Now that the production start date for The Wolverine has officially been pushed back until Spring 2012, Hugh Jackman’s next starring role will be that of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables – an adaptation of producer Cameron Mackintosh’s award-winning Broadway musical take on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel.

Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway had recently been rumored as prospective costars for Les Miserables, which will be brought to life under the direction of newly-crowned Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech). The former of those two Hollywood celebrities is now officially onboard for the film.

Deadline has learned that Crowe is set to portray Inspector Javert in Les Miserables – one of two upcoming tentpole productions that will feature the Academy Award-winning actor in some form, alongside director Zack Snyder’s Superman franchise reboot, Man of Steel.

Crowe’s casting isn’t the only new move that’s clearly meant to position Les Miserables as a potential awards contender (which, admittedly, it already was); Universal has officially settled on a December 7th, 2012 release date for the picture, giving it a head-start over other big winter releases like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, World War Z, and Django Unchained.

Les Miserables involves multiple subplots and numerous characters, but the heart of the story – which is set against the backdrop of revolution-thwart France in the early 19th century – concerns Javert’s lifelong quest to track down and arrest Valjean, after the ex-convict (who was imprisoned for around two decades after stealing bread to feed his starving sister’s family) breaks parole, in an attempt to leave his woebegone history behind and start a new life.

Most of the concerns expressed by devoted fans of the Les Miserables musical so far have to do with whether or not Jackman and Crowe are really good fits for their respective parts in the movie adaptation. Both of these fellows are quite musically talented – Jackman is a Tony award-winning singer and Crowe actually began his career as a musician, performing as a rock ‘n roll revivalist and starring in stage productions of musicals like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Whether or not they are proper matches for the vocal chops that the roles of Valjean and Javert call for is what (by and large) seems to be troubling longtime fans of the Broadway show.

Jackman possesses the sort of charisma and screen presence to make Valjean fittingly sympathetic, while Crowe is arguably someone who could make for a great incarnation of the obsessive and rigidly authoritative Javert. It’s one of those situations where you have to decide whether you prefer thespians who are actors first, singers second – or vice versa. Cinematic musicals that feature cast members who are more experienced at screen acting (see: Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd or Mamma Mia! for recent examples) generally seem to work better as films than those that recruit actors with more on-stage experience – like, say, Rent.

You do want to be sure your cast can at least sing well enough to impress casual moviegoers and critics; otherwise, you end up being berated by seemingly everyone (see: Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera). Les Miserables should easily manage to avoid a similar fate, all things considered.

To reiterate: Les Miserables is now slated for theatrical release in the U.S. on December 7th, 2012.

Source: Deadline