Robert Tanitch reviews Notre Dame de Paris at London Coliseum
You might have guessed, following the enormous success of Les Miserables, that somebody would also turn Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris into a musical.
Luc Plamondon and Richard Cocciante’s cult rock musical premiered in Paris in 1988 and was last seen in London in 2000. Since then it has been performed in 23 countries, translated into 9 languages and seen by over 13 million spectators.
Notre Dame de Paris (better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was first published in 1831 and established Hugo as the premier French novelist of his day.
I’m surprised Verdi, who did wonders for Ernani and Le Roi s’amuse (Rigoletto), didn’t turn it into an opera.
Hugo, who opined “music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent,” tried to turn his novel into an opera himself. It had one performance in 1831 at the Paris Opera.
There have been 10 musical versions, including one by Lionel Bart, 9 plays and 5 ballets, including choreography by Jules Perrot and Roland Petit.
The story has three famous roles: Quasimodo, the one-eyed, lame, ugly hunchbacked bell-ringer, Esmeralda, the gypsy girl he loves, and Frollo, the lusting archdeacon of Notre Dame.
Quasimodo and Esmeralda have been played on film by Lon Chaney and Patsy Ruth Miller in 1923, Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara in 1939, Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida in 1956 and Mandy Patinkin and Salma Hayek on television in 1997.
Walt Disney made an animated cartoon version in 1996, which was modelled on Beauty and the Beast and clearly meant to transfer from screen to Broadway; but it never happened. Tom Hulce voiced Quasimodo.
However, if you don’t know what Quasimodo and Esmeralda get up to in the belfry, you are not going to find out here.
Giles Maheu’s production, aimed at young and popular audiences who go to concerts, concentrates on the spectacle rather than the story-line. The performance has bags of energy but is not emotionally involving.
Angelo Del Vecchio, who has been with the production since 2014, has sung Quasimodo in French, Italian and English. It is unfortunate that he should be so hideously costumed in baggy red; it makes him look cartoonish.
Richard Cocciante’s operatic score surges; one number follows another without a break for dialogue. Luc Plamondon’s lyrics are sung in French. There are surtitles in English. The second act opens with a history lesson sung by Frollo and the troubadour, Gringoire.
The ensemble is made up of singers, musicians, break dancers and acrobats. Martine Muller’s choreography is very energetic.
The acrobats climb the walls, somersault, roll about on mattresses, swing on bells and move beds and crash-barriers at speed. Meanwhile, two motorised blocks (with gargoyles on top of them) stalk the stage, ready to crush anybody who comes between them.
Angelo Del Vecchio, Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda and Richard Charest as Gringoire belt out the songs with confidence. The outstanding performance is by Daniel Lavoie as the lusting Frollo.