shimada or clear-as-a-bell Lea Salonga.  I suppose the London Cast album would suit as well, but Ruffelle seems more passive in that version for some reason.

Back At the Barricade: Tenth Anniversary Cast. Chosen for completeness.  The Complete Symphonic Album probably would have served just as well.

Javert's Arrival/Little People: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Again chosen for completeness sake.  The Complete Symphonic Album, again, would probably do just as well.  The only one that would not do is the London Cast, which has a whole "Little People" song.  Ugh.

A Little Fall of Rain: The Complete Symphonic Album.  It was a tough decision, as the version I like best is the Tenth Anniversary Cast one with Ball and Salonga.  I ended up choosing this one because it has the before sequence (with Marius's "Good God, what are you doing?") as well as the song.  The Les Miserables Live! version is pretty good as well, though I'm not as fond of Gareth Gates's Marius, or his sobbing.

Night of Anguish: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Both Maguire and Ball sound good here. 'Nuff said.

First Attack: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Chosen because the entire sequence is left off of most other albums, and this is the only version with Wilkinson.

Drink With Me: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  I love the Wilkinson-Quast confrontation at the beginning.  Otherwise, I could have chosen Broadway Cast version as well.  I really like Anthony Crivello as Grantaire -- he has a rich-sounding voice that could have easily been for the Enjolras role.

Bring Him Home: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Another one where I could have chosen the Broadway Cast, or even London, as Wilkinson is apparently incapable of singing this song badly (gives Hugh Jackman the side eye).  If John Owen Jones is more your flavor, then substitute the Les Miserables Live! version.

Dawn of Anguish: The Complete Symphonic Album.  Chosen for completeness, as this sequence tends to be cut or trimmed down in most other recordings.  That said, damn it's depressing.

The Second Attack (Death of Gavroche): The Complete Symphonic Album.  This is probably the only decent version of Gavroche's death song.  London, Broadway, and the Tenth Anniversary don't have one at all, and the Les Miserables Live! version is significantly cut down.

The Final Battle: The Complete Symphonic Album.  I again chose this version for completeness, as I would otherwise have preferred Maguire singing: "Let us die facing our foes! Let them bleed while they can!"  I originally did choose the Tenth Anniversary Cast, but juxtaposed against the last song, the Death of Gavroche sounds so comically abrupt, I had to change it.  Anthony Warlow has a great voice as well, so if you're on Team Warlow, you wouldn't complain about having this version on your play list.

The Sewers: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  I think this and the Complete Symphonic Album are the only ones to have the full sequence (prior to the movie).  I think I flipped a coin and chose the Tenth Anniversary Cast because it flowed more seamlessly into the next song.

Dog Eat Dog: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  I'm not really fond of this song, but this features the Thenardier I dislike least, so there's that.

Javert's Suicide: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  This track begins with my favorite post-sewers confrontation between Valjean and Javert.  Wilkinson's Valjean sounds much stronger here than Morris's Valjean in the Complete Symphonic Album version.  Also, Phillip Quast sounds great both here and on the Complete Symphonic Album as he sings his death song, but I think he sounds better here.

Turning: Broadway Cast.  I'm not sure I chose this version, except that maybe I felt I was neglecting the Broadway Cast album.  Not a song I really care about.

Empty Chairs At Empty Tables: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Pre-movie, there was no one better at playing Marius than Michael Ball, and he is in his best singing voice here.

Every Day/A Heart Full of Love: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  This is probably the least-annoying version that I've heard.  The Complete Symphonic Album Cosette sounds so, so annoying in this song.

Valjean's Confession: The Complete Symphonic Album.  This is the only album to have the full version, though Les Miserables Live! and the movie sound track come close.

The Wedding Chorale/Beggars At the Feast: The Complete Symphonic Album.  Again, I chose this for completeness, and because I really like hearing Ball's Marius confront the awful Thenardiers in this version.

Epilogue: Tenth Anniversary Cast.  Ruthie Henshall sounds tender, and Colm Wilkinson heart breaking.  There is no better version.

Well, as you can see, I heavily favor the Tenth Anniversary Cast and the Complete Symphonic Album in my compilation.  I don't listen to the London version all that often, so I can't really say whether any of those songs would be superior to the ones I chose.  Regarding the 25th Anniversary, since there's no soundtrack, I can't really choose.  I will say that I like Alfie Boe, but at least acting wise, he doesn't match Wilkinson or Owen Jones.  Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras sounds great, but he bears the misfortune of having to share many of his songs with Nick Jonas.

As for the movie soundtrack, are there any songs from there that would be at home on my play list?  It depends on whether you care about pure singing excellence or emotion.  If the latter, I would say the songs that would fit best would be:

  • Hugh Jackman's "What Have I Done?"
  • Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" (duh) 
  • "Paris/Look Down"
  • Samantha Barks's "On My Own"
  • The Death of Gavroche"
  • The Final Battle"
  • Eddie Redmayne's "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables"  
  • "Valjean's Confession"
But ultimately, the fun of making a compilation of tracks from different albums is testing and choosing for yourself.  Hopefully I've given some people food for thought.

The above image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine.