It seemed as if nothing could replace “The Phantom of the Opera” as the most-watched musical.
Then the “Notre Dame de Paris” happened.
The 1998 French musical, based on Victor Hugo’s epic 19th-century novel (as in the 1996 Disney animated film), had its New York premiere last summer at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
I saw him twice then, and when he returned this summer, twice more; A fifth viewing of the closing performance is scheduled for Sunday in New York. And I am not finished: while I am in Paris this fall, I shall see him twice in his original theatre, the Palais des Congrès, on its twenty-fifth anniversary.
As a theatergoer, I rarely go to the same production twice. (A recent exception was the Broadway revival of A Doll’s House, starring Jessica Chastain on a charming, understated walk of self-discovery.)
And after seeing Notre Dame de Paris on the first, a second viewing was not necessary. The musical, sung in French with English subtitles, follows the beautiful Esmeralda and the three men who compete to win her love: the gentle hunchback Quasimodo; Crooked Archdeacon Frollo; and the selfish soldier Phoebus.
The production has a copious serving of ear candy-like ballads dotted among the more than 50 songs (!), but parts of them were also cheesy. a A song discussing the advantages of the printing press At the top of the second act cliffhanger ending after I? (I guess they had to let at least one Hugo brand remain there!) Frollo got down on one knee because he was so overwhelmed by his desire for Esmeralda? Gringoire’s Narrator Poet Poetry of Donny Osmond “Joseph” And dope shorts?
Of course, these items were meant to be campy. And now, they’re just part of my passion for the show.
But it’s the show’s own brand of voodoo rock opera that has made its way into my heart and settled down.
Let me explain: About two-thirds of the way through the first act, the earworm-like “The Music of the Night” in “The Phantom of the Opera” comes a song for the three men in love with Esmeralda. “Belle” (French for “beautiful”) became the best-selling single of 1998 in France.
a YouTube video The song from the original production—featuring Daniel Lavoie as Frollo (Lavoie, now 74, reprises the role in New York), along with Garou as Quasimodo and Patrick Fury as Phoebus—played in a week-long episode at my apartment.
Watching the show a second time last summer was a revelation: I was already familiar with the plot, didn’t need to read the big titles as much and could already watch the cast, especially the glamorous acrobats. (What does a guy who spins on his head for 20 seconds have to do to have a chance with Esmeralda?)
I’ve since learned that the show has a cadre of superfans who’ve seen it six, 10, or even 20 times. And they travel. (One of the fun things for New York audiences: an orchestra. “Notre Dame” is usually played along with the recorded music.)
So what is his control over people?
Canadian director Gilles Mehew, who oversaw the original Paris run and several Tours since then, including the current one, credits the show’s timeless themes and music to its longevity.
“I wanted to do the show outside of the current fashion,” Mihu said of the musical, which maintains its original stage, in a