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Treat yourself to Mediterranean sounds against a stunning backdrop
Notre Dame de Paris
Member Name: chris105
Notre Dame de Paris
Date: 22/01/01, updated on 29/06/01 (106 review reads)
Advantages: Mediterranean sounds, haunting tunes, the set
Disadvantages: ticket prices, translated lyrics
The set. The choreography/acrobatics. The music. Ok, so that would pretty much sum up any musical, but in the case of Notre Dame de Paris, these were what made me sit up and pay attention. Though being no particular fan of Riccardo Cocciante(1), I appreciate his music and was curious to see how his pop regime translated to a West End musical.
[ (1) Riccardo Cocciante is a leading Italian pop "cantautore", meaning singer/songwriter, with the added flair of being extremely popular in France, too - a rare accomplishment for any Italian artist short of Sophia Loren! ]
I wasn't disappointed. The Mediterranean roots of the music were so very evident, making it stand out from most of the other West End musicals with a (sigh! humphh! - dare I say predictable?... oops, I've said it) English/American sound. Cocciante's music was rich and atmospheric, with some numbers obviously stronger than others. The original lyrics are by Luc Plamondon, in the West End version obviously translated into English.
I absolutely disagree with some reviews that claimed the music was weak. I rather thought there were some good tunes, and a few haunting songs that went down well with the audience. The coup de grace was of course "The Age of the Cathedrals". Some other personal favourites are "Belle", a duo with two powerful yet different male voices singing Esmeralda's praises/haunts. For pure spine-chilling cruelty coated in sugary-sweet verses, "My Heart If You Will Swear" is hard to beat - just listen to the words...
Since watching the show (and since writing the original version of this op) I've bought the CD with the original cast recording. And oooh if it brought back memories... I'd go back any day. In fact, on a next visit to London I'll probably book another seat.
Speaking of seats, the ticket prices are somewhat pricey - I was lucky to get half-price tickets from the Leiceste
r Square booth (and without queueing, it was late afternoon), but otherwise it would have been veeeeeery expensive, with tickets maxing out at £37.50.
But let's get back to the juice. The scenery (or set, I'm always confused as to what the proper term is... anyone please enlighten me), so simple in concept yet so detailed and grand, was another big plus to the show. Basically, most of the action took place in the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and we only ever saw a few slabs of the walls - but HUGE slabs which gave an oh-so-clear impression of the vastness of the Cathedral. This reinforced the idea of the characters as mere bit-players whose lives and loves run their course and are generally transient and small. The use of the slabs to recreate different areas of the church was also ingenious, especially the scene where stained-glass-windows-lighting and a moved slab shifted the action to the inside of the Cathedral.
Then there was the choreography. Maximum use was made of the stage, in the form of using both horizontal and vertical levels. Yes, action was spread out not only throughout the floor, but vertically across the slab-background and with synchronised moves from dancers suspended in mid-air. The exits into the orchestra pit also added that further dimension to the action. Rarely have I been so impressed with musicals' choreography. The dance was completely three-dimensional, seemingly magical with actors floating in mid-air and suspended against the mighty Cathedral.
All in all an unusual musical, with haunting melodies and fantastic actors bringing depth to the characters. If you happen to be in London and have a free evening, I heartily recommend this musical to anyone appreciative of Mediterranean sounds and suggestive scenery. Just sit down in your seat, relax and be prepared for a night of musicals' heaven.