Posts Tagged ‘Hadley Fraser’

Happy Birthday, Hadley Fraser (2012)

Today is Hadley Fraser’s birthday.  Currently playing Javert in Les Misérables, this West End performer is about to take a quick break from the stage to appear in the movie version of Les Mis.  (He’s playing the army officer who calls out to the student revolutionaries, “You at the barricades, listen to this!  No one is coming to help you to fight!” and all that.)   My friend and guest blogger extraordinaire, Scolytinae, has written this fine tribute to Mr. Fraser, in honor of his special day:

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Happy Birthday, Hadley – the Metal Monkey

According to the Chinese, people born under the Year of the Monkey are good at mastering anything they put their hands to and are highly successful. Those born during the period of the Metal Monkey are motivated by constancy, are self reliant and stylish, and have a good memory. Quite an accurate description of the lovely Mr. Hadley Fraser, who is, by anyone’s standards, having an amazing year.  From a triumphant return to the West End in Les Misérables, the show that marked his professional debut 10 years ago, to a stunning performance in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Hadley hasn’t stopped working.  He has filming for the Les Misérables movie still to come next month.  But it’s not been all high profile public performances. In his quiet and unassuming manner, Hadley has also lent his support to charity by taking part in Les Mis Gives, performed shows and cabarets alongside friends and colleagues and, most recently, lent his magnificent voice to the concept album for the prospective new musical The In-Between by new young writer Laura Tisdall—all fitted round a demanding 8 show a week schedule as Inspector Javert, without fuss or fanfares.

He may disagree, but I feel he lives and breathes music in all its many and varied forms. Yes he can (and does) belt out a West End show stopper onstage, but just listen to him perform some of his own beautiful compositions for Sheytoons, or deliver the beautiful ballads of friend Scott Alan, and you begin to appreciate the depth of talent he has. Acting, singing, arranging, writing—he seems to epitomise that monkey by indeed mastering anything he puts his hand to.

As his year in the West End nears its end—his last performance is on 16th June 2012—I can’t help but wonder, what’s next for Hadley? Whatever it may be, rest assured he will have an army of dedicated fans wishing him all the best as he embarks on the next phase of an amazing career.

So it’s with the greatest of pleasure that I say “Thank you” and “Happy Birthday, Mr Fraser!”  Enjoy your day, because you certainly deserve the very best that life has to offer.

Thank you, Scolytinae, I couldn’t have said it more eloquently.  I too wish Hadley Fraser a great birthday.  May the cake flow, and save me slice of champagne!  (Perhaps we shouldn’t have started celebrating so early…)

Hello, New Fans!

Right now, The Phantom of The Opera at the Royal Albert Hall is airing on my PBS station.  It’s a pledge break, so I’m using the time to say hello to all the American fans who are just discovering Ramin Karimloo (Rah-MEEN CARE-em-loo), Hadley Fraser, and the lovely Sierra Boggess (bah-GUESS) tonight.  I can tell from the sudden upsurge in my visitor stats that lots of folks are searching for information about these talented actors.  You’re going to find entire tumblr sites devoted to Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser. These two have an avid fan base!  The best way to zero in on these actors here is to visit my “west end index” page (above).  This is because I bounce around between many topics, so if you’re not interested in book reviews, old TV westerns or farm animals, don’t despair.

Lots of people this weekend are searching for the answer to this question: why didn’t Michael Crawford sing during the encore?  The most common answer I read during the days following the live broadcast was that he was too emotional and overwhelmed by the audience’s response.  I also read that he was saving his voice, since he was appearing in another West End musical.  I honestly don’t know if either of these are correct.  I do know that many people were disappointed.

By the way, Hadley Fraser is one of my favorite performers on twitter.  The day the Phantom DVD was released in the US, he tweeted his apology for Raoul’s “guyliner.”  I love his self-deprecating sense of humor.  On my small, crappy television, the guyliner isn’t so bad, but so many of the wonderful production details are lost, especially with the costumes.  I’m so glad I went to see it at the cinema in October.

