Thursday, January 19, 2012

Petty Worries

Normally I devote my space here to my writing thoughts, but in a way this is related as it relates to one of my all time favorite novels, Les Miserables. Anyone who knows me knows that I am crazy about the musical based on the book and may or may not know that I am almost equally enamored of two French language adaptions of the book (the epic 1950's film that I have been unable to find in the original french with subtitles, and the 2001 version with Gerard Depardieu). I can't stand the US versions that end with Javert's death. That is not the end of the story. The Liam Neesen version was brilliant up until it ended with half an hour of story left.

Anyway, that brings me to my current topic, the impending 2012 film of the musical. I'm a big fan of hollywood musicals, but I hate it when they needlessly mess with the flow of the story. With Les Miserables, we have nearly three hours of non-stop music and little chance to change things. But from a writing perspective, I find the casting interesting and brilliant. I have been pleased with nearly every casting choice. But that is not the case elsewhere.

Taylor Swift has been offered, and I understand that she accepted the role today, and fans of Les Miserable on Broadway are up in arms. She can't sing, they say. She doesn't have the look. I have always been sensitive to quality singing and am quite picky about who I like and don't like. There are a great many supposedly great singers that I can't stand the sound of. Sarah Brightman, at least in her solo career, can't seem to enunciate a single word rendering the songs an unintelligible mush. Yuck. Colm Wilkinson, the originator of Jean Valjean, seems to have developed and strange enunciating style, as has Leah Solanga. Love her work for Disney, but her Eponine in the 10th anniversary concert and her Fantine in the 25th anniversary concert really suck. I know she can act, but I can't hear it in her voice. I recently saw the touring production in Denver, Colorado, and all the cast members were excellent, though maybe their Cossette was a bit weak. I have quite a number of the cast recordings, in three languages, and I know it can be done well.

That brings me to miss Swift and her singing and acting ability and her ability to pull off this role. For one thing, that young woman has had the heartbreak that gives her the emotional foundation for the role of Epoinine. Second, she is a damned fine singer. I am listening to her last album as I write this. The complaints I have heard is that she doesn't have the right look, that she can't hit the notes for On My Own, that she is a country singer and not fit to do a Broadway musical, and I'm sure the list will continue to grow through the end of the year. But I have to say, seriously people, you have crap recordings that are lauded as great and you have a girl who can actually sing cast in a MOVIE version of a London stage production. Not Broadway, London. Big difference. But look at who she is cast with. Sasha Baron Cohen is playing her father and is a mere 4 inches taller than she is. Her love interest, Marius, is the same 5' 11" as she is. She is tall and thin and waifish. She also has a very similar voice to the woman who originated the role in London at the Barbican. I think she will make an excellent Eponine and I can't wait to see it.

So to bring this back to writing, as a writer, when I create a character I have an image of that character in my mind. I may or may not put down the description I have in mind, but that doesn't change what is in my mind. If I should be so lucky as to have one of my stories find its way to Hollywood to be filmed, I might have some general guidelines for the type of people who should be cast but I would never dream of putting the image before the quality of the performance. Considering the other actors cast in Les Misserables, the fit of Taylor Swift seems perfect. Yet some people have an image so ingrained in their heads of who should play the role that instead of just saying that they wanted to see some other person cast, they have to resort to calling her names. They obviously haven't listened to her songs. She has been dealing with that for years and is quite adept and defending herself.

Let the casting director do their job. Unless I am mistaken, this movie is being produced by the original producer of the musical. I have no doubt that the quality of singing and acting has been more important in their casting choices than star power. They wouldn't cast her if she couldn't do it. Everyone needs to give this cast lineup a chance. I, for one, will be planning for the best theater to go see it in and am already planning on purchasing the soundtrack and blu-ray when it comes out.