erik lundegaard

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

Last “Les Miserables” post of the day.

I first saw the cinematic “Les Miserables” before I was familiar with the music, and the music I became familiar with after seeing the movie was the original Broadway cast album, which has great singing performances from, among others, Robert Billig and Michael Maguire.

The movie has great performances, too, but the voices don't soar quite so much. Director Tom Hooper went for verisimilitude. He had his performers singing live, rather than to a studio-recorded playback. I still like that choice, that chance. This is what I wrote last December:

There’s power in these songs, and from these actors, that you don’t normally get from lip-synching to playback. You definitely feel it in Hathaway’s signature song. You feel it in Hugh Jackman’s early numbers, too, with his red eyes burning into you (“What Have I Done?), and in Redmayne’s great song of survivor’s guilt, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” which is my second-favorite number in the movie. 

This week I saw the movie again on HBO, and the standout this time was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Particularly “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”:

Apparently “Les Miserables,” as a musical, began as a concept album in the 1970s, then became a French musical in 1980 that closed after three months. It was revived in its English-language form in London in 1985, where it became a hit, and then on Broadway in 1987.

So it was written long before the AIDS crisis. Even so, I can't hear this song without thinking of AIDS and the havoc it wreaked:

Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on

Watching this video several times today, I also thought of the Onion Cellar from Gunter Grass' “The Tin Drum”: that place where stoic people go to cut open onions and cry and feel. That's movies, too. The better ones?

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Posted at 06:07 PM on Sun. Sep 08, 2013 in category Music  


Karen wrote:

He is good. It's a much different song from him, in a movie. But even he loves Michael Ball:

Was it a little scary to play a role that is sort of iconic already, all over the world? It’s on PBS here all the time—the musical has been popular for over 25 years.
Hellishly scary. Hellishly scary! And I was lucky enough at the London premiere to meet Michael Ball, who played Marius famously. And I grew up listening to his version of it, and we sort of had a . . . he was very lovely, and kind and generous, and it meant a huge amount to me, because out of all the people in the world, he was the one that I cared had enjoyed it.

And this interview:
With Les Misérables having such a long stage history, did you take a look at performances of other actors who've played Marius?
I sort of knew that the medium was going to dictate a lot and would fortunately allow me to do it fresh. That being said, a lot of the other actors who were the students in my band of men had played Marius in the West End and they were wonderfully generous with their interpretations. But if you’ve grown up listening to Michael Ball’s version, which I have, that in my opinion is the version. I think the interesting thing with a film like Les Mis is that it’s still running in London and that original production still has such power. But we’re offering a sort of new alternative, which I hope will be interesting.

Comment posted on Sun. Sep 08, 2013 at 07:42 PM

Erik wrote:

And it was. And is.

Comment posted on Mon. Sep 09, 2013 at 07:51 AM
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