Review of Notre Dame de Paris in Korea - February 2015

Monday, February 02, 2015

Yesterday I was at one of the shows for the 10th-year anniversary tour of Notre Dame de Paris in Korea. The first tour done in French here was in 2005, hence the 10th year anniversary.

This was the first time seeing it live after seeing the original many times on YouTube, so this review will be both a review of the current cast as well as the changes that have taken place in the overall makeup of the musical since the late 90s.

As you can see from this image, each character has at least two people playing it. I thought maybe each show would be either all actors on the left followed by all actors on the right on certain days, but it's a mix of both on each day. The one I saw had Myriam Brousseau as Esmeralda, Matt Laurent as Quasimodo, Robert Marien as Frollo, John Eyzen as Gringoire, Yvan Pedneault as Phoebus, Stephanie Schlesser as Fleur-de-Lys, and Roddy Julienne as Clopin. Since I flew across the Pacific partly for this, I got a ticket front row and centre.

Here's one video of the Korean performance with about half of the actors the ones I mentioned. Gringoire, Quasimodo, Clopin, Phoebus are the ones I saw, Frollo and Esmeralda are different.

So let's begin. The review will go along with the chronological order of the performance itself. Since I'm detailing the way I felt at every moment I won't bother giving it any stars or points out of ten, but suffice to say I enjoyed every minute of it, it felt much too short, and I was sad to see it finish.

Gringoire comes out and Le Temps des Cathedrales begins. I'm a big fan of the original Gringoire (Bruno Pelletier) so I expected to be disappointed with John Eyzen. Objectively his voice isn't as good but in spite of it I found myself liking this other Gringoire quite quickly. If you look at the videos of Le Mot Phoebus you'll see a lot of comments below asking why Esmeralda didn't simply stay with Gringoire because Pelletier is quite possibly better looking than the other characters she falls for...maybe a little bit too charming. Eyzen's Gringoire comes across as a bit more of a prince des rues de Paris as he calls himself, and maybe fits the character Gringoire itself a bit better because of that. Anyway, Gringoire gets my approval here.

There is a curtain behind Gringoire where the gargoyles start to appear and it gives the effect for a bit that the movement behind the curtains is actually just 3-D imagery, which would have been disappointing. But no, the curtain rises and they are on a full-sized stage. Whew.

Next song begins, and there's Clopin. This Clopin is quite growly and I like him too. Apparently it's also Roddy's last day after doing Clopin for over a decade, so I got to see him on his last day.

Le Sans-papiers is way better live. Since French is one of my L2s a song like this can tend to be uninteresting watched on video but live it's much, much better. The repetition is actually what makes the song great and watching it live it's almost a shame it's not a few minutes longer.

Out comes Frollo and tells Phoebus to expel the sans-papiers. Esmeralda is going to make an appearance soon...but all of a sudden Esmeralda is dancing in front of the audience with the Bohémienne song playing, the first major change I noticed. And this Esmeralda is very underwhelming. Her voice is okay, but it doesn't have any of Hélène Ségara's almost raspiness, or maybe liltingness, if that's a word. She also looks too old for the part, too big, and not exotic. Basically looks like somebody you'd see as a coworker in a regular company in Canada who happens to have a professionally-trained voice. I am not getting the feeling that three men are going to fall for this girl.

Esmeralda tu sais - this song has been changed a bit too. Esmeralda sings (feels more like steals) some of the lines, and instead of ending with rien n'est plus comme ends with à l'age de l'amour. I don't like that. À l'age de l'amour really isn't the point of the song, it's that because of reaching l'age de l'amour that rien ne sera plus comme avant. This song is supposed to end with a hint of coming tragedy and instead they end it by stressing her age.

Ces diamants-là - this one is done well. Schlesser is no Julie Zenatti, but that can't be helped. She does a respectable job as Fleur-de-Lys and looks like her too. Pednault seems a fine choice for Phoebus too.

La Fête des fous - I like this song. Lots of energy in this one too. Out comes Quasimodo at the end, and...

Le Pape des fous - now Quasimodo is singing for the first time. Laurent does a great job as Quasimodo, a role he's been doing for 16 years now. You can see why. One change here from the original: when he's singing Esmeralda is giving him a lot more disrespect, as well as the people around him. Quasimodo chases them away from time to time as he sings. I don't know enough about the actual Pape des fous from the book to know which one is closer but this one probably is. Doesn't seem like a truly respected position.

La Sorcière - Frollo's first real song. Marien's voice is overly strong, always seems like he's doing an opera when the rest are doing a musical. It's something you get used to reasonably soon but I could have used a lot less reverbation from Frollo. To his credit Marien does a better job acting than Lavoie did. Then l'Enfant trouvé starts and Laurent nails it.

Les Portes de Paris - I think they shortened this one by a verse? This one went by really fast and Gringoire was in front of the screen the whole time. You could see the Paris street people behind him through the screen though.

Tentative d'enlèvement - here's where you start to see Frollo's good acting. He gets frustrated that Quasimodo got caught and runs off in annoyance.

