David H. Koch Theater, New York, NY.
July 16, 2022.
Premiering in 1998, the French mega-hit musical, Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), is just now making its NYC debut, 24 years later, as something of a marvel. This globe-trotting show has been seen in 23 countries and translated into eight languages but lands in Lincoln Center for its first American performance with a cast of 30, performing the two-and-a-half hour show in French.
There’s a lot to keep track of with this show. The story, told countless times before, is a complex telling of the age-old tale. Simpler versions confine the plot to the plight of Quasimodo and his love of Esmerelda, but this version tries to introduce the deeper context of 15th century French literature.
For the uninitiated (read: not one of the many mega-fans I spied in the audience), it’s hard to know what to make of it all. To be clear, this show is a spectacle in every sense of the word.
Power-ballad after power-ballad propel the story forward. Dancers climb the sets and backflip constantly. Coupled with the singing in French (with English translation screens on each side of the stage), it was hard to know what to pay attention to.
The show runs like it’s been in production for the last quarter of a century, and there aren’t any kinks that haven’t been worked out. But it also feels like its age – it’s one of those shows imbedded with the cultural tendencies of the era in which it was born. As an education in late ‘90s musical theater, it provides a worthy example. For some, it’s a dream come true to have it play in the United States after so long, and for others, it’s a trip down memory lane to a time when decadence in theater ruled the day. For all, it’s a classic tale of the heart and the many paths love leads us down.
By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.