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Les Miserables: Film Review (Well-sung but bombastic screen version of the musical perennial)
Hollywood Reporter ^ | 12/17/2012 | Todd McCarthy

Posted on 12/17/2012 9:31:42 AM PST by SeekAndFind

Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe sing -- and wage a Sisyphean battle against musical diarrhea -- in Tom Hooper's adaptation of the stage sensation.

A gallery of stellar performers wages a Sisyphean battle against musical diarrhea and a laboriously repetitive visual approach in the big-screen version of the stage sensation Les Miserables. Victor Hugo's monumental 1862 novel about a decades-long manhunt, social inequality, family disruption, injustice and redemption started its musical life onstage in 1980 and has been around ever since, a history of success that bodes well for this lavish, star-laden film. But director Tom Hooper has turned the theatrical extravaganza into something that is far less about the rigors of existence in early 19th century France than it is about actors emoting mightily and singing their guts out. As the enduring success of this property has shown, there are large, emotionally susceptible segments of the population ready to swallow this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean it's good.

The first thing to know about this Les Miserables is that this creation of Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, is, with momentary exceptions, entirely sung, more like an opera than a traditional stage musical. Although not terrible, the music soon begins to slur together to the point where you'd be willing to pay the ticket price all over again just to hear a nice, pithy dialogue exchange between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe rather than another noble song that sounds a lot like one you just heard a few minutes earlier. There were 49 identifiable musical numbers in the original show, and one more has been added here. Greatly compounding the problem is that director Hooper, in his first outing since conquering Hollywood two years ago with his breakthrough feature, The King's Speech, stages virtually every scene and song in the same manner, with the camera swooping in on the singer and thereafter covering him or her and any other participants with hovering tight shots; there hasn't been a major musical so fond of the close-up since Joshua Logan attempted to photograph Richard Harris' tonsils in Camelot. Almost any great musical one can think of features sequences shot in different ways, depending upon the nature of the music and the dramatic moment; for Hooper, all musical numbers warrant the same monotonous approach of shoving the camera right in the performer's face; any closer and their breath would fog the lens, as, in this instance, the actors commendably sang live during the shooting, rather than being prerecorded.

With Hooper's undoubted encouragement, the eager thespians give it their all here, for better and for worse. The “live” vocal performances provide an extra vibrancy and immediacy that is palpable, though one cannot say that the technique is necessarily superior in principle, as it was also used by Peter Bogdanovich on his famed folly, At Long Last Love.

One of the chief interests of the film is discovering the singing abilities of the notable actors assembled here, other than Jackman, whose musical prowess is well-known. Crowe, who early in his career starred in The Rocky Horror Show and other musicals onstage in Australia, has a fine, husky baritone, while Eddie Redmayne (Last seen in My Week with Marilyn) surprises with a singing voice of lovely clarity. Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean onstage in London and New York, turns up here as the benevolent Bishop of Digne.

On the female side, Anne Hathaway dominates the early going, belting out anguish as the doomed Fantine. These few minutes of heart breaking performance will boost her chances of winning the Best Supporting Actress trophy at the Golden Globes and Oscars. Playing her grown daughter Cosette, Amanda Seyfried delights with clear-as-a-bell high notes, while Samantha Barks, as a lovelorn Eponine, is a vocal powerhouse.

The problem, then, is not at all the singing itself but that the majority of the numbers are pitched at the same sonic-boom level and filmed the same way. The big occasion when Hooper tries something different, intercutting among nearly all the major characters at crossroads in the Act 1 climax "One Day More," feels like a pale imitation of the electrifying "Tonight" ensemble in the film version of West Side Story.

It's entirely possible that no book has been adapted more frequently to other media than Hugo's epic, one of the longest novels ever written. About 60 big- and small-screen versions have been made throughout the world, beginning with a representation by the Lumiere brothers in 1897, and Orson Welles did a seven-part radio version in 1937. In 1985, five years after the Paris debut of the French musical, the English-language production, with a new libretto by Herbert Kretzmer and directed by Trevor Nunn, opened in London, to less-than-stellar reviews, and is still playing. The New York counterpart packed houses from 1987-2003 and, at 6,680 performances, ranks as the third-longest-running musical in Broadway history (it reopened in 2006 and played another two years).

