Les Miserables the Film
A new film version of Les Miserables, a long term favourite for theatre breaks as a stage musical, had its world premier in London in December, in advance of coming out on Christmas Day in the US and a bit later in the UK on January 11th 2013.
Effect on theatre breaks
So what are the implications of having a high profile movie launch for the West End show itself? Well a lot of people will have heard of Les Miserables, nearly everybody in some ways, as its being going for quite a few years now and is heavily promoted in London and nationally. The song that Susan Boyle famously sang as an outside contender on a TV talent show came from Les Mis and that gave it a boost as well. The film version will probably be welcomed most by people who have already seen the musical in London at some time over the past years and are curious to see how well it transfers to the screen. They’ll know that it can never replace the experience of seeing a live performance by flesh and blood actors in the moment on a theatre stage but will be interested to observe that the screen actors were directed to sing the parts for the movie live in one take at the same time as acting, rather than recording a soundtrack first in a move that was intended to hold on to some of the characteristics of live theatre performance.
Then there will be people who manage to see the film but wouldn’t normally go to the theatre for reasons of logistics, economics or taste. Quite possibly sizeable fraction of that audience will gain an appreciation for the spectacle, the music, setting and theatricality of the show from the film and will promise themselves to try and see it on stage one day in order to complete the experience. Thus the show and the film can only really bolster each other’s popularity and longevity rather than eat into each others audiences in any way.
As per Mamma Mia!
A good precedent for such a phenomenon can be found in Mamma Mia! a very different musical in tone and style, almost completely opposite in fact but a show that had been successful around the world for years as musical theatre before a high quality film with well known stars was made. Rather than drawing from the huge cast of stage actors though, Mamma Mia! the movie drew on big names from the world of film. Well it’s a light musical comedy where close up facial expression and comedic timing are most important and the fact that Meryl Streep can actually sing is a bonus, whereas the fact that Piers Brosnan couldn’t is not a problem. The point is that the film of Mamma Mia helped to remind or show people that you don’t have to be a big Abba fan to enjoy the musical and therefore it should be high on your list of choices for show tickets and theatre breaks if you want a really good night out. Mamma Mia played for many years at the larger Prince of Wales theatre near Leicester Square and is now sustainable at the other theatre in London.
The same can be expected to happen with Les Miserables after the film has been out for a little while, and gets shown on TV in due course. People who may have heard that Les Miserables is a bit heavy and serious, being set in the time of the French Revolution may not have considered going to the theatre what with it being both French and also historical, but will see it in a proper light after having been exposed to the movie. The combination of new converts and renewed aficionados should be enough to maintain the already relocated Les Miserables in the Queens Theatre for many years to come.
War Horse would be another example, not a musical, but a stage show that has been made into a film by none other than Stephen Spielberg and there are no signs of the current run at the New London Theatre ending anytime soon, especially with the word of mouth gaining momentum of how amazingly convincing the live puppet horses perform as characters in the original play. Some of the other current West end shows that are popular as theatre breaks also have a film version but that doesn’t quite work in the same way since shows such as Billy Elliot existed as films first and were then developed as musicals, so not the same process as Les Miserables or Mamma Mia at all.