Monday, January 20, 2014

Notre Dame's Rich Tapestry

Dear Muse,

About a month ago, Band3 sent me a surprising music-related e-mail. 

Granted, he's sent me music-related e-mails before, so that part wasn't surprising. The part that was surprising was that instead of pop music, Band3 was recommending a stage musical. Normally, Band3 tells me that he's not a big fan of musicals. But what else can you call Notre Dame de Paris?

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

A bit of background: Notre Dame de Paris is a sung-through French/French-Canadian musical that debuted in 1998 in Paris. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the musical was incredibly successful when it came out, and has since been performed in various countries around the world. And yet, I had never even heard of the show before Band3 sent me that e-mail. 

(By the way, the reason I didn't tell you about this musical before now is that I didn't actually listen to it until a week ago. I could say it's because I wasn't eager to sit through the 2-hour-long video recording Band3 included, but that would just be an excuse for blatant procrastination. And seeing as it was much better than I expected, I really don't have a good excuse at all. No offense, Band3 - sometimes I'm just lazy.)

Anyway, when I finally did watch Notre Dame de Paris.... IT. WAS. SENSATIONAL. The best way to describe it is that it's like a mix of Cirque du Soleil and Les Misérables. The dancers are phenomenal, the staging is breathtaking and grandiose, and the scope is just... huge. I was particularly impressed with how the songs made the story more engrossing, considering that the musical follows the depressing plot of Victor Hugo's novel more closely than that of the happier Disney movie

Most of all, I loved the performers. Lesser known characters like the poet Gringoire, Clopin, and Fleur-de-Lys stand out just as much with their songs as Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Phoebus and Frollo do. Every character has a great solo to sing, and some (like Esmeralda) have more than one. Every singer's voice is powerful, and every person adds a different color to the rich tapestry of Notre Dame

Major characters clockwise from top left: Esmeralda; Quasimodo; Phoebus; the poet/narrator Gringoire (center); Fleur-de-Lys; Clopin; Frollo. 

While Band3 and I agree on the vibrancy of the performers' voices, our personal song preferences slightly differ. He appears to prefer more ostentatious show-stoppers like Gringoire's "Le Temps des Cathédrales." Although I concur that anything with Bruno Pelletier (Gringoire) in it is awesome, I prefer Esmeralda's "Bohémienne" and "Vivre" and Phoebus' "Déchiré." In particular, I love large-scale songs with lots of Cirque du Soleil-esque choreography, such as "La Fete des Fous" and "La Cour des Miracles." Not to mention that Luck Mervil (Clopin) makes any big number he's in a joy to watch. 

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

With so many good qualities to think about, I suppose the only nitpicks I have to make about Notre Dame involve its second act and the characters of Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys. 

Unfortunately, Notre Dame falls into the category of "shows where all the major sing-along numbers are in Act I." You know how in certain shows Act I has all the big musical numbers, whereas Act II has maybe one or two good numbers but mostly reprises the songs you heard in Act I? Notre Dame doesn't exactly reprise songs in its second act, but it is similar to the aforementioned types of shows because the songs in Act II aren't as memorable or as catchy as those in Act I. I can think of only one I actually liked from Act II, and that's Esmeralda's "Vivre." The rest were kind of forgettable.

My second nitpick involves Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys being thoroughly unlikeable characters. OK, they had a pretty duet in "Ces Diamants-La", but other than that they are two of the biggest jerks in the show. I guess I get angrier at them than I do at Frollo because I expected Frollo to be the bad guy from the beginning. However, I didn't expect for Phoebus to be so backstabbing as to sentence Esmeralda to death after he has an affair with her, or Fleur-de-Lys to be so petty and hateful that she wants Esmeralda dead so she can have Phoebus all to herself. In fact, when they walked offstage hand-in-hand at the end, all I could think was, "Good. You two deserve each other, because you're both horrible people." 

All things considered, if you want to form your own opinion of Notre Dame de Paris, watch the Youtube video of the complete musical below. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised, or enhance your French comprehension. Or both. Either way, I hope you like the show as much as I now do.

                                                                                          'Till next time,