Before it hit theaters today, the movie musical "Les Miserables" already was a source of curiosity for the cast singing live and in extreme close-up with no dubbing later in the filmmaking process. Some of the actors came with proven singing chops; some had never sung professionally; and only one of the major players (Samantha Barks) had ever performed in a "Les Miz" theatrical production.
The musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, is based on Victor Hugo's novel about the redemption of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister's family. He winds up on the run, pursued by his relentless jailer, Inspector Javert. The story culminates in the French rebellion of 1832, when antimonarchist students were slaughtered in a standoff with the king's troops.
Here's a look at the music backgrounds of the main players taking on this melodrama, with a score to challenge the most practiced voices and a long-established fan base eagerly awaiting the result.
Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean): Forget for a moment the whole Wolverine thing. The Tony winner for "The Boy From Oz," a biographical musical about the late Peter Allen, got his stage start as Gaston in an Australian production of "Beauty and the Beast." He performed in "Sunset Boulevard" and other musicals in his native land Down Under and was discovered by director Trevor Nunn, who brought him to England to play Curly in the acclaimed National Theatre production of "Oklahoma!" (He's curly again in "Les Miz.")
Russell Crowe (Javert): The Oscar winner for "Gladiator" performed the song "I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando" under the name Russ le Roq in the 1980s, when he and a friend formed the rock band that became the still-going 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, with Mr. Crowe as lead vocalist. Before coming to Hollywood in 1995, he played the rocker Eddie and other roles in Australian productions of "The Rocky Horror Show," among other musicals.
Anne Hathaway (Fantine): The actress comes to the part in the footsteps of her mother, actress Kate McCauley Hathaway, who was the original Fantine in the first national tour of "Les Miserables." Anne Hathaway demonstrated her pipes in 2004's "Ella Enchanted," belting "Somebody to Love," and in a sketch with Mr. Jackman at the Academy Awards ceremony in 2009. Ms. Hathaway has long been tied to an as yet undeveloped Judy Garland biopic.
Eddie Redmayne (Marius): Tony and Olivier winner for the play "Red" and best known to moviegoers for "My Weekend With Marilyn," his background is Shakespeare, not musical theater. Mr. Redmayne was shooting the film "Hick" in North Carolina when he auditioned by singing Marius' big number, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," via iPhone. He had done some singing as a child performer but told the "Today" show, "The great things about these films is you get the best people in the world to help you."
Amanda Seyfried (Cosette): The Allentown native took singing lessons from age 11 to 17 but began her TV/film career as a daytime soap star. Her film break was being cast in 2004's "Mean Girls," and she played the eldest daughter on the HBO drama "Big Love." She returned to her roots for the 2009 movie musical "Mamma Mia!"
Sacha Baron Cohen (Thenardier): For a role that calls for diabolical humor, director Tom Hooper chose the comedian, who also sang for director Tim Burton in 2007's "Sweeney Todd." He has long been attached to a biopic about the dynamic Freddie Mercury, a project confirmed by Mercury's Queen bandmate Brian May.
Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thenardier): Her eclectic body of work on screen -- from Merchant-Ivory period dramas to Tim Burton fantasies to Harry Potter baddie -- didn't include singing until she, too, was cast in Mr. Burton's "Sweeney Todd."
Aaron Tveit (Enjolras): A Broadway musical theater performer since 2006, Mr. Tveit began as a replacement to leads in the musicals "Hairspray" and "Wicked" before creating the role of Gabe in "Next to Normal." Last year, he originated the role of Frank Abagnale Jr. in the musical "Catch Me If You Can." He also can be seen as Tripp on the CW teen drama "Gossip Girl."
Samantha Barks (Eponine): Reprising her stage role in "Les Miserables," Ms. Barks belted "On My Own" as Eponine in London's West End from June 2010 to June 2011 -- frequent PBS viewers may have seen her in the role in "Les Miserables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary." She was rumored to have beaten out Taylor Swift and Lea Michele, among other A-listers, to play Eponine on screen.
Colm Wilkinson (Bishop of Digne): The native of Ireland, now 68, was nominated for a Tony when he originated the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway in 1987. His presence is a reverential nod to the film's stage roots.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.