Spectacle in two Acts with music by Richard Cocciante, book & lyrics by Luc Plamondon, adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo [performed in French with English supertitles]
Quasimodo – Angelo Del Vecchio
Esmeralda – Hiba Tawaji
Frollo – Daniel Lavoie
Gringoire – Gian Marco Schiaretti
Fleur-de-Lys – Emma Lépine
Phoebus – Yvan Pedneault
Clopin – Jay
Serge Perathoner – Musical Director
Gilles Maheu – Director
Martino Müller – Choreographer
Alain Lortie – Lighting
Christian Rätz – Set Designer
Caroline Van Assche – Costumes
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 15 July, 2022
Venue: David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York City
More than two decades after its debut in France, Notre Dame de Paris, this splashy adaptation of Victor Hugo’s saga of the Parisian underworld set in 1482, has arrived in New York. It would be a mistake to refer to it as a musical in the Broadway sense and has been performed in twenty-three countries and nine languages.
The story of the gypsy dancer Esmeralda and the three men who vie for her love – the benevolent Quasimodo, the twisted priest Frollo, and the deceitful soldier Phoebus – is presented through a series of unsophisticated and remarkably repetitive songs, which don’t always seem to be connected. There is no spoken dialogue or narration, just the musical numbers, which all start out big and get bigger and bigger – and louder and louder – as the monotonous melodies and lyrics go on and on. The key elements of Hugo’s plot are all there but not in completely logical order. For example, Act One ends with Frollo stabbing Phoebus, and then Act Two opens with Frollo and the troubadour Gringoire singing about ideas that have changed the World.
Gilles Maheu presents the extravaganza in rock concert style. The seven singers, wearing highly visible boom microphones, mostly stand center downstage or pace back and forth across its width, while a troupe of dancers, acrobats, and break-dancers deliver hyperactive visual excitement. A sixteen-member string orchestra led by Matthew Brind is augmented by a prerecorded soundtrack of additional musicians and singers. The sound quality is exceedingly poor – so loud and mushy that it’s often hard to understand the words being sung.
The seven principals give the production their all. As Esmeralda, Hiba Tawaji sings well enough but falls short on magnetism. As Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame, the role he originated, Daniel Lavoie effortlessly delivers his numbers. Angelo Del Vecchio is an excessively tortured and deeply throated Quasimodo, and Yvan Pedneault is a perfectly self-absorbed Phoebus. As the poet of the streets Gringoire, Gian Marco Schiaretti is a handsome and charismatic presence. Emma Lépine is in fine voice as the unlikeable Fleur-de-Lys, as is Jay as the leader of the Court of Miracles’ band of outcasts. It’s hard to judge the performers’ acting ability as the show requires barely any interaction. They make their entrances (mostly solo), face the audience, sing, and leave.
Christian Rätz’s single, multi-purpose set consists of a cathedral rampart – which doubles as a rock-climbing wall equipped with moving parts, including several monolithic columns, two of them surmounted by giant gargoyles. Combined with Alain Lortie’s dramatic lighting and Caroline Van Assche’s colorful, mostly contemporary-styled costumes, the production often looks attractive, in a rock musical sort of way.
The best thing is the dancing. While it does little to enhance the story, Martino Müller’s wildly energetic choreography is impressive, frequently breathtaking. The dedicated acrobats, dancers, and breakers not only dance; they perform an astonishing array of hair-raising stunts. The show is a hefty two-and-a-half hours long, and there’s barely a moment when no one is running manically across the stage, doing a handspring or a cartwheel, or writhing upside down from inside a giant bell. To those who enjoy visually exciting dance sequences, the show is worth seeing. To those who are looking for storytelling with subtlety and depth, it is not.
At the Koch Theater until July 23