Review: Notre Dame de Paris, as performed in Istanbul
Written by By Ipek Kozanoglu
As I went back home to Istanbul over the spring break, I had the chance to watch the Notre Dame de Paris musical. With a rich variety of slow and dynamic, fast-paced songs, it has always been one of my favourites ever since I first watched the 1998 filmed version in France. It definitely was a dream to watch the music live and on stage, an opportunity which only came about in 2018.
The musical was on a reboot for the first time since 1998. A new group and company of actors and dancers were touring France, Russia, Turkey and Canada to perform the musical in all its splendour. Thankfully the dates that they were performing in Turkey coincided with my holiday and I was granted the opportunity to watch the musical first hand, in its original French language. The musical had been a hit since 1998, the videos of the performance still attract many views on Youtube today.
The musical is based on Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame written in 1831. Riccardo Cocciante and Luc Plamandon have enriched the story with their original lyrics and music and for almost 20 years, bewitched audiences with popular songs such as 'Belle' and 'Le Temps des Cathedralés'. The musical earned itself a place in the Guinness World Records in 1998 for being the most watched musical of its time. As it carried such a powerful reputation, it was a great pleasure to be able to watch it live. The summary of the plot will be very familiar to those who know the 1996 Disney cartoon version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The story takes place in Paris in 1482 and revolves around a gypsy girl called Esmeralda and the tormentative love which three other characters have for her: the priest of Notre Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo, a hunchback who the priest looks after, and church's security guard, Phoebus (the figure who Esmeralda is actually in love with). Throughout the story, each character poses interesting questions regarding God, religion and love.
The show consisted of two acts. The first act had a variety of well-known and dynamic songs starting with 'Le Temps des Cathédrales', 'Les Sans-Papiers', 'Déchiré' and 'Belle', while the second act was slower, and contained more dramatic and emotional songs such as 'Etre Pretre et Aimer une Femme', 'La Monture', 'Lune', 'Vivre' and 'Danse Mon Esmeralda'. Overall the musical had a very dynamic, energetic, young, hot-blooded cast with actors and dancers from a variety of places: France, Lebanon, Italy and Canada. Esmeralda played by Helene Segara, Frollo by Danie Lavoie, Pheobus by Patrick Fiori, Gringoire by Bruno Pelletier and Quasimodo by Garou were replaced by Hiba Tawaji, Robert Marien, Martin Giroux, Richard Charest and Angelo Del Vecchio respectively. The cast was incredibly lively, and the dynamic energy they emanated throughout the play captivated and amazed the entire audience until the musical's conclusion. The dances were richly choreographed and detailed to the point where it became almost impossible to catch and observe every, single detail. The show included a variety of props and a set which moved in synchronisation with the music. From the music to the set, the atmosphere was buzzing with an energy which did not let the audience doze off, even for a minute. One of my favourite songs from the musical, 'Déchiré', was sung by the character Phoebus (and was performed by the French singer Martin Giroux). The emotion and the pain the character felt was very well reflected in the song by Giroux. The choreography of the scene was excellent as well with various dancer performing in the background. Another favourite moment of mine was in the second act, in the song 'Les Cloches'. The use of props was mesmerizing in this scene as actual men hung down from inside the bells used in the song.
Overall the musical did not disappoint in any way, it was a wonderful, enchanting experience which I certainly shan't forget. Clearly the enthusiasm of the 1998 show was not lost and perhaps it was even amplified 20 years on. I definitely recommend it, if the opportunity ever presents itself. If not you can always watch the first French performance on DVD.
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