So, thanks for visiting The Ugly Bug Ball, and be sure to say hello.  Please leave a comment!

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo, The Phantom of the Opera, The Music of Night

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo

Les Misérables: The Day of The Understudies!

Once again, my friend Scolytinae brings us a review of the West End production of Les Misérables, after her excellent piece on the version with Alfie Boe as Valjean last autumn.  She and her husband braved the bad winter weather to see Ramin Karimloo in the role, only to be met with a few surprises:

Let’s be honest, you don’t actually need an excuse for a repeat visit to Les Misérables, but I must admit that the prospect of seeing Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean persuaded us to make a return trip only 4 short months after our last excursion.  So you can imagine our disappointment when on arrival at Queen’s Theatre, we were greeted with notices in the foyer stating that due to the indisposition of Ramin Karimloo, the role of Jean Valjean would be played by Christopher Jacobsen.

Settled in our seats, we philosophically decided that “these things happen.” As a Twitter user I knew that Ramin’s recent Japanese tour had taken a lot out of him and that he was struggling, but then came an announcement that the roles of Marius and Enjolras would also be played by understudies.  We looked at each other—this would definitely be a different show to the one we had seen last September!

However, I would now like to go on record to say that this was one of the finest performances I have ever seen.  Christopher Jacobsen was simply stunning.  A powerful actor as well as singer, he brought us a Valjean of contrasts—burning passion at the injustices he suffered, yet a quiet dignity as he determined to throw off his past, start again, and make things right.  Opposite the magnificent Hadley Fraser as Javert, it felt like a whole new dynamic had appeared as the two of them faced off against each other, on occasion speaking rather than singing some of their lines as they circled each other, vying for control of the situation.

I thought Hadley was fabulous when I saw him last year, but over the ensuing months, his Javert has evolved—still intractable and inexorably driven, but now almost a sense of vulnerability.  Valjean’s manner and treatment of him was just so far outside his view of the natural order that he simply could not cope.  There was a particularly poignant moment during the suicide scene where he sings “I am the law and the law is not mocked.” At this point, he valiantly tries to regain his control and composure by pulling his lapels together and buttoning up that iconic overcoat—magic.  Thunderous applause greeted both his featured songs, and rightly so. This man is a true performer.

Marius was played by the impossibly cute Fra Fee—and what a fabulous performance it was.  Such depth and emotion from one so young; I am not ashamed to admit to a few tears after “A Little Fall of Rain,” beautifully portrayed opposite the superb Alexia Khadime.  I’m sure my hubby won’t mind me saying that he reached for the tissues too at this point!  What a beautiful voice this young man has, and such presence on stage.  I sincerely hope he’s a name to watch out for in the future.

Enjolras was beautifully played by Scott Garnham, who led his students with an understated strength and authority.  I just loved the interaction between all the students, and Adam Linstead’s Grantaire was a triumph.  In fact, I was so impressed by everyone who stepped up to fill roles vacated by the leads.  If I have to be critical, and maybe I should to prove that I can be objective where Les Mis is concerned, the only weak spot was the youngster who played Gavroche. Whether it was down to nerves, I don’t know, but he had a rather shaky start, rushing some of his lines and throwing some away completely.  He did soon settle down, and there was a huge gasp from the audience during the scene where he was shot whilst collecting ammunition.  You know, I must be getting old, because both he and the young girl playing Cosette seemed so small and fragile, almost like they should be at home tucked up in bed rather than up onstage!!

If there were any negative vibes emanating from people who bought tickets expecting to see Ramin Karimloo, then Christopher Jacobsen certainly wasn’t affected by them.  It must be a daunting feeling to step onstage knowing that many people in the audience wish you weren’t there.  Christopher simply took the audience by storm, and seemed genuinely overwhelmed by his rapturous reception at the end.  So much so that, after taking center stage for a few seconds, he called the cast back onstage to join him for another bow, to happily acknowledge the lengthy standing ovation which was a fitting end to a truly incredible show.  A day of understudies it may have been, but it is a tribute to the depth of talent in British musical theatre that this didn’t matter one iota—we heard the people sing, and they were fantastic!

