The fields are alive with the sound of music as the movie version of Les Misérables becomes a reality almost three decades after its triumphant debut on the London stage.
Just as producer Cameron Mackintosh has refreshed productions of the 19th-century French tale of social injustice over the years, he and his team are tailoring Les Mis as it is fondly known to the more than 60 million people who have seen it for the more intimate confines of the big screen.
When it opened on Broadway in 1987, "there was a slew of interest in doing a film," says the savvy impresario also behind the record-breaking runs of The Phantom of the Opera and Cats. But delays got in the way. Mackintosh, however, believes the wait was fortunate. For one, technology has improved to the point that actors are actually performing the sung dialogue and songs live rather than miming to a pre-recorded track, as is usually the case with movie musicals. For another, there is a whole pool of stars these days capable of carrying a tune.
"We have found actors who naturally express themselves through music," says Mackintosh, who opted for mostly big names. "Did a Hugh Jackman exist 25 years ago, someone with that experience both on the stage and in the cinema?"
Jackman also believes the moment is right, given the popularity of TV's American Idol and Glee. "I think, generally, among younger people, musicals are cooler," says the Tony-winning actor, whose recent one-man Broadway show allowed him to get in shape vocally for the demands of his role as ex-convict Jean Valjean.
Add Tom Hooper to the growing list of filmmakers recruited to the genre. After winning the Oscar for 2010's The King's Speech, he had his pick of projects and went for Les Mis. "I wanted to take a risk on something," he says. "I was interested to find material that worked on a very visceral, emotional level. What would be better than a musical?"
Hooper also appreciated the timing of such a politically charged piece. "We are living in a moment of particular anger and discontent about inequality and iniquity in society. It has come to a head as the result of the recent crash. And Les Mis, in its way, is the great cry of the dispossessed and suggests there is hope for meaningful change."
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)