London Coliseum – until 27 January 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
I loved this fête du fromage, but probably for the wrong reasons. I imagine the conception of this bonkers musical went something like this:
The viewing world “Wow! Ireland have created the greatest Eurovision interval act of all time.” France “Hold my beer vin rouge…”
Notre Dame de Paris is the ultimate extended Eurovision feast – a classic of French literature with a message about the treatment of the “other” that producers can throw the kitchen sink at, mixing the ever so slightly edgy with cheesy tradition. All topped off with some insane choreography.
After 20 years of international success, the show returns to London for this short run at the Coliseum, but this time in French with English surtitles. Although I found it best to not read these as it may become a distraction realising how often the same line is repeated in each number. Just let the music carry you away. Fair play to Richard Cocciante, his score does just that, with most songs full of soaring crescendos, although my favourites were the dance numbers of the immigrants with their irresistible drumbeats.
Victor Hugo’s story is dealt with efficiently, making the show appear to be some sort of therapy session for all the sexually frustrated male characters. Esmeralda just seems to be within 100 yards of these men to set them off. The female equivalent of the Lynx effect? Her guardian Clopin is a bit fidgety now she has grown into a woman, and captain of the guard Phoebus, already engaged to one respectable young maiden, longs to possess Esmeralda as part of his unhealthy desire to deflower young virgins. Troubadour Gringoire, great with a rhyme but hopeless with women, marries her in name only, and priest Frollo has a serious existential crisis, getting very hot under his dog collar, teetering around like a tipsy scarecrow and making Esmeralda’s life hell. Quasimodo’s loving protection of her earns her gratitude and friendship, leaving him to moon over her and sing heartfelt love songs as he is wheeled around the stage perched on a gargoyle. It’s hard to emote when your costume makes you look like the Honey Monster dressed by Zandra Rhodes, but Angelo del Vecchio aces it.
The set is simple but creative, with a grey panelled wall full of handholds and opening doors for the cast to clamber over and emerge from. The cast are all extremely talented, with great voices, but sing out to the audience rather than to each other, making all their emoting amusing instead of moving. The staging doesn’t help the cause, having the actors stand in a row of spotlights, belting out the songs, and at the crucial emotional moment as the music surges, raising their arms (sometimes making symmetrical arrangements) like semaphore to signal THIS IS IMPORTANT. I HAVE FEELINGS RIGHT NOW!
Martino Müller’s choreography is batty but brilliant, with the dancers writhing and leaping around to the strong beat in frenzied unison. Acrobats scaling the walls and vaulting crowd barriers add to the organised chaos, and the aerial bell routine is mesmeric. If only the dancers were on stage for the whole show. A completely different style of musical to normal West End fare, and very entertaining, but I fear this glorious cheese is beginning to get a little mouldy with age.