Friday, January 6, 2012

Jack's Thoughts on Taylor Swift as Eponine

True story... When I was in 4th grade, my sister got the Les Miserables soundtrack (Original Broadway cast recording).  It became a near-permanent fixture in our 1996 Dell desktop computer.  We would listen to that nonstop while playing computer solitaire (when I wasn't smacking b*tches, lifting weights, straight ballin', something about cars, and other manly things).  I finally saw it on Broadway in 2001, and I intend to be front and center for when it comes to Austin later this year.

In 2002, the movie adaptation of Chicago opened, and it was brilliant.  It re-energized movie musical adaptations, and we had an onslaught of mostly forgettable adaptions like Mama Mia, Rent, Hairspray, The Producers, Phantom, and a bunch more I've forgotten.  But Les Miz was forever stuck in developmental limbo.  In some ways, it seems impossible to make a movie about this show because it's so... epic.  It spans, what, 20-something years and countless subplots.  And nothing is said.  They're sung.  I still can't fathom how they'll cram this into a movie.  Hell, the non-singing film with Liam Neeson didn't even finish the story.

Now, it seems everything is coming together quickly and coming together well.  For the most part, I've been happy with all the casting choices.  But recently, we had some controversy as Taylor Swift was offered the part of Eponine.  (More after the break)

Taylor Swift being French for some reason
Eponine is a ginormously important role who has arguably the most famous and poignant song of the entire show.  To me, she's the emotional crux of the 2nd act.  Waaaay generally,  Eponine is in love with her friend Marius, but Marius loves Cosette.  For Taylor Swift fans, imagine Taylor singing...
"Cosette wears short skirts.  
Eponine wears t-shirts.  
Cosette's cheer captain.  
Eponine is on the bleachers."
Eponine cares for him so much that she's willing to do anything to make him happy even if it means sacrificing herself and her own happiness.

The main reason this might not work is because this part calls for an actress.  Can Taylor Swift act?  Possibly.  Taylor Swift has been in some romantic comedies and has hosted SNL.  But this is different.  This is drama.  This is a heavy, weighty part that existed before she was born.  I'm not saying that Taylor Swift lacks the emotional depth to play Eponine.  I think her music has shown that she definitely knows what it feels like to have Eponine's feelings... But acting and emoting is a craft that I doubt she's mastered.  And not only will she have to play the emotion but also carry herself as a 19th century, French street urchin with a heart of gold who's in the midst of a revolution and was raised by terrible people.  It requires some nuance...

This may sound stupid, but acting is so crazy important in musicals.  Do you remember when Joey did "On my Own" on Dawson's Creek?  (No.)

The reason that this kind of works in spite of the terrible singing is that Katie Holmes could express the emotions in the songs.  The songs in musicals are tools to move the story and express the characters thoughts and feelings.  Good musical actors don't have to give up one for the other.  If she fails to convey those emotions that Eponine needs to show, the songs will be MUCH harder to accept.

Now, Taylor Swift can out-sing Katie Holmes, but it's still an uphill battle.  She can write and perform her stuff well, and her stuff is crazy catchy... but a broadway singer she is not.  She has a solid foundation at least, and I'm sure any grave problems with the performance can be fixed in post... But I don't know if she'll ever be able to belt out the notes as the Les Miz fans are expecting.  The more I listen to the good Eponines (Frances Ruffelle who originated the role or Samantha Barks who was recently seen in the 25th anniversary show), the more worried I am about hearing/seeing Taylor Swift do this.  But hell, Gerard Butler kicked ass as the Phantom of the Opera, so who knows...

Yet, in spite of those MAJOR concerns... I've grown to really like this casting.  Taylor Swift will put asses in seats and generate revenue.  Business-wise, this is fucking genius.  Few crazy Les Miz fans will skip seeing this just because of this one bit of casting.  And the hardcore Swift fans will go to see it if only for her.  Again, "On My Own" is arguably the most famous song from the show, and it's been covered millions of times by professionals and amateurs.  By casting Swift, they're giving it to someone who has musical drawing power and a legion of fans.  It will be a hit single whether or not it's a good rendition.  Hell, she will prolly record a pop version that will be both a travesty and a hit.  Blasphemy perhaps, but it will bring Les Miz to a new generation.  This is a great thing.

Most of her songs are about unrequited love or are love-related, right?  This character is in her wheelhouse.  It was argued to me that there's a difference between the unrequited love she sings about (dude breaks up with her with a text message) and the essence of "On My Own."  I don't think there is that big a difference.  What makes that song so powerful is that it taps into that feeling or situation we've all had or been through.  And when the drama happens to us, it always feel epic, right?  If she can express that emotion right, it'll work.  Taylor Swift has been singing poppy, not-as-well-written versions of "On My Own" for years.  And if you look at something like "White Horse"... I think there's hope for her acting ability.

I think a lot of the negative reaction isn't so much that she CAN'T do this role.  We don't know if she can or can't yet.  It's the apprehension that we've never seen her do anything like this before, and she may be in over her head.  Give her a chance.  I think she could surprise us.  I think she could possibly steal the show (which the role of Eponine usually does).  I haven't heard anything about auditions, but given who they've assembled for the actual cast, you have to think that she showed something to the director or casting directors to beat out established musical/Hollywood veterans.  Surely they know how big and important this role is... Or maybe they're all soulless like me and only thinking about itunes buys and asses in seats.

I heard that Lea Michelle is/was in the running, but that's such an obvious choice that it's boring.  Lea Michelle is the safe choice.  She can sing and act, and she'd do it well... She's sung "On My Own" hundreds of times...

And though it's not terrible, it's nothing special.  Eponine is such a hard role to cast because people have a lot of preconceptions on how it should be done, but I can't think of a perfect choice.  Truth is, the perfect choice is some unknown, undiscovered actress.

I do know that Taylor Swift is not the perfect choice.  Taylor Swift is the Sarah Palin of casting choices.  It's risky and bold and possibly wrong... But it's fresh and new and gets people interested in a movie that they might not generally see.  Only Taylor Swift isn't gonna go all rogue and derail the entire movie.

Which would be kinda funny, really...

I'm looking forward to how this plays out.

Jack resides in Austin, Texas and is the co-creator and co-contributor to Motorcycle Sidecar Drama.  Contrary to what you may think about him after reading such a ridiculous post about lavish Broadway shows and actresses, Jack actually likes vagina.

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