At the story's core is Jean Valjean (Jackman), a convict who has served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread and trying to escape and, upon his release, redeems himself under a new identity as a wealthy factory owner and socially liberal mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. But his former prison guard Javert (Crowe), now a police inspector, finds him out and, over a period of 17 years, mercilessly hounds him until their day of reckoning on the barricades in Paris during the uprising of June 1832. Woven through it is no end of melodrama concerning Valjean raising Fantine's beautiful daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a tyke, Seyfried as a young woman); the latter's star-crossed romance with Marius (Redmayne), a wealthy lad turned idealistic revolutionary; his handsome comrade-in-arms Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) and the earthy Eponine, who woefully accepts that her beloved Marius is besotted by Cosette. Well and truly having rumbled in from the film version of Sweeney Todd, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen gallumph through as small-time swindlers in very broad comic relief.

Startlingly emaciated in his initial scenes while still on strenuous prison work detail, Jackman's Valjean subsequently cuts a more proper and dashing figure after his transformation into a gentleman. His defense of the abused Fantine and subsequent adoption of her daughter represent the fulcrum of Hugo's central theme that a man can change and redeem himself, as opposed to Jalvert's vehement conviction that once a criminal, always a criminal. The passions of all the characters are simple and deep, which accounts for much of the work's enduring popularity in all cultures.

But it also makes for a film that, when all the emotions are echoed out at an unvarying intensity for more than 2 1/2 hours on a giant screen, feels heavily, if soaringly, monotonous. Subtle and nuanced are two words that will never be used to describe this Les Miserables, which, for all its length, fails to adequately establish two critical emotional links: that between Valjean and Cosette, and the latter's mutual infatuation with Marius, which has no foundation at all.

Reuniting with his King's Speech cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Eve Stewart, Hooper has handsome interior sets at his disposal. However, with the exception of some French city square and street locations, the predominant exteriors have an obvious CGI look. His predilection for wide-angle shots is still evident, if more restrained than before, but the editing by Melanie Ann Oliver and Chris Dickens frequently seems haphazard; the musical numbers sometimes build to proper visual climaxes in union with the music, but as often as not the cutting seems almost arbitrary, moving from one close-up to another, so that scenes don't stand out but just mush together.

The actors are ideally cast but, with a couple of exceptions, give stage-sized turns for the screen; this bigness might well be widely admired. Jackman finally gets to show onscreen the musical talents that have long thrilled live musical theater audiences, Hathaway gamely gets down and dirty and has her hair clipped off onscreen in the bargain, and Redmayne impresses as a high-caliber singing leading man, but there is little else that is inventive or surprising about the performances. Still, there is widespread energy, passion and commitment to the cause, which for some might be all that is required.


TOPICS: History; Music/Entertainment; Society; TV/Movies
KEYWORDS: annehathaway; hollywood; hughjackman; lesmiserables; moviereview; victorhugo
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1 posted on 12/17/2012 9:31:46 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

But is it more awesome than “Paint Your Wagon”?


2 posted on 12/17/2012 9:37:42 AM PST by Tijeras_Slim
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To: Tijeras_Slim
But is it more awesome than “Paint Your Wagon”?

Les Miserables with Clint Eastwood as Javert and Lee Marvin as Jean Valjean. Clint sings while holding a single shot pistol on Jean Valjean "I know what you're thinking. 'Did he fire one shot or zero'? Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself."

3 posted on 12/17/2012 9:44:06 AM PST by KarlInOhio (Big Bird is a brood parasite: laid in our nest 43 years ago and we are still feeding him.)
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To: KarlInOhio

Very funny. But here is the trailer for those who want to see it:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/reviews/article-2245284/Les-Miserables-Reviewer-Matthew-Bond-gives-stars.html


4 posted on 12/17/2012 9:45:57 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

Hated just hated the stage version of this lousy Brit musical. And what I’ve seen of the movie version? Hugh Jackman is NOT aging well.


5 posted on 12/17/2012 9:48:51 AM PST by miss marmelstein
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To: SeekAndFind

I found myself inferring that this operatic version was going to beef up the impact of the good Catholic Bishop in ValJean’s life course. I hope that proves correct. The Christian life lessons could use a more truthful approach out of Hollywood.