Thank you, Scolytinae!  It sounds like a great afternoon of theatre.  It looks like we’ll have to add Christopher Jacobsen, Fra Fee, and Scott Garnham to our growing list of favorite West End actors.

See also: Beg, Borrow or Steal to See Les Misérables

Photoshop: Before and After

I’m always mentioning what I do in photoshop.  It’s time for a little demonstration.  Here are some before and after versions.  I don’t usually save the originals once I’ve done corrections, so putting this together was a challenge!  I use version 7, which is old but effective.  How these look on your computer will depend on your screen and how it is balanced, but hopefully the “afters” will be much improved.

Here’s an example of cropping and improving contrast:

Hadley Fraser and cast in The Phantom of the Opera

Hadley Fraser and cast in The Phantom of the Opera

No matter how good a movie looks on DVD, the stills can always be better.  The original here was a few seconds before the one I used in my post for A Little Princess:

Liam Cunningham in A Little Princess

Liam Cunningham as Prince Rama in A Little Princess

I enjoy working with images from The Rifleman, because there’s no worry about color balancing.  It’s fun to restore the contrast, but I have to be careful not to wash out the lighter parts.  It’s also fun to remove unwanted elements using my favorite tool, the clone stamp:

Johnny Crawford in The Rifleman (The Pet, season 1)

Johnny Crawford in The Rifleman (The Pet, season 1)

Old family photos fade.  With my Epson scanner, I can scan them and restore the color and contrast quite a bit:

Christmas Party, 1970

Christmas Party, 1970 (I'm on the far right in red)

I’m certainly no expert at photoshop, but I have a great time learning new tools and techniques.  As I learn, I’m tempted to go back and fix the images in older posts, especially since getting a new laptop with a different screen.  I just have to resist the urge!

My Year End Wrap Up 2011

Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011.  I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months.  It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions.   I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March.  I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks.   These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.

Best Books:  Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens.  I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.  Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading.  My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school.  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category.  The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward.  The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.

Best Television:  The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny.  The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.)  NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon.  In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.  I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman.  Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.

Best Twitter:  Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter.  He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page.  I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him.  Sorry, Gube.  West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches.  Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out!  Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.

Best Movies:  I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen.  I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.   I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category!  At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork.  I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.

Best DVDs:  I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked.  I really need to get over this habit!  While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender.  I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½.  I did love The King’s Speech.  I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.

Best StreamingDa Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television.  The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming.  I tried a month of streaming only.  It was a disaster.  Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload.  Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only.  Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust.  One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.

Best TheatreLes Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre.  I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.

Best Music:  I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford.   Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical).  Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again.  The worst music this year?  Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Gack.

Best Music Video:  It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it.  I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.

Best Entertainment News:  Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself.  It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball.  If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now.  2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.

Entertainer of The Year:  Last year was easy.  This year, it’s difficult to choose.  Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November.  I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser.  He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos.  Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume.  Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey.  Congratulations, guys.  There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks.  I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!

Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey

Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary

Next: What I’m excited about in 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Phantom of the Opera 25: The DVD

The DVD version of The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall was released this week, but not in the United States.  We have to wait until February 7th, which I’ve already ranted about.  I recruited two UK friends who’ve guest blogged here already to help me out once again.  Here they share their impressions of the new DVD.

Scolytinae:

My hubby and I were unable to make the trip to the Royal Albert Hall to experience The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary in person, so the next best thing was to go to our local cinema and be a part of the worldwide live broadcast on 2 October 2011. It was quite something to sit there and think that friends were sitting thousands of miles away, at a different time of day, doing exactly the same thing!

Obviously you miss the buzz of excitement and anticipation as the auditorium fills and the orchestra begins to tune up—people arriving juggling buckets of popcorn and giant hot dogs doesn’t  have quite the same atmosphere! However, when the lights dimmed and the show started, we were all quickly transported to the world of the Opera Populaire.

