On most film musicals, the musical portions are recorded in a studio prior to production and played back on set. The upcoming film of “Les Miserables” has actors performing their songs live with the music dubbed in afterwards.

This isn’t the first time this has been attempted since the “golden days” of 30s and 40s musicals. Peter Bagdonovich attempted it in 1975 with At Long Last Love. The problem with capturing live performances rather than miming pre-recorded tracks is you’re trading spontaneity and reality for a polished musical performance:

Cybill Shepherd does a passable job in her musical soliloquy but it’s not the pitch perfect musical performance you would expect if you bought the “Original Broadway Cast Recording”. In a studio recording, the actor can focus solely on crafting a perfect vocal performance without worrying about blocking and movement – both which can affect the vocal tone. Even the sound of the set creeps into the video above as you can hear the slightly wooden echo during the opening wide shot.

But technology has advanced… gathered from the “Les Miserable” featurette, the actors were recorded cleanly on set (no musical accompaniment – only a rehearsal piano in the ear piece). This allows significant post processing including sweetening and the much-maligned auto-tuning (not the stylistically overused kind, but the minor correction of a few percent here and there) so that the finished product can have the pitch perfect musical performances that Les Miz fans come to expect.

After all, most people in the audience will be mouthing the words along to the film.

Les Miserables opens December 25, 2012

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