Based upon the acclaimed 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris originally premiered at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, 1998. With music composed by Richard Cocciante and lyrics by Luc Plamondon, the production was praised in the millennium edition of the Guinness Book of World Records for its record success for a musical during its first year. Since then, the production has had sold out performances across 16 countries and been translated into nine different languages. Celebrating the 20th Anniversary, this French language production is playing the London Coliseum and features an international ensemble of singers, dancers and acrobats to tell the tale of the hunchbacked cathedral bell-ringer, Quasimodo and his desperate love for the gypsy, Esmeralda.
Angelo Del Vecchio as Quasimodo is outstanding. He has performed the show in Italian, English and French and his dedication and passion for the part and show is evident from the first time the audience sees him. His previous credits include playing Benvolio in popular opera Giulietta e Romeo and a soloist in Rock Revolution. Both credits are immediately identifiable in his voice as a rich operatic almost baritone vocal is performed on the lower parts of his voice and a mixed seemingly heavy metal safe scream rock vocal is held over his higher range. This exquisite combination suits the music and character completely and his performances of Belle and Les Cloches were truly music to the ears. Bravo! Hiba Tawaji plays Esmeralda to perfection. Her dance ability, vocal and presence on stage in a vibrant green costume is completely memorable from start to finish. With a sultry breathy quality to her voice mixed with a strong pop belt, Tawaji delivers another multifaceted vocal throughout and it’s clear why she has performed the role all over the world since 2016. As Frollo, Daniel Lavoie is wonderfully menacing. His authoritative and almost understated performance perfectly suits the character and he draws the audience into his story of conflicted faith versus the lust he feels for Esmeralda. Delivering a strong vocal throughout, Lavoie was an original cast member of Notre Dame de Paris since its inception in 1998, has won a World Music Award and has written music for Céline Dion, Mireille Mathieu and many others. It was truly an honour seeing him perform. Richard Charest as poet Gringoire, is a fun performer to watch onstage. Needing an exceptionally strong vocal to open the show with a multiple key-changing Le Temps des cathédrales Charest performs with accomplished vigour and his quirky fun performance fits the character perfectly. Handsome captain of the King’s cavalry, Phœbus is played by Martin Giroux. His Phœbus exudes confidence and his accomplished vocal is displayed in a stirring rendition of Déchiré where he sings about being torn between two loves, Esmeralda and Fleur-de-Lys. As leader of the Court of Miracles Clopin, Jay gives a powerful performance. A member of several bands, Jay has bucket loads of onstage presence and his vocal executed to perfection throughout. Alyzée Lalande as Fleur-de-Lys is a lovely addition to the cast. As Esmeralda’s competition for Phœbus, Fleur-de-Lys is cheated on and then confronts the cheating Phœbus in a memorable scene where Fleur-de-Lys agrees to take Phœbus back only if Esmeralda is hanged. Lalande’s vocal and portrayal of this layered character is performed with beautiful aplomb. Supporting the principal cast is an ensemble who sing, dance, run, jump and abseil around the stage seemingly without breaking a sweat or looking out of breath.
Christian Rätz’s design and Martino Müller choreography are still visually spectacular 20 years after their ignition inception. Like the dancers in the Ozdust Ballroom in Wicked, the choreography is show specific and almost a new style to create a world audiences may have not seen before. Using very physical, emotive choreography Müller has managed to create a piece that still looks fresh 20 years later and is a testament to the passion that was involved in creating the show originally.
Incorporating aerial artistry with traditional moving set pieces, use of gauze and clever lighting effects, set design easily portrays scenes around Paris including inside and outside Notre Dame. Including three large cathedral bells with cast swinging from them, a large metal beam suspended from the ceiling that Clopin balances on as it dips, to footfalls over the large concrete wall at the back the cast scramble over and a character falling down an interior flight of stairs, Notre Dame de Paris is visually stunning.
Previously, English critics have not been kind to Notre Dame de Paris. I think this is because they try and compare it to a traditional piece of musical theatre English audiences are use to. Notre Dame de Paris wasn’t intended to be and doesn’t try to be. Instead we’re presented with a dramatized, staged rock concert with some amazing sets, choreography and aerial feats. Notre Dame de Paris is in a league of its own and deserves to be reviewed as such.
Accessible to an English-speaking audience with surtitles, London audiences are in for a treat with this internationally successful production. With beautiful melodies, powerful performances, spectacular sets and aerial feats to marvel at, Notre Dame de Paris remains an international hit.
Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Alessandro Dobici
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