Liberté, Egalite, Fraternité
At first glance Notre Dame de Paris appears as a mashup of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and a Cirque du Soleil show in French. But it goes deeper, as it should, being based on Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Luc Plamondon’s Notre Dame de Paris, takes on the historically recurring issues of prejudice, poverty and injustice endemic in societies for generations.
Writer Luc Plamondon’s and composer Richard Cocciante’s Notre Dame de Paris could be regarded as a commentary on some of the key issues of the day. They highlight what happens when people are outcast, rejected and mistreated by mainstream society because of poverty, their nationality, ethnicity, their culture, lifestyle, disfigurement, disability, the colour of their skin or their gender. These themes are very well represented by three main characters. Esmeralda, played by Hiba Tawaji, is excluded and scorned because she is a gypsy. She also has to navigate the prevailing misogyny which penalises independent women who are liberated and wish to freely express their feelings and sexuality. She is labelled as promiscuous, wild and sinful. Quasimodo, played by Angelo Del Vecchio, is discriminated against solely due to his disability and bodily and facial disfigurements. Clopin, played by Jay, is discriminated against because he is an immigrant, black and poor. The Priest Frollo, played very menacingly by Daniel Lavoie, represents the establishment and very hypocritical he is too. Frollo condemns Esmeralda for being a sinner due to her lifestyle and ethnicity whilst obsessively lusting after her. Phoebus, one of the King’s soldiers, also lusts after Esmeralda. Although Quasimodo, Frollo and Phoebus desire Esmeralda, Quasimodo and Phoebus convince themselves they are in love with her. All three declare that they are unable to control their lust, which they all blame on Esmeralda.
Arguably what makes Notre Dame De Paris modern, is not that it is a full-on rock opera style musical, neither is it because it has a wonderfully diverse and international cast of leading actor-singers from the Caribbean, Lebanon, Canada, Italy and France. I think it is the choices made about the staging and choreography that makes it fresh. The leading actor-singers are joined by a highly acrobatic troupe of dancers who move fluidly in a tightly choreographed circus of ballet, gymnastics, contemporary and street dance. These energetic and extremely talented dancers also use many Parkour/Freerunning techniques; running, jumping, climbing and tumbling over and against obstacles and up and against walls. They interweave light and fast back- flips and tricks. The dancers make clever use of props such as metal barriers which they jump, tumble and jeté over as they roll over supine dancers. This requires impeccable timing, tremendous energy and control which they have in abundance. Their athletic movements look completely effortless and graceful, demonstrating the skill of these superlative dancer- acrobats.
As a musical in which all words are sung, Richard Cocciante presents us with an epic musical score filled with soaring romantic melodies. Fortunately every actor’s vocals succeed in providing us with the full range of emotions required from the anthems in the show. My favourite performances include Angelo Del Vecchio’s bass vocals which magnify the rawness of Quasimodo’s anguish and despair, love and pain, during the numbers; “A boire,” “Si tu pouvais voir en moi,” and “Danse mon Esmeralda.” You can feel it in your gut; overall it is a stunning performance. You can hear the varied emotions and motivations of the male trio of Quasimodo, Frollo and Phoebus, when they sing of their love and lust for Esmeralda in “Belle,” a very popular song in France when Notre Dame de Paris was first performed 20 years ago. Tawaji gives us a feisty, free, joyous and somewhat naive Esmeralda in “Bohemienne”, “Beau comme le soleil,” “La Torture” “Phoebus,” and “Vivre.” The perverted nature and overall creepiness of Frollo is perfectly revealed by Lavoie in “La Torture”, “Etre prêtre et aimer une femme” and “Viste de Frollo a Esmeralda.” Jay’s Clopin is spirited and his powerful vocals show him as a great spokesman for the undocumented immigrants in “Les Sans papiers.” Jay also conveys brotherly gentleness towards Esmeralda in “Esmeralda tu sais.” A song which provides parallels to the current socio-political upheavals across the world is “Florence” sung with great passion by Frollo and Richard Charest as Gringoire. Yes Notre Dame de Paris is in French and seems very much in the spirit of the Liberté, Egalite, Fraternité philosophy of France -but don’t worry there are English surtitles.
All photos by Alessandro
Notre Dame de Paris is on at the London Coliseum from 23 to 27 January 2019.