‘Les Miserables’: A Guide to the Surprising Depth of Its Stars’ Singing Backgrounds

By  · Published on December 5th, 2012

Les Miserables

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.

Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean)

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:

Russell Crowe (Inspector Javert)

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:

Anne Hathaway (Fantine)

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:

Amanda Seyfried (Cosette)

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).

Eddie Redmayne (Marius)

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.

Samantha Barks (Eponine)

More than any other name in the Les Mis cast, “Samantha Barks” is the one most likely to make audiences go “wait, who?,” and that’s a damn shame, because she’s the only main character in the entire cast who has previously played her role in a stage production of Les Miserables (we won’t count Seyfried, because she was a child and she played the part for one show).

A bonafide theater nerd, Barks spent her childhood training (ballet, tap, modern dance, and opera) and performing (including school plays and amateur productions), so it must have been pretty satisfying for Barks when came in third in 2008 on British television show I’d Do Anything (a sort of American Idol where the prize was the leading role of Nancy in a new production of Oliver!). Though Barks didn’t win the show, it didn’t matter, because in 2011 she was cast as Eponine in a new London production of Les Mis, got to perform as Eponine during the massively successful 25th Anniversary Performance of the show, and (oh, snap!) ended up getting cast as Nancy in the UK tour of Oliver! in 2011. That worked out pretty well for her, right?

Barks singing “On My Own” from the 25th Anniversary Performance of Les Miserables:

Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thenardier)

Bonham Carter’s credits include stage, screen, television, and radio. Her high, often-whispery voice is one of her many, many trademarks. She’s got sass and panache, but Bonham Carter has done scarce little actual singing. She didn’t sing on-screen until 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (though she did sing for 2005’s Corpse Bride).

Weird, right? Turns out, Bonham Carter had to convince her own partner (Tim Burton, you know) that she could sing for his Sweeney Todd. Bonham Carter took singing lessons for months to convince Burton she was right for the part, all while he continued to look at other actresses for the role.

Bonham Carter sings in Sweeney Todd in a featurette for the film:

Sacha Baron Cohen (Thenardier)

While it would be easy to joke that Baron Cohen should just stick to his silly singing work as Borat, Ali G, and Bruno, the funny man seems bound and determined to change that perception – between his work in Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, and that gestating Freddie Mercury biopic, Baron Cohen definitely wants to be recognized for his voice work.

You’ll be shocked to learn that Baron Cohen has no formal voice training.

Baron Cohen sings, ahem, “So My Country Can Be Free” in Borat:

Colm Wilkinson (Bishop of Digne)

Remember how we said that Hugh Jackman was the most qualified to lead such a production? Well, we might have fudged a bit. As a special bonus bit of trivia, Wilkinson, who plays the role of the Bishop of Digne in the film, actually originated Jackman’s role of Jean Valjean in both the London and New York stage versions of the film. He also played the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera during its original Canadian run, has released a number of his own albums, has won a range of awards for his work (including a Helen Hayes Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Theatre World Award), and was nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award.

So, yes, Wilkinson just might be the most qualified person in this entire cast. And that’s saying something.

Wilkinson sings “Bring Him Home” from the 10th Anniversary Concert for Les Miserables:

Les Miserables opens on December 25th.

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