Tweetingit: 4* the other Victor Hugo musical set to music. Visually stunning with great musicality.
Stand anywhere within half a mile of the London Coliseum, and there’s a fair chance you’ll be able to see the illuminated globe announcing the home of ENO (English National Opera). This beautiful theatre stands second only to the Palladium for sheer grandeur and spectacle. It’s currently hosting a short run of Notre Dame de Paris, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The producers have bravely opted to present the French language version complete with subtitles. I say ‘bravely’ only because there is a translated English version with lyrics by Will Jennings, and this naturally creates a barrier albeit an artificial one. In the finest tradition of Italian opera, a simultaneous translation was displayed on a screen above the stage; a tricky set of manoeuvres were required, at least where this reviewer is concerned. After all, watching a show and reading text it’s almost multi-tasking?
But let’s just remind ourselves of the story: Paris 1482, Notre Dame Cathedral has become a magnet for refugees seeking asylum. The poet Gringoire acts as narrator, but we soon discover he is embroiled in the story as it gradually unfolds. The refugees led by Clopin besiege the cathedral for help. But they are quickly repelled by Archdeacon Frollo, who orders Phoebus, captain of the Royal Archers to quell the unruly crowd. However, all eyes settle on the beautiful, dark-eyed Esmeralda, a gypsy girl from Andalusia. Clopin has been guardian since her parents died; he tells her she is now a woman and will soon find love, and to be wary of the men she trusts. And of course we have Quasimodo; cathedral bell ringer, hideously deformed but a sensitive soul yearning to fall in love.
A visually stunning piece is complemented by a vibrant, percussion-based score and some genuinely jaw-dropping choreography. The latter ably assisted by a 6 strong team of acrobats and breakdancers, who make the eyes water as they tumble and backflip off the walls; Spiderman has got nothing on these boys. The vocals are strong and tuneful with equally effective solo and ensemble pieces. Angelo Del Vecchio was excellent in the role of Quasimodo displaying a magnificent bass voice which literally made the floorboards rattle. Hiba Tawaji is simply beautiful as Esmeralda, showing both strength and vulnerability essential to the role.
The production has a truly international feel with performers from Italy, The Lebanon, Quebec and West Indies featuring in a brilliant cast. It packs a visual punch that lingers long after lights have been switched off in the auditorium. However, will the punters remember any of the songs on the train ride home, unless they are French; probably not. Which brings me rather neatly, to the irritant that continues to nag? No one would question how romantic the French language is, and we can still appreciate the emotional impact regardless of the language. The translation screen is placed way above the stage (in all fairness there’s nowhere else it could go), but it meant that everyone in the stalls was looking upwards to read the screen and subsequently missing the action on stage. It might seem like a typically British thing to say, but would they stage the English version in Paris? It remains my only real criticism of an otherwise brilliantly staged musical. So I must on this occasion deny it the full five-star rating. Maybe it’s time I learnt French…just in time for Brexit?
Original Novel: Victor Hugo
Book/Lyrics: Luc Plamondon
Music: Richard Cocciante
Director: Gilles Maheu
Choreographer: Martino Muller
Musical Director: Matthew Brind
Producers: Charles and Nicholas Talar, Adam Blanshay Productions
Box Office: 020 7845 9300
Booking Link: https://londoncoliseum.org/whats-on/notre-dame-de-paris/
Booking until: 27 January 2019