Having never seen the show before, I can honestly say it was a wonderful experience. I have no point of reference, but I thought Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess and Hadley Fraser were absolutely stunning and, considering the tight time frame everyone was working to, the whole show was an amazing spectacle and if anything major went wrong, I didn’t notice!

The only minor criticism was that on occasions, the music seemed far too loud and we lost some of the lyrics, but we put that down to the cinema sound system and hoped it would be an issue that was easily rectified on the DVD.  Strangely, the very clever digital backdrops didn’t come across on camera too well either, becoming pixelated at times and drawing the eye. Other than that, we got to see the performance in all its glory, with just a couple of things which were always going to be destined for the cutting room floor: Hadley backing into a table and the Phantom’s “switch on” candle!

It was a long wait, but the DVD finally dropped through the letterbox on 14th November, and we both settled down for another evening with the Phantom.  Happy to report the sound problems have been fixed, and it was a delight to hear everything. The editing is good, and the use of multiple angles actually adds to some scenes, bringing your attention to some action that you may have missed before and allowing a much better shot of that candle lighting incident.  (It looks good now, and the table incident has been omitted entirely!) It was also nice to have periodic shots of the fabulous orchestra too. Sadly, those digital backdrop panels still didn’t come across at their best, although they were improved.

An interesting and informative behind-the-scenes style documentary was included as a bonus feature. It was nice to hear from the technical side of the production team for a change, outlining the logistical problems of mounting a full stage production in a concert hall, and watching the talented make up artist at work.

Not having seen the show live, the DVD is, for me at least, a much improved version of the cinematic experience. It is a beautiful record of a truly extraordinary theatrical event, and should definitely be a part of every musical theatre lover’s collection.

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Helsbrownie, who attended the live performance at the Royal Albert Hall, shared her reactions via twitter as she watched the DVD for the first time.  Click twice to read version with bigger print.

Thank you, Scolytinae and Helsbrownie!  Now we’ll be counting down the days until we can get our hands on the US version of the Phantom DVD.

Some folks might not be aware that the UK version has a region coding that makes it impossible to play on a US player.  Region-free DVD players can play all or most DVDs, and some new computers will allow you to reset the region coding but only a few times.  For example, my new laptop allows me five resets.  The risk is losing track and ending up with a DVD drive that won’t play anything else you own or rent.

Beg, Borrow or Steal to See Les Misérables

I am very lucky to have friends who are willing to write reviews for me.  Last month I published Scolytinae’s guest review of the London production of Les Misérables.  Another friend saw the musical this week, and here are her impressions: 

Les Miserables logo Queen's Theatre, LondonLes Misérables – Queen’s Theatre, London

I first saw Les Mis on stage when I was 17 at a local theatre in Yorkshire and have loved it ever since, but it has taken me almost 15 years to see it again.  Despite living in London for several years and seeing many plays and musicals during that time, for some unfathomable reason I never went to see Les Mis.  Seeing the Matt Lucas “I Dreamed A Dream” documentary was the trigger that finally got me to go and see it in the West End.

Due to a mix up in booking the tickets, I first saw the show in August with Jonathan Williams as Jean Valjean and then again in September with Alfie Boe in the lead role.  Since then, I have become slightly addicted to the Les Mis booking website and can now look forward to a further two visits this year alone.  I’m hoping for some kind of loyalty discount from Cameron Mackintosh, especially as Ramin Karimloo is joining the cast to take over from Alfie Boe in November.

Thursday night was my third visit.  Previously, I had seats in the dress circle and at the back of the stalls, but this time we had front row seats in the stalls at the right hand side.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we certainly were close to the stage and to the orchestra—perhaps too close to the orchestra, as we could hear the brass section chatting at times.  On the plus side, my eye did keep being drawn to the conductor and it was fascinating to see him directing the cast as well as the orchestra—I got a real insight into how much work must go into getting the timing right.

