Notre Dame de Paris is not a musical. It is promoted as a ‘musical spectacular’, and indeed, it is more of a pop-rock concert with songs that are more of ‘inspired by’ the story of Victor Hugo’s classic novel than a traditional musical. Hence despite all the singing and exciting dance and acrobatic sequences on stage, unless you are familiar with the tragic story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, you never really get a clear idea of what is happening on stage, or why the characters do what they do.
This is a pity, as some of the music by Riccardo Cocciante is pretty good, even though they do sound similar after a while. The lyrics by Luc Plamondon and Will Jennings (who wrote the English lyrics) did little to tell the story clearly. The songs are merely snapshots, and therefore you have song after song of repetitive, generic lyrics that does little to move the story forward. As a result, you never really feel anything for the characters on stage, and all the characters come across as one-dimensional.
The story is about an ugly hunchback Quasimodo who rings the bells of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, and his hopeless devotion to the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. However, Esmeralda is in love with the good looking soldier, Phoebus. Unknown to them, the priest, Follo, who has been accusing Esmeralda of being a sorceress, lusts after her as well, and wants to either have her or destroy her. Thrown into the mix is Gringoire, the poet, who observes the events as it unfolds.
Despite its flaws, the performers are generally up to task, and they do their best in singing the challenging music and really doing what they can to bring across their underwritten roles. The only quip I have with the performers is their diction. Most of them are Europeans, and in many parts of the show, I can’t make out what they are singing. The one that rose above this problem is Gringoire, who soared with his beautiful tenor voice and good diction.
However, the real stars of the show are the dancers, whose acrobatic dance sequences will take your breath away. It is as if the director, Gilles Maheu, decided that spectacle is more important than story-telling, and he keeps the stage as busy as possible. The energetic choreography by Martino Muller is visually stunning, and the hardworking dancers not only dances, and but do breathtaking stunts like backflips, summersaults and even breakdancing moves. In fact, throughout the show, there is always someone flipping somewhere or hanging dangerously from gigantic bells performing stunts.
The show is probably worth watching for its high production values and visually exciting dance sequences, but read up on the story on Wikipedia first before you go.