Notre Dame de Paris – The Musical

2012 is the Italian 10th anniversary of one of the most successful musicals in the world – Notre Dame de Paris, originally written in French, with original lyrics by the French-Canadian artist Luc Plamondon and music by the Italian singer Riccardo Cocciante.  The Italian version lyrics are by Pasquale Panella. Only in Italy, there have been 842 shows and 2.500.000 paying spectators.

In 2002, the Italian edition won 5 IMTA (Italian Musical Theater Award) prizes for Best Production, Best Direction, Best Scenography, Best Choreography, and Best Costumes. In 2003, it received 5 more prizes at the first edition of the “Musical! Awards”- Best Show, Best Corps De Ballet, and again Best Scenography, Choreography and Costumes. Plus, two nominations for Best Female Performer and Best Supporting Actor.

According to The Guinness Book of Records, the show had the most successful first year of any musical ever. It is also considered one of the best adaptations of a novel, together with The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. Since its debut in Paris in 1998, the play has been translated and played in several languages, and Italy, France, Russia, Switzerland, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and Belgium all appreciated the musical.

The show features many talented artists, and different casts alternating on the huge stage – it is Italy’s biggest one (38x16m). The costumes have been designed by Fred Sathal, an extremely gifted Parisian stylist, and are crucial in defining the characters – they are minimal, yet extremely descriptive. The make-up is impressive, quite eccentric and complex, especially in Quasimodo’s case, and requires dramatic eyeliner and bold colors, so to help the actors in conveying their emotions; it also shows their status. Gypsies wear an extremely colorful and exotic make-up that almost looks like tribe paint; Frollo’s face is a powerful, dark mask, while Esmeralda and Fleur-De-Lys wear the lightest make-up. Quasimodo on the other hand wears the heaviest make-up, which completely alters the actor’s facial features.

This show, it goes without saying, is inspired by Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Notre Dame de Paris, published in 1831 and known in English-speaking countries with the title “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.  Thanks to Disney, most people know the main characters, but the story has actually been modified so much that only some of the main characteristics, motifs and facts have been maintained. In fact, the original story is much darker than Disney’s version, and there’s no happy ending at all. As the musical is true to the original story, prepare your hankie…!

The play opens with the song Le Temps des Cathédrales, in which the poetsans papiers. It is Clopin Trouillefou, king of gypsies, who with powerful voice describes his people, and asks for asylum in Notre Dame. But this right will be refused by the archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo, who orders Phoebus de Chateaupers, captain of the King’s archers, to chase away those people. He obeys, but his attention is caught by the beautiful gipsy Esmeralda, who dances in the street under the close watch of Clopin, her protector, who was entrusted by her dying mother to be her guardian. She tells the captain and the audience about her story. The gipsy warns the girl: she’s not a child anymore; she must pay attention to men, because not all of them are trustworthy.

And he’s right, because Phoebus only wants a night of passion, and is actually already formally engaged with a young, spiteful noble woman, Fleur-De-Lys De Gondelaurier, who is jealous and possessive, because she understands too well what kind of man Phoebus is.

In a moment, the scene changes – the Feast of Fool is coming! Gringoire announces it while gipsy dancers fill the stage and prepare the festival, in which the man who can pull the ugliest face will be elected Pope of Fools. Hiding in a corner someone observes the scene – but the gypsies see him and drag him in the chaos. He’s the hunchbacked, deformed Quasimodo, bell-ringer of Notre Dame. He wins the crown for his incredibly hideous face, and just for that day, he wishes to be loved by Esmeralda. But all of a sudden Frolloshows up and orders Quasimodo to bring him Esmeralda, who is accused of sorcery and public indecency. The hunchback, who has been raised by the priest, obeys, and tries to kidnap her at night. He’s about to seize her when Phoebus arrives and arrests him. The soldier and the gypsy set a date for the following night, but don’t notice that Frollo, mad with jealousy, also hears about their rendezvous.

In the meantime, Gringoire arrives at the Court of Miracles, where all the beggars, fortune tellers, thieves and unwanted of Paris take shelter. He is in danger – Clopin wants him to be hanged, as he’s not one of them and yet dared to get into the Court. But he offers him a possibility – if a girl will take him as husband, he will let him live. His faith seems decided, when Esmeralda finally arrives and saves him, even if she immediately states that she will never love him, as her heart has been taken by Phoebus, who wants both Fleur-De-Lys and Esmeralda.

Quasimodo is tortured on a wheel, and cries for some water. Nobody helps him but Esmeralda, who takes pity on him, and encouraged by Clopin, gets him some water in a bowl and comforts him. Finally unchained, he sings his love with Phoebus and Frollo. The three men bear different desires – Quasimodo desired to protect her from evil, and offers his pure, untainted love; Phoebus is fascinated by her, but doesn’t really love her – he only desires to make love to her before his marriage with Fleur-De-Lys; while dark Frollo accuses her of taking him away from God, and explains his mad, toxic passion tinted with lust.

The scene changes again – Quasimodo offers Esmeralda asylum in the cathedral, to thank her for her kindness. At first, she is frightened by his grotesque appearance and by the stone monsters in the church, but she quickly understands that the hunchback is kind and gentle, and just wants to protect her. Frollo, who observes the girl in her sleep, is going crazy under the pressure of his insane obsession towards Esmeralda, who represents a temptation that could destroy his iron restraint and chastity. He follows Phoebus in the streets, and threatens him, but can’t make him renounce to the date with Esmeralda in the shady Val D’Amour, a nightclub where lovers and prostitutes meet.

The two are on a bed, and they are about to make love, but Frollo, mad with jealousy, is waiting in the room, and stabs the captain. Esmeralda is then accused of the murder, imprisoned and tortured.

Therefore, Quasimodo is suffering, and he doesn’t ring Notre Dame bells anymore. But he sings for them, and explains how he uses them for different occasions. It is a spectacular scene, in which dancers are suspended from huge bells.

Esmeralda is kept in a cage, and cries for help, calling Quasimodo, who wonders where she is. Clopin is organizing a revolt to free her, and he fights the guards with his companions, but they are won and imprisoned. Esmeralda is processed and tortured. She tries to defend herself from the accusation of murder and witchcraft, but she’s framed and sentenced to hanging by Frollo himself, who still desires her. Phoebus defends himself in front of his fiancée Fleur-De-Lys, who promises him her love in change of Esmeralda’s death.

It is now the daybreak and Frollo goes to see the girl one last time, finally declaring his desperate, obsessed love, circling like a wild beast the cage Esmeralda is in. He finally enters it, offering to save her from death, if she gives herself to him. She refuses, and he tries to force her, but Quasimodo frees the gypsies and Clopin, who runs to save her.

The faithful hunchback hides Esmeralda in Notre Dame, giving her a whistle to call him at any moment. He suffers because she will never love him, but he sadly understands that he’s nothing for the world, and a monster to her eyes.