Being so close to the stage meant we could see every facial expression of the cast and that did really add an extra element, particularly in all the Valjean/Javert double handers.  However, on the down side, it did mean the cast could make eye contact with us, which was slightly disconcerting.  I didn’t quite know where to look when three of the factory workers sang “At the End of the Day” while staring directly into my eyes.  Goodness knows what I would have done if Alfie or Hadley had made eye contact……

Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser, Les Miserables

Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser

The heart of the show is undoubtedly Alfie Boe’s Jean Valjean playing against Hadley Fraser’s feral Javert, but this visit I appreciated what an ensemble piece it is, with Eponine, Javert, Marius and Fantine having strong songs of their own.  This company is very talented, and I warmed to Caroline Sheen’s Fantine and Lisa-Anne Wood’s portrayal of Cosette much more than previously.  Due to the wonders of twitter, I could pick out members of the ensemble, and particular praise should go to Fra Fee and James Charlton—both have amazing voices.

Alfie Boe is sublime as Valjean, but his performance did seem the same as the first time I saw him.  There’s nothing I can put my finger on; it may just be that in contrast to all the other major characters, he has not developed the role any further, and there’s certainly no need.  Perhaps I’m getting too used to hearing his voice and don’t appreciate him fully.  My friend was certainly blown away by the power and control of his singing.

 

Scott Garnham as Enjolras

Scott Garnham (not wearing Enjolras wig!)

Scott Garnham and Adam Linstead deserve special mention.  Scott played Enjolras, as Liam Tamne was away.  Leaving aside the fact that the hair & make-up team managed to make a good-looking man unattractive, there was little to fault in his portrayal of Enjolras, and he was more believable in the role than Liam.  I would love to see what he would do with the role on a more permanent basis.  Adam Linstead’s Grantaire wins the “most improved” award.  He has really grown into this role and added a lot to it since I saw him last.  He starts as a laid-back bon viveur with the complexities of the character coming out in the emotional barricade scenes.

I was intrigued to see how Cameron Blakely would take on Thénardier—no mean feat to step into Matt Lucas’ shoes.  He has kept the role pretty similar and in the first half was easily a match to Matt—his “Master of The House” was superb.  However, he didn’t have the necessary menace in the sewer scenes, and the comedy was lacking a bit in the wedding scene.  It is early days though, so I will be interested to see how he develops the role.

Hadley Fraser as Javert, Les Miserables, London, Queen's Theatre

Hadley Fraser as Javert

I have tried to be as objective as I can, but in my eyes, Hadley Fraser can do no wrong.   I’ve yet to see anything less than stunning performances in all the YouTube clips, and I was also lucky enough to be at the Phantom 25th Anniversary concert a few weeks ago.  I read a recent interview with Hadley where he said he was trying to bring out the animalistic side of Javert.  I have to say, he has really developed this side of the character since my last visit.  There were times where he really seemed only half-human and more like a feral dog, albeit one with a lot of pent-up anger and confusion.  He was quite terrifying to watch from the front row, and I was glad he had a firm grasp of the truncheon, as I would not have wanted that flung across my face.

All in all, it was a fantastic evening.  If you like Les Mis or musical theatre in general, this cast is an absolute must-see.  I am excited about the prospect of Ramin Karimloo joining.  I can’t imagine him as Jean Valjean, but for me that only adds to the anticipation.

I’m not really a fan of hanging around the stage door, but I still managed to act like a crazy fan girl.  While waiting for a taxi on the street afterwards, I spotted Hadley walking past us, and I squealed “Oh, there’s Hadley!” to my friend.  He looked at me a bit oddly, so I think he heard—oh, the embarrassment….  But then he sloped off into the night, looking very slight and laid-back—quite a difference to the Javert who had been towering over us so menacingly half an hour before.

Thank you, helsbrownie!   You’re a star for taking the time to write this for us.

Yes, Ramin Karimloo will be replacing Alfie Boe as Valjean at the end of November, performing six times a week from November 29, 2011, through March 3, 2012.  Karimloo and Fraser, together again!

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