Gilles Maheu’s production emphasises the powerful nature of the story – but ends up getting too carried away with itself.
To have two musicals based on Victor Hugo’s novels in London at the same time is certainly an exciting prospect – even if this French musical version of Notre Dame de Paris is only on until the weekend.
Sung entirely in French, Gilles Maheu’s production is vibrantly colourful and consistently interesting to watch visually – but there are moments in which the production tends to get carried away with an explosion of ideas that don’t always tend to merge well together.
However, there is much pleasure to be found in some of the key elements of the show – particularly in the poetic and romantic music and lyrics written by Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon that come across relatively well in the English translated surtitles and play a strong reminder of the dark element to the story. The music in particular is dramatic and emotive, enhancing the story well, with Hiba Tawaji’s rendition of ‘Ave Maria Paien’ proving to be a particular highlight.
Maheo’s production impresses in the way he highlights just how the story can be relatable to today with regards to the refugees seeking asylum at Notre Dame – which can be seen during ‘L’Attaque de Notre-Dame’ that has been choreographed perfectly to capture the sense of desperation
Meanwhile, Christian Ratz’s set is impressively spectacular and contemporary in style, with plenty of room for Martino Muller’s lively choreography to take centre stage. The grandeur of it all shows Maheu’s intent to showcase the power and passion of the story.
However, this is what let’s the production down – it is so busy trying to impress with the numerous acrobatics and choreography (which doesn’t always fit with the style and tone of the music), that it becomes a little overwhelming and distracting, losing some of the sincerity in the story and characters. The production is at its best when it is stripped back and simple, concentrating on developing the characters and the story.
On the other side of this, there are some undeniably passionate performances from the cast. In particular, Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda is utterly convincing as the gypsy caught up in a situation beyond her control – by equal turns she is playful and spirited, conveyed through her strong and controlled vocals. Elsewhere, Daniel Lavoie also puts in a strong performance as Frollo – capturing his conflict about being morally upright while expressing his desire for Esmeralda beautifully, while Jay as Clopin appears to be the most comfortable and natural on the stage. It is a real shame that vocally Angelo Del Vecchio as Quasimodo at times seems to lose control over his vocals, particularly towards the end of songs as there is a rawness in his portrayal that works extremely well.
It is fair to say that this is a bold and confident production with some charismatic performances. However, at the same time it feels slightly overambitious that can affect the overall impact that the story and characters have on the audience. An interesting interpretation of a classic story.
By Emma Clarendon