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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Concert > Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall (BBC DVD-Video)

Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall (BBC DVD-Video)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Concert: A-



Do you hear the people sing? On October 8th, 1995 some of the greatest voices to ever grace the musical stage gathered to perform one of the best renditions of Les Misérables ever recorded.  Now audiences everywhere have the opportunity to experience the magic of that once in a lifetime performance on an almost amazing 2-Disc DVD set.  Les Misérables was originally composed by French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg in 1980 based on the novel by Victor Hugo of the same name.  It is the longest running West End Musical and still amazes audiences today.


This DVD release is not the full stage rendering of the hit musical, but rather an assembly of the best performers that had ever performed in the musical giving one of the best voice demonstrations of the musical’s hit scores.  This stage production features over 250 performers from productions worldwide, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and renditions of songs that will never be seen of heard again; in particular a finale featuring 17 Jean Valjeans.  There is minimal stage action, with most stage presence coming from the performers’ voices, hand motions, and facial expressions.


The story of Les Misérables is an entangled web of personal events during the French Revolution.  Jean Valjean is the paroled convict who is trying to make an honest life but fails to find work and goes on the run, Javert is the obsessed police inspector who becomes infatuated with tracking down Jean Valjean, Cosette is Valjean’s adopted daughter, Fantine is Cosette’s mother who turned to a life of prostitution to support her, Marius is a man in love with Cosette, Eponine is a girl in love with Marius, and the Thenardiers are her lying and cheating parents (this reviewer’s personal favorites).  In one way, shape, or form all of these individuals become entwined in each others’ lives, all while trying to find their own way in the world.  Les Misérable is a story of love, obsession, death, hope, revolution, and compassion.  It seems impossible to not love the music and performers.  Anyone who has experienced the stage production or has seen this DVD will know the emotional attachment that comes with every word and note; it is simply amazing.


To this reviewer the expectations for the technical features of such a legendary concert event were quite high, but in the end they fell miserably short.  The picture is presented in a 1.78 X 1 Widescreen enhanced for 16 X 9 televisions that leans a little too heavily on the grey/blue scale, even for a musical with such a dismal setting.  The picture quality is slightly grainy with an image trailing issue (though at times this is an intended effect) that is reminiscent of an analog VHS recording, but seems to have been moderately updated.  The sound is more disappointing than the picture in that it is only presented in a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo!  It is ridiculous to think that in 2008 this concert release does not feature a DTS or even Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track.  The sound for this stereo release is mainly from the front, with minimal sound coming from the rear speakers in the form of the orchestra.


The picture is much less of a concern than the sound for this release, because where as the visual presentation is important (since there is no show and we rely of detailed facial expression) this is much more of a concert than a stage rendering of the Broadway smash.  There are not many special features, but the few that do exist are nicely presented.  Fans can enjoy a featurette entitled ‘Stage by Stage,’ which is the making of Les Miserables that features interviews with Cameron Mackintosh, Alain Boublil, and Claude-Michel Schonberg.  The ‘making-of’ special and interviews are done very nicely and will definitely lend insight to the concert experience for any fan.  The other special features include an ‘on screen lyric option’ and a commemorative art booklet inside the 2-Disc Hard Case.


The hard, thick, cardboard case features the original musical art work and holds the 2-Discs nicely.  Whereas there are several nice additions to this particular DVD release like the addition of an enhanced 16 X 9 image that allows for the full cast and orchestra to be seen for the first time since its broadcast (previous VHS and DVD releases cutoff much of the image), the DVD also has some flaws.  Besides the sound lacking a surround presentation and in turn making the voices sound weak, there is also a part of ‘Little People’ (song 26) that is blatantly cut out as well as a segment that was originally at the end of the concert that is missing.  This reviewer would have preferred that BBC Video split the concert between the 2-Discs and not exclude anything, but instead they chose to omit a piece of a classic.  Whether these omissions were purposeful or not is yet to be known, but either way it is disappointing.


This set would have gotten an ‘A’ grade if it were not for the few omissions that took place.  The picture and sound surely need to be improved, but that does not take away from the fact that Les Misérables is one of the best musicals to ever grace the stage.  The encore performance is an astonishing sight to see, this is not a set to be missed.



-   Michael P Dougherty II


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