Notre-dame de paris

Review: The Forced Grandeur of Notre Dame de Paris

Imagine a sung musical comprised almost entirely of power ballads, from the electric guitar underlining its slow-burning opener to its final, soaring note of glory. That’s the best way to describe the experience of watching Notre Dame of Paris, the phenomenally popular French pop-rock musical that is finally making its New York premiere after being a success at its world premiere in Paris in 1998. began performances July 13) at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center will be happy that it has arrived. Others will wonder why such an airless and tiresome experience has become an international sensation.

Luc Plamondon and Richard Cocciante’s musical is the umpteenth adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre Dame of Paris (often known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame), but this release offers at least an intriguing measure of fidelity to its source material. Most of the stage and film adaptations have focused on Quasimodo’s physically deformed but benevolent love for Roma street dancer Esmerelda. Hugo’s book is more panoramic in its scope, painting a larger portrait of a society on the brink of seismic social, political, and artistic change. Thus, the musical opens with “The Time of Cathedrals”, Gringoire (Gian Marco Schiaretti) the troubadour’s ode to the eponymous Notre-Dame cathedral; and includes numbers such as the opening of Act 2 “Florence”, in which Gringoire and Archdeacon Notre-Dame Frollo (Daniel Lavoie) discuss the danger Johannes Gutenberg’s recent invention of the printing press poses to the French society in the fifteenth century.

Although such figures attempt to sketch the historical context of the show, Notre Dame of Paris is ultimately more romantic melodrama than social commentary. Esmeralda (Hiba Tawaji) is at the center of a tangled romantic web, not only with Quasimodo (Angelo Del Vecchio) but also with Frollo and Gringoire, who fall in love with her. She is, however, attached to Phoebus (Yvan Pedneault), captain of King Louis XI’s cavalry, who returns her affection even though he is technically engaged to Fleur-de-Lys (Emma Lépine). But it is Quasimodo who is the purest in his love for her, seeing in her a stranger and a kindred spirit – a bond that solidifies when Esmerelda is the only one to treat him decently while he is publicly tortured.

Daniel Lavoie and the cast of Notre Dame of Paris
(© Alessandro Dobici)

Notre Dame of Paris presents itself as a “musical show” and the emphasis is on the show. Gilles Maheu, who directed the production, sprinkled the show with all sorts of superfluous bells and whistles, especially choreographically. Dancers and acrobats abound on Christian Rätz’s minimalist set, aligned towards the back of the stage with the marble walls of Notre Dame Cathedral, with these supporting performers performing Martino Müller’s flashy but inexpressive choreography in the background. shot even as a character expresses their deepest feelings. Such entertaining scenes put us less in the mood of 15th-century France than of 20th-century Las Vegas; all that’s missing, really, are flashing lights to emphasize the slick superficiality of it all.

But then Maheu seems to draw his cues from Cocciante’s score, which for the most part operates in two modes: loud and louder. There’s no doubt that Cocciante, a popular French singer-songwriter before embarking on this business, has a knack for the catchy hook, but his idea of ​​melodic development is simply to shift his fiery melodies into more high, as if such modulations were sufficient to indicate an increase. passion. Far from wrapping us emotionally in the story that he and Plamondon, who wrote the prosaic lyrics, tell, the cumulative effect is to completely crowd out human feeling, killing any sense of intimacy and authentic connection with the characters.

Let it not be said that the cast, which performs in French (the surtitles appear on the monitors on both sides of the stage), does not at least engage in bombast, selling all the musical numbers with voices really impressive that resonate to the Chevrons of the David H. Koch theatre. That said, only Lavoie stands out with a well-rounded performance, drawing us into the depths of the Archdeacon’s tortured and hypocritical soul as he wrestles with both his religious beliefs and his forbidden desire for Esmeralda. It’s a bad sign when the most likable character in any adaptation of Hugo’s novel is arguably the most dastardly – but, watching the chilling ‘opera’ Notre Dame of Parisit feels like none of the creators thought as much about character as they did about how to submit us to the supposed grandeur of it all.

A scene from Notre Dame of Paris
(© Alessandro Dobici)