Naturalistic singing in big-screen ‘Les Misérables’

Courtesy PhotoNew challenge: Samantha Barks reprises her stage role in the big-screen "Les Misérables."

Though Victor Hugo's “Les Misérables” has been made into many movies, adapting it from the monumental stage musical to the screen for the first time seems like it would be daunting.

But Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (“The King's Speech”) decided to let go of cinematic tricks and simply have the cast sing the famed songs by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer live –  recording them right there on camera.

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Eddie Redmayne (star of “My Week with Marilyn”), who plays Marius, and Samantha Barks (who played Eponine onstage and revises the role in her feature-film debut), recently were in The City to promote the film, which opens Tuesday.

On set, the actors listened to a single piano accompanist using earpieces, and would set the tempo themselves, rather than follow. If they sang too loud, they would drown out the music.

“You're wondering, shouldn't I be going really big with this?” asks Redmayne. “There's some part of you that's playing the character, and there's some other part that's saying, ‘That's not a song! That's mumbling!’”

“For me, it was really lovely,” Barks says, “knowing that you could pull things back, allowing a thought to happen organically, or push things forward. I found that really freeing.”

But Barks found it challenging not to know how her performance was proceeding. She says, “In the theater, you know how it has gone down because you can see people smiling or hear people cheering or sniffling. But in film you don't know how it looks.”

Redmayne, who illicitly slipped onto the set to watch her sing the signature number “On My Own” went to her trailer afterward to convey his admiration.

“It was so nice,” she confesses.

Another challenge was singing all day, rather than just a few hours for one show.

“We had to get up at 4 in the morning and start doing our vocal warm-ups. My neighbor was pounding on the walls of my flat,” Redmayne says. Barks concurs, laughing: “I thought I would get a note under my door, and get evicted.”
But neither would trade the experience for anything. “It's what made it so unique," says Redmayne. “I don't think we'll ever have that again.”

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