Almost twenty years ago, Notre Dame de Paris had its West End premiere at The Dominion Theatre and the reviews were much less than desirable. One of the show’s stars, Daniel Lavoie claims “The write ups were horrible. They killed us”. Simply put, the show didn’t translate as well as they’d hoped. The original UK premiere in 2000 was translated from French into English, but this time the show returns in the original French dialect (with surtitles) and the audience seems to have come around as they were all up on their feet by the end of opening night at The London Coliseum.
The show may not have updated majorly in its twenty years but this rock-opera-slash-acrobatic-epic is very visually pleasing and the addition of the ENO orchestra is all for the better.
Set in Paris 1482, the famous Victor Hugo novel has been translated and adapted many times. The show is predominantly about love, lust and freedom. Esmerelda, a gypsy beauty, falls in love with a man engaged to another woman. Whilst from afar Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame, holds similar feelings towards Esmerelda that conflict with him. Meanwhile, Quasimodo, the hunchback bellringer of Notre Dame admires Esmerelda from afar in this dark and tragic tale.
The ENO orchestra brings a real finesse to Richard Cocciante’s composition. You may not leave humming the music but you definitely remember the feeling it gave you. The show is heavily rock-based and high energy, leaving very little room to breathe throughout. But the audience are exhilarated and are always asking for more.
The cast of main characters show powerhouse vocal talent, especially Angelo del Vecchio as Quasimodo. Hiba Tawaji is a sensual and forceful Esmerelda and Daniel Lavoie gives a powerful performance as he returns to the role of Frollo that he also played two decades ago at The Dominion Theatre.
The original London premiere was believed to be hindered by the poor French-to-English translation. The original french lyrics are beautiful and are much more fitting. However they don’t go much further in terms of depth. The plot and score can be stretched out more times than it need to be.
Plot and score aside, Notre Dame de Paris actually belongs to the ensemble. With the impressive contemporary choreography of Martino Muller, the dancers and acrobats deliver showstopping moves and distractingly impressive routines around every inch of Christian Ratz’ grand set. The colours of Caroline Van Assche’s costumes mixed with Alain Lortie’s lighting all come together is some sensational moments of theatre that can reflect parts of a resident Las Vegas show. I’ll remember for quite some time
If you look at the show as a spectacle, it hits every note impressively. This simple, classic tale needs to offer nothing more than an engaging night at the theatre. And that’s exactly what it does. C’est beau!
Photo Credit: Patrick Carpentier