La Cour des miracles - I've always liked Clopin on the raised beam in this song, and they do it here too. Gringoire doesn't struggle at all when they grab him, he walks right into the bag to get hanged. Not sure if they do that every time or if they just messed up on the timing a bit here. Some minor changes take place that I don't like though: first Gringoire sings some of Clopin's lines, like Les poetes en France sont bons pour la potence. That one's better as Clopin's line, no? Why would Gringoire say that about himself when he's just been caught? And then instead of Clopin saying je te le donne pour marie mais certes pas pour amant, Esmeralda says that: Je le prends pour marie mais certes pas pour amant. Actually looking into the original a bit more it looks like this is what was actually done, with Esmeralda saying she would marry him just to save his life. No problem then.

Le mot Phoebus - very slight change here where Gringoire shrugs and gives up when Esmeralda starts singing about Phoebus. In the original the light around him just darkens and it feels more like we are sinking into the mind of Esmeralda and Fleur-de-Lys as they start to sing. Both versions are good.

Déchiré - much more effective live. On YouTube the dancers seem a bit funny, live they look like they are tormenting him.

Anarkia, à boire - same as the original. Well done.

Belle - same as the original except Quasimodo is standing while still chained to the wheel.

Ma maison, c'est ta maison - also the same.

Ave Maria païen - same. Still not used to this Esmeralda even after all this time, that's the problem. Not that I didn't enjoy the song.

Here there is a bit of a change with Quasimodo coming out and talking a bit, then Frollo sings tu vas me détruire which has been clipped short - the je sens ma vie qui bascule part has been cut out. Since I'm not too attached to this Frollo it doesn't matter too much.

L'Ombre - nice! This one looks great on stage.

Le Val d'amour begins in the same way here too, right after Phoebus sings par Dieu....!

But then after le Val d'amour ends things get a bit weird. In the original Esmeralda is waiting there for Phoebus with a knife, understandably tense because she's waiting for a man she hardly knows in a place of ill repute. But this time, as soon as Phoebus sees her they grab hands and spin around each other once or twice. A bit childish, and if Esmeralda doesn't have a knife here that's going to make her later explanation of what happened with the knife a bit weird. I guess we can just imagine that she had a knife somewhere but why not show it, along with her state of mind while waiting for him? The original was much better here. There's also some hugging on the bed while singing. Kind of weird.

Then Phoebus is stabbed and Fatalité begins. Good, and same as the original.

Break time! I go to get my present and return to my seat. Part 2 begins.

Florence - good. Same as the original. Of course the Frollo reverbation is strong as always.

Les Cloches - this one's great live. From Quasimodo's voice to the er...creatures in and on top of the bells, it's very entertaining.

Où est-elle? - good. I like Frollo's hand motion and scornful look when he says ne fais pas de pirouettes.

Les oiseaux qu'on met en cage - I like this one, and realize I like this Esmeralda better at a distance. Also getting used to her voice by now. Quasimodo is great as always.

Condamnés - good.

Le procès, torture, etc. - lots of changes here, and this time I actually like them. First Esmeralda is being questioned, this time they have her tied up and she is struggling and I have no problems with that change. After that she is tortured, the torture stops after she confesses, they throw her in the cage...and now Frollo starts to sing instead of Esmeralda. That's actually a good change. You can tell he's disgusted with himself for what he's just done, while Esmeralda right after being thrown in the cage probably wouldn't be in a state of mind to start singing for Phoebus to come save her right away. And so after Frollo is done, Esmeralda, who has had a few minutes to think about where she is, starts singing for Phoebus to come and that feels more right.

After that comes La Monture, right? No, and this is a change I really disliked. First Phoebus sings Je reviens vers toi. What makes that weird is that in Je reviens vers toi he mentions that the Gypsy has been condemned to death (so everything's okay now, we can be together again), but if he has already said that, why does Fleur-de-Lys after that then come out and ask her to be put to death in La Monture? And when La Monture begins we have Phoebus sitting there feeling ashamed of himself when we know Phoebus is not that sort of character. So now la Monture has changed from an expression of the state of mind of Fleur-de-Lys to just her harranguing a remorseful Phoebus.

Un matin tu dansais - the changes here are good. Frollo is more aggressive, and Esmeralda is having troubles trying to push him away when Quasimodo bursts in. Libérés starts, one of my favourite songs. Quasimodo plus Gringoire and all the rest singing in unison is great.

Lune - this has always been my favourite song of the musical. Was a bit worried Eyzen wouldn't hit the three high notes here (luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnnne), but he does. Very nice.

Je te laisse un sifflet, Dieu que le monde est injuste, vivre - good, same as the original. Well, je te laisse un sifflet has a bit more talking.

L'Attaque de Notre Dame, Déportés - Esmeralda tries to get Phoebus to help her and he rejects her (Fleur-de-Lys is watching). I'm fine with that change. She's probably feeling a bit desperate at the moment.

After that everything else is exactly the same. Quasimodo is shown Esmeralda's execution by Frollo. Kind of too bad that they don't show a greater distance between him and Esmeralda in either the original or the current production. The way they are placed on the stage it always looks like Quasimodo could just hop down and save her in a few seconds at any moment. Maybe if they put Frollo and Quasimodo a bit higher up and to the right, added a few more guards, something like that to show that Quasimodo can only stand there and watch it happen.

Danse mon Esmeralda - whoops, one of the 'spirits' in the back collided with another for a second there. Watch those ropes. Besides that everything was carried out as expected.

And then after that the lights go out, they come back on stage and there is a lot of applause, they sing Le Temps des cathédrales one more time, lots and lots of applause, the show is over, and the theatre employees give you about five minutes to get out of there. Then we all walked out blinking into the sudden sunlight.


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