6 posted on 12/17/2012 9:49:53 AM PST by RitaOK ( VIVA CHRISTO REY / Public education is the farm team for more Marxists coming.)
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To: SeekAndFind

It is an over blown show about a very evil event.


7 posted on 12/17/2012 9:50:08 AM PST by bmwcyle (We have gone over the cliff and we are about to hit the bottom)
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To: RitaOK

RE: I found myself inferring that this operatic version was going to beef up the impact of the good Catholic Bishop in ValJean’s life course

The man who plays the Bishop on this film is none other than the original Jean Valjean on stage — Colm Wilkinson.


8 posted on 12/17/2012 9:51:57 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind
The book is great ...

I went to see a stage version in Hollywood some time back ... and walked out ... during their perversion of the wedding scene.

9 posted on 12/17/2012 9:52:31 AM PST by OldNavyVet
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To: SeekAndFind

I hate musicals. Needless to say, I would have seen this movie if not for that fact.


10 posted on 12/17/2012 9:52:36 AM PST by Amberdawn
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To: bmwcyle

Evil event??!?


11 posted on 12/17/2012 9:52:57 AM PST by safeasthebanks ("The most rewarding part, was when he gave me my money!" - Dr. Nick)
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To: safeasthebanks

Yes, read the real history of the French Revolution. It was an evil event.


12 posted on 12/17/2012 9:54:50 AM PST by bmwcyle (We have gone over the cliff and we are about to hit the bottom)
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To: bmwcyle

RE: It is an over blown show about a very evil event.

You mean the students who were killed in the barricades were the 19th century version of Occupy Wall Street? :)


13 posted on 12/17/2012 9:55:08 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

From the little bit I heard in the trailer, Russell Crowe is no Philip Quast. But I congratulate him for trying anyway...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urxk4mveLCw


14 posted on 12/17/2012 9:55:38 AM PST by PGR88
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To: Amberdawn

RE: I hate musicals.

So, the “Sound of Music”, the “King and I”, “My Fair Lady”, etc. are not for you?


15 posted on 12/17/2012 9:56:30 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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To: bmwcyle

This was based on the June Rebellion of 1832, but had all the charming characteristics of the Revolution and the later Paris Commune. Those French really have a bad default setting for this sort of thing.


16 posted on 12/17/2012 9:57:50 AM PST by Tijeras_Slim
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To: miss marmelstein

Its not a Brit musical, its a French one that has been translated into English.


17 posted on 12/17/2012 9:59:18 AM PST by sinsofsolarempirefan
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To: bmwcyle
Yes, read the real history of the French Revolution. It was an evil event.

The French Revolution took place well before the events of Les Miserables. The barricade scenes are during the June 1932 revolt in Paris.

18 posted on 12/17/2012 10:00:57 AM PST by KarlInOhio (Big Bird is a brood parasite: laid in our nest 43 years ago and we are still feeding him.)
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To: miss marmelstein

My introduction to Les Miserables w as on stage in Boston. I was enraptured by the stage version. I watched TCM present three back to back screen versions a few nights ago and loved even the black and white rendering of this awesome story.

EWTN has presented a couple of programs on the new movie that made me believe it to be well worth seeing again. I hope the operatics don’t get entirely lost on the audience’s appreciation of a classic story of Good and Evil, virtue and vice. We are so lacking for healthy lessons at the movies.


19 posted on 12/17/2012 10:02:08 AM PST by RitaOK ( VIVA CHRISTO REY / Public education is the farm team for more Marxists coming.)
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To: SeekAndFind

As I told my wife when we saw the previews for the first time in the theater, “I’ll be washing my hair that night”.

I think I have more interest in watching a slasher film than this piece of pickled tripe.


20 posted on 12/17/2012 10:02:38 AM PST by ssaftler (This tagline on vacation until 1/2/13.)
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To: SeekAndFind

I still can’t see how you can make a musical about a very sad story.


21 posted on 12/17/2012 10:04:30 AM PST by SkyDancer (Live your life in such a way that the Westboro church will want to picket your funeral.)
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To: Tijeras_Slim

Loved the movie back when!


