Notre Dame de Paris
Reviewed – 23rd January 2019
“At no point is there any moment of true pathos, which is saying something, given the material”
As the enormous glossy souvenir programme proclaims on its cover, Notre Dame de Paris is an ‘international musical phenomenon’, and this production, at the Coliseum, sees it celebrate its 20th anniversary. Inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, set in Paris in 1482, the musical tells the well-known story of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. Esmeralda is a beautiful gypsy who lives in the grounds of Notre Dame, along with many other ‘etrangers’ seeking sanctuary. She bewitches all the men around her – the evil Frollo, archdeacon of the cathedral; the cavalier and ladies man, Phoebus, already engaged to another; and, of course, Quasimodo, the facially and bodily disfigured bell-ringer. After stabbing Phoebus, and framing Esmeralda, Frollo imprisons her and sentences her to death unless she pledges to love him. She refuses and is hanged, at which point, Quasimodo, enraged and in despair, hurls Frollo down the steps of the tower to his death.
Hugo’s is an operatic plot, and the Coliseum seems a suitable stage on which to play out this most emotive of dramas. What a shame then, that the staging, music and acting on display are so soulless and banal. Richard Cocciante’s score has no light and shade, so that all the songs blend into one endless 80s power ballad. This isn’t helped by the complete lack of emotional connection common to all the key performers. At no point is there any moment of true pathos, which is saying something, given the material. Gilles Maheu’s direction is pedestrian and unimaginative, and the evening feels much more like an overblown 80s superstar gig than a musical, with the soloists more often than not centre stage, with some showy but meaningless choreography behind them.
The dancers in the show would be better described as acrobats, and the razzle-dazzle set-pieces that dominate this production – Feast of Fools, for example – raise cheers from the audience celebrating feats of physical prowess more usually seen at the circus, or in a gymnastics display. Similarly, the singers can all belt out the numbers, but without the acting chops to give them any meaning. Unless you are a rock fan, with a love of big, brash, commercial spectacle, this show is devoid of interest.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Patrick Carpentier
Notre Dame de Paris
London Coliseum until 27th January