Let it never be said that director Tom Hooper took the easy road with his follow-up feature to his Oscar-winning The King’s Speech. While Hooper’s decision to again tackle a period piece with a new film version of an already often-adapted piece of work might have seemed simple when it was first announced, Hooper’s inspired idea to make his Les Miserables as close to an actual stage production as possible is anything but safe or expected. With Hooper making the bold decision to use “live” singing from his cast (not going the more traditional route of lip-syncing and recording tracks in post-production), his version of Les Miserables places quite the premium on getting truly great musical performances out of its stars.
Which is why it might be confusing to many a moviegoer that the cast of Hooper’s Les Mis is rounded out by big name movie stars that most people wouldn’t necessarily associate with the Great White Way.
But Hooper knew exactly what he was doing when he cast such stars as Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathway, and Amanda Seyfried in his film, because while the cast of Les Miserables is rife with well-known acting talent, it’s also filled to the brim with exceptional (and, in most cases, exceptionally trained) songbirds.
Not sold on the dulcet tones and vocal stylings of this new Les Mis cast? Let’s take a look at their singing backgrounds.
Here’s the thing – Hugh Jackman is a huge stage star. He is a tremendously talented singer and actor. The man has won a Special Tony Award for Extraordinary Contribution to the Theatre Community, for chrissakes. Jackman has been nominated and won a slew of awards – from Mo Awards to Drama Desk Awards to Olivier Awards to Tonys – for not only his stage work, but specifically his stage musical work. Jackman’s best-known musical theater roles include work in Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Boy From Oz. He’s also hoofed it on stage for the masses at the Emmys and the Tonys, and he even belted out some tunes for the Happy Feet soundtrack.
Of all the stars in Les Miserables, Jackman is by far the most qualified to lead such a massive production. We’ll put it this way, if someone complains that Jackman isn’t a good singer, they’re wrong.
Jackman performs “Not The Boy Next Door” from The Boy From Oz:
While Crowe has kept his musical stylings mostly out of his acting work, he’s been singing and playing guitar since he was a kid. In fact, Crowe’s first real taste performing as an adult came care of (amusingly enough) his work as a musician in the mid-1980s. Under the name “Russ Le Roq.” Who had a first single called “I Just Want To Be Like Marlon Brando.” Weren’t the eighties just the best?
Post-Russ Le Roq, Crowe played Eddie/Dr. Scott in two productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, lending him some pretty sweet stage musical cred. After that didn’t turn into more acting or theater work, he turned to busking (so Once of him).
Eventually, Crowe’s acting career took off, but he never let go of his musical dreams. Crowe’s best-known band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, was formed in 1992. The band recorded three full-length records before “dissolving” in 2005. Crowe then started another band, Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God, which still performs today.
Les Miserables is Crowe’s first full-scale musical feature film. Depending on audience reaction, it might be his last.
Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God perform “Testify” with Marcia Hines at the Australian Film and Television Awards:
If you’ve somehow avoided the rampant praise heaped on Hathaway’s tragic portrayal of destitute prostitute Fantine, congratulations? Here is some more? While we here at FSR tend to shy away from just cheaply yelling “surefire Oscar winner!” in place of deep, insightful criticism (especially around this time of year), the buzz is true – Hathaway is stunning in Les Miserables.
And why shouldn’t she be? Hathaway is a wonderful actress, but what she really wants to do is sing. A big performer in her high school theater company, Hathaway’s first professional stage production, “Carnival!” in 2002, might have come well after she was established as an actress, but Hathaway hasn’t stopped belting things out since. She sang in Ella Enchanted, Hoodwinked!, and Rio, and while her big! feature! musical! debut! (that would have been Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera) didn’t pan out, the wait to see Hathaway in a fully musical role has been worth it with Les Mis. She’s long been attached to play Judy Garland in a biopic, she didn’t miss a chance for a musical number when she hosted the Oscars, and she’s had some real fun with goofy trills on both Saturday Night Live and Conan. She wants to sing. Let her. It’s good.
And, fun fact! Hathaway’s own mom, Kate McCauley Hathaway, once played Fantine in the U.S. national tour of Les Miserables. It’s in her blood, people.
Hathaway sings “Somebody to Love” in Ella Enchanted:
Some seem to have all forgotten about Mamma Mia! And, while some of us might want to forget it (hi, Pierce Brosnan), when it comes to Seyfried’s singing career, we certainly can’t discount her work there. While Seyfried got her start on soaps, she also spent a lot of time as a teen doing voice lessons – including two years of opera lessons, which sound totally awesome and probably a bit scary. 2008’s Mamma Mia! is clearly her best-known musical work pre-Les Miserables, and for that film, Seyfried recorded no less than five songs. Her songs have also appeared on the soundtracks for Dear John and L’il Red Riding Hood.
Seyfried’s audition process for Les Mis reportedly took over four months and, during at least some of that time, she was also trying to grab the Fantine role. When Hathaway was cast for that part, Seyfried was offered Cosette (the adult version of the role she once played as a kiddo in a one-off concert at age seven).
Seyfried sings “I Have a Dream” from Mamma Mia!:
Though Redmayne is the least experienced singer of the cast, he does come with extensive stage credits – including Oliver!, Twelfth Night, The Goat, and Red. While even Redmayne has questioned his own singing ability, he reportedly endured “hardcore” singing lessons to prepare for Les Miserables.
Oh, and despite his supposedly slim singing experience, Redmayne did sing with the Eton College Choir, so perhaps his resume has been under-puffed just a touch.
Eddie Redmayne and the Eton College Choir sing “God Is With Us” (no actual video of Redmayne, but he is the lead soloist on the song):