22 posted on 12/17/2012 10:04:43 AM PST by Red_Devil 232 (VietVet - USMC All Ready On The Right? All Ready On The Left? All Ready On The Firing Line!)
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To: SeekAndFind

Thank you! I can’t remember who played the lead in the Boston production, but I was so mightily impressed that I saved everything from the night, including the cocktail napkin from the upscale bar situated conveniently nearby. Just a great experience for me, that play.


23 posted on 12/17/2012 10:10:54 AM PST by RitaOK ( VIVA CHRISTO REY / Public education is the farm team for more Marxists coming.)
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les mis ping to self


24 posted on 12/17/2012 10:16:48 AM PST by campaignPete R-CT (campaigned for local conservatives only)
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To: OldNavyVet

I wouldn’t put it past a Hollywood stage version to inject
a same-sex marriage scene in there somewhere.
Please tell me I’m wrong.


25 posted on 12/17/2012 10:24:24 AM PST by supremedoctrine
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To: SeekAndFind

Nope. I saw the first two as a child and while the filming was spectacular, I can’t stand singing in a movie.


26 posted on 12/17/2012 10:27:38 AM PST by Amberdawn
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To: Amberdawn

***I hate musicals.***

Ever see the movie SONG OF NORWAY? Absolutely the worst musical I’ve ever seen. worse than SOUND OF MUSIC.

I believe the audience spent half their time looking at the beautiful scenery and the other half looking for a place to barf.


27 posted on 12/17/2012 10:27:38 AM PST by Ruy Dias de Bivar (Reopen the mental institutions! Damn the ACLU!)
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To: SeekAndFind

I won’t pay to see anything Anne Hathaway is in. So, I will wait to see it someday and may not, even then.


28 posted on 12/17/2012 10:27:51 AM PST by ozaukeemom (USA-it was nice while it lasted)
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To: SeekAndFind

I saw the movie trailer at a theater when I went to see the excellent The Sessions. Yes, bombastic looks to be the word to describe it, if the trailer gave you a taste of what to expect. Too bad, since this show has a few of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in a musical. I knew this guy Todd McCarthy at the U. of Chicago nearly 40 years ago!
He’s writing well, and has been working for VARIETY for a long time now!


29 posted on 12/17/2012 10:27:59 AM PST by supremedoctrine
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To: SeekAndFind

Hoping to see it opening day


30 posted on 12/17/2012 10:30:51 AM PST by nuconvert ( Khomeini promised change too // Hail, Chairman O)
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To: bmwcyle
BZZZZZT! Try again. (Les Mis is well after the French Revolution).

Which actually makes it sort of an indictment of the French Revolution, really.

31 posted on 12/17/2012 10:32:13 AM PST by safeasthebanks ("The most rewarding part, was when he gave me my money!" - Dr. Nick)
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To: SkyDancer

“I still can’t see how you can make a musical about a very sad story.”

Ever heard of operas?


32 posted on 12/17/2012 10:33:10 AM PST by nuconvert ( Khomeini promised change too // Hail, Chairman O)
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To: SeekAndFind

I will not see this movie, after having viewed a news story of Anne Hathaway’s desperate attempt to garner publicity via an unfortunate failure to clothe her nether regions, which was filmed courtesy of our ever-vigilant media during a recent exit from her limousine. If the movie is so dreadful that such tactics must be used to draw the public, I’ll pass.


33 posted on 12/17/2012 10:35:59 AM PST by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
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To: nuconvert

Yes - however the musical is too “happy” - operas are about tragedies (well some but not all) - if they made a moody, dark, tragic opera about the book I wouldn’t have a problem with it.


34 posted on 12/17/2012 10:36:39 AM PST by SkyDancer (Live your life in such a way that the Westboro church will want to picket your funeral.)
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To: RitaOK
I watched TCM present three back to back screen versions a few nights ago and loved even the black and white rendering of this awesome story.

I watched this too ! I loved the 1935 version. I don't see why this has to be a musical ??? The 1935 version told the story just fine....

35 posted on 12/17/2012 10:38:31 AM PST by Mopp4
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To: nuconvert
Ps. I thought the quote: " musical diarrhea " sort of summed it up. Just like Moulin Rouge, they just never stopped singing.
36 posted on 12/17/2012 10:39:16 AM PST by SkyDancer (Live your life in such a way that the Westboro church will want to picket your funeral.)
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To: SkyDancer

That’s just your definition of a musical. Not a whole lot of difference between a musical & an opera.


37 posted on 12/17/2012 10:42:36 AM PST by nuconvert ( Khomeini promised change too // Hail, Chairman O)
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To: sinsofsolarempirefan

Sorry, but it is a Brit musical - I should know - I was there on opening night at the Barbican Centre in London. The music was written by a French composer, lyrics were always in English. It starred Patti Lupone and dragged on for hours. I could not leave because Princess Margaret was drinking in the lobby (smart lady!) and security would not let us leave the building. It was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company of Great Britain.


38 posted on 12/17/2012 10:46:54 AM PST by miss marmelstein
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To: SkyDancer

P.S. West Side Story has gangs and fighting. It’s a musical.


39 posted on 12/17/2012 10:47:55 AM PST by nuconvert ( Khomeini promised change too // Hail, Chairman O)
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To: miss marmelstein

Saw it in London too, though not opening night. Absolutely loved it - have the CD, DVD, and can’t wait to see the movie.


40 posted on 12/17/2012 10:50:31 AM PST by nuconvert ( Khomeini promised change too // Hail, Chairman O)
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To: bmwcyle

Yes I concur. The Dialogues of the Carmelites gives a much more accurate view.

How is it when the leftists take over, the first thing they do is start killing priests and nuns?

(of course we know the answer why)


41 posted on 12/17/2012 10:50:53 AM PST by jtal (Runnin' a World in Need with White Folks' Greed - since 1492)
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To: OldNavyVet

I read it in French and bought my daughter an English Translation, she loved the Play the Translation not so much.

I will buy it for her when it comes out in Blue Ray.


42 posted on 12/17/2012 10:50:53 AM PST by Little Bill (A)
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To: SkyDancer
I still can’t see how you can make a musical about a very sad story.

"Carousel" is pretty dark, despite the largely upbeat score.
43 posted on 12/17/2012 10:51:39 AM PST by Dr. Sivana (There is no salvation in politics.)
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To: SkyDancer
You're thinking of the American musical comedy - a very great art form destroyed in the 1980s by the British and their lugubrious adaptions of various novels and movies. American audiences fell for this drek hook, line and sinker.
44 posted on 12/17/2012 10:52:27 AM PST by miss marmelstein
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To: safeasthebanks
(Les Mis is well after the French Revolution).

SPOILER ALERT HERE JUST IN CASE

oops my bad - you are quite correct of course

Too bad - I had always thought of Javert's death as being emblematic of the passing of the ancien regime.

45 posted on 12/17/2012 10:56:20 AM PST by jtal (Runnin' a World in Need with White Folks' Greed - since 1492)
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To: Dr. Sivana

“Carousel” is considered by many to be the greatest musical in history. Although I just dissed the RSC’s version of “Les Miserables,” I also think that the National Theatre of Great Britain’s production of “Carousel” was absolutely brilliant. Of course, most of the cast were Americans...


46 posted on 12/17/2012 10:56:42 AM PST by miss marmelstein
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To: SeekAndFind
>>>> (Well-sung but bombastic screen version of the musical perennial)

Of course I understand the ‘need’ to make everything into a movie (like Lincoln), how else the young could learn anything otherwise?

But above ‘well sung’ quote is as bad as it gets. How can you mess up the original scores? A couple of them (ok more than a couple) are truly beautiful.

47 posted on 12/17/2012 11:02:56 AM PST by Sir Napsalot (Pravda + Useful Idiots = CCCP; JournOList + Useful Idiots = DopeyChangey!)
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To: nuconvert

Great music. But just saying LM is too happy. Was WSS from a book or an original play?


48 posted on 12/17/2012 11:05:10 AM PST by SkyDancer (Live your life in such a way that the Westboro church will want to picket your funeral.)
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To: Dr. Sivana

True - however was it adapted from a book? Just saying that LM is just too happy. Completely misses the point of the book.


49 posted on 12/17/2012 11:06:23 AM PST by SkyDancer (Live your life in such a way that the Westboro church will want to picket your funeral.)
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To: Sir Napsalot

RE: . How can you mess up the original scores?

By singing out of tune?

See for instance, the American Idol auditions. :)


50 posted on 12/17/2012 11:06:46 AM PST by SeekAndFind
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