The highly anticipated Les Misérables releases in theaters this Christmas Day. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the musical, a long-time lover of the classic novel, or just curious to see Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman sing on the big screen – here are some tips you may find useful!

1. Yes, They Sing

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Newcomers to the story may be unable to discern this from the theatrical trailers, but this film is almost entirely sung through. The film is an adaptation of a stage musical from 1985, with music written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer. The musical is sung-through start to finish; while a line or two may be spoken in a given performance, music underscores the entire libretto. 

The expression of the show’s heart through song is a powerful tool which has resonated with audiences for more than twenty-five years. “In the end, people keep coming back [to see Les Miz] because it provides the opportunity to re-experience strong emotions, and then delivers,” according to director Tom Hooper. And putting the stirring score to film creates “an even more intense emotional experience.”

So don’t be caught being that guy in the theater wondering when the actors will break out of song.

2. Yes, They Sing Live

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The traditional way of putting musicals on screen has been for the actors to record their songs in a studio, study their parts, and then lip synch during the actual filming. This method has been used since the first movie-musicals, with notable recent examples being The Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia!. The main downfall of this method, for audience members, is that it becomes obvious the actors are mouthing words which have been recorded separately, and a large element of truth is missing from the accompanying acting performance.

Not so with this new adaptation of Les Miz. First, the director and producers had a much narrower list of actors with enough musical background and technical training to make the cut. Each principle cast member endured a vigorous audition with Tom Hooper, the cast rehearsed for nine weeks before filming began, and then sang during filming, accompanied by an off-set live piano which they could hear through hidden earpieces. “This film is completely unique,” asserts producer Eric Fellner, and that’s certainly true in regards to the singing.

Cast members rave of their piano accompanists as the “unsung heroes” of the film, and indeed their contribution to the film breaks new ground in the medium. Because of this choice to sing live during filming (a choice Tom Hooper was uncompromising on) the audience gets a veritable tidal wave of raw emotion and spirited acting on screen, an experience formerly exclusive to seeing the performance live on stage. With the addition of the camera close-up (a tool of which Hooper is extremely fond) this makes for one of the most memorable films in a long time.

Bonus tip: Try to notice any especially long takes. There are a few key scenes and songs which are single shots with no breaks in filming, which means (you guessed it) no “re-dos” or “take-two”s in the acting or singing – just like seeing it on Broadway!