Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Notre Dame de Paris' in Review

The cast and creative team describe this musical as having 'no recitative, with the story told entirely in song'. What this means is that the show is essentially an endless succession of lovelorn ballads, occasionally interspersed by an uptempo rock number, usually to represent crowd scenes. Each song has its own melody and style, never to be repeated for the rest of the show. And so the storytelling is rather stodgy, no plot development in the (lack of) script nor usage of traditional musical storytelling devices: no overture, no repeated musical themes to give a sense of musical entirety, nor instrumental passages to heighten dramatic moments. The cast sings a lot about how they are feeling, not so much about what happened to get them in these heightened situations. With a lack of dialogue (musical or spoken), the cast resort to briefly miming parts in between songs to help connect one song to the other. Plot points are rushed over even in very dramatic moments, so it takes some guessing and imagination for audiences to understand what's going on. Songs Inspired by the Hunchback of Notre Dame would have been a more appropriate title, rather than calling it a musical per se.

Still, a great story is a great story, no matter how clumsily its told. And with so much work done on the 'feeling' side of things, the show has created a cast of sympathetic characters that audiences feel for, even for the baddies to some extent. We feel Quasimodo's anguish at the deformity that made him an outcast of society, Father Frollo's lust for Esmeralda which 'forces' him to forsake his religious beliefs, the band of gypsies (led by Esmeralda's brother) who only want to find a place that they can call home.

In fact, its the songs that eventually wins the audience over. The 40 odd songs (I lost count after a while), though not all hits, has some beautiful gems in them. Almost everytime a character steps up for a solo, you can expect a gut-wrenching emotional outpouring over soaring guitar-driven melodies. Quasimodo's songs are especially heartfelt, as is Esmeralda's mesmerising solo Live for the One I Love.

The large cast of dancers, acrobats and actor/singers perform with uniformly impeccable skill and high energy. This is really hardworking cast of dancers, performing intricate routines and stunts throughout the show (although the army of topless dancers distracted me from understanding the show better). All the leads had powerful voices that soared, they lived in their character's emotions and made suceeded in making us feel for the,. They also showed impecable timing syncing with what sounds like prerecorded accompaniment music (there wasn't an orchestra in the pit, and no conductor was credited now took bows, so you'd think...)

It should be noted that despite its French title, this production is performed in English in a translation by Will Jennings, the lyricist of Celine Dion's epic ballad My Heart Will Go On (altogether now! Near, far, whereever you are...) In all, this touring production of Notre Dame de Paris boasts a cast of unfaultable performers and high production values, giving their full commitment to a great story with great characters, despite a problematic source material. Read up on the synopsis before the show to understand the plot better, then settle down to hear and watch some great songs presented by a cast of world-class performers.

Notre Dame de Paris runs till 29 December 2013. Get your tickets at the Events Page!


  1. The casts was superb in their own set of skills. Nevertheless,you are right about reading up on the story first to really enjoy the songs inspired by hunchback of notre dame.Overall,the show was just spectacularly amazing!

  2. Just back from tonight's performance - have to admit I didn't enjoy it so much. The priest and male lead were great but Esmeralda's voice left a lot to be desired. Add in the disjointed story (and I know the story well) it wasn't for me.
    Glad I got a deal on tickets as I would be have been more disappointed but I thought it was dull :(

  3. I watched the show last night and I had to admit I expected more. I think they should have stayed with the French version. It was like listening to Italian Opera in German.


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