The media has gone mad with the sound of music. Live music. Live singing, to be specific. Director Tom Hooper used this musical breakthrough in his film adaptation of Broadway classic Les Misérables, which hit theaters hard on Christmas Day, and it's so exciting the press can't stop talking about it.
"What on earth possessed you to try to do this live?" TIME magazine's Jesse Dorris asked Hooper.
Deadline.com's Pete Hammond had a similar sentiment. "I can't remember the last time I've seen a musical film with the singing done live," he said. "I imagine that was still a risk on your part."
The Singing Live Question has been asked at almost every press junket, red carpet, and interview involving Les Miz, and has been answered in almost every profile of the film's cast. [More on that, later.] The reason? The film's cast sang their songs, live. Out loud. In front of each other. And other people. On a set. They had pianos in their ears. See:
It is true that live singing and movie musicals rarely go together. Traditionally, actors record vocals (which are prettied up) in a studio, then lip synch to tracks while filming. So credit where credit is due: Hooper and his actors got real(er) with their singing. But a small sampling of quotes from the cast and creative team make Singing Live for Hollywood sound like shooting a musical film on an actual warfield, with risk of death and Black Ops style ear-pieces. Singing Live isn't just singing -- it's the next step in cinematic evolution (and it took vocal coaches to get there). Skip that film history course and let us break it down for you with a complex and detailed infographic:
A sampling of supporting soundbites:
* "I knew that Tom Hooper, the director, wanted to sing live and it had never been done before," Tony Award-winner Hugh Jackman, who plays the lead role of Jean Valjean, told FOX. "Technically I was not sure if it was possible, although he assured me it was."
* "This is the first time anyone's ever tried it like this," Anne Hathaway (Fantine) said in an extended preview of the film about (what else?) Singing Live. "…There seemed to be something selfish about trying to go for the pretty version." [Madeleine Davies at Jezebel called this soundbyte "one of the most actor-y, ridiculous quotes" ever.]
* "There were a lot of people telling me it wasn't a good idea, that less of it should be done live," Hooper told Deadline.com. "I thought if we did it live, it would make it much more real. Once you do it live, it becomes a completely different medium."
* "We all have an earpiece in our ears, and we can hear the piano, but the piano is in a box just off set," Samantha Barks, the 22-year-old West End stage actress who plays Éponine in the film, told Collider. "[W]hat you can hear in your ear is a tiny piano…But it was funny, because if you don't have the earpiece in then we all just look mad, like were just singing to nothing."
* "[T]hat challenge of actually having to sing required a lot of discipline," Russell Crowe (Javert), who trained with a vocal coach for months to prepare for his role, told The Project.
* "It was like jumping out of a plane together," Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) told On The Red Carpet, when they asked her – here comes a shocker – about singing live.
Of course, the cast did not make these statements out of nowhere. They did not scream-sing them on the streets of France. They said them in response to interview questions, because interviewers (and their editors, perhaps) [Ed note: No, not us] are super excited about Singing Live. Questions about the phenomenon were second only to questions about Hathaway's haircut scene and Hugh Jackman's starving-while-weight-lifting diet. But Seyfried takes the cake. The actress beat a Collider reporter to the punch in a conference-call interview with the film's cast, asking the Singing Live question herself.
"I also feel like we -- did you ever forget that you were singing on set?" Seyfried asked.
"Yes," Hathaway said.
"Yeah," Jackman said.
In response to the media frenzy, Broadway has begun a conversation – amongst itself – about the importance of singing live. Tony Award-winning actor Michael Cerveris, who currently plays (and sings) the role of Perón in Broadway's Evita, brought this conversation to Twitter.
"Inspired by Hollywood, actors all over town ARE SINGING LIVE today," @cerveris tweeted. "And tonight. 8 times a week. Every week. No second take."
Cerveris' career includes 394 straight performances as the title character in 2005's Sweeney Todd, which adds up to about 788 hours of Singing Live. The tongue-in-tweet message nods at what has been missing from the hullaballoo surrounding this live singing breakthrough: Acknowledgement that people have been doing it on stages, in opera houses, in churches, on boats and in fields for ages, often without vocal coaches, microphones or tiny pianos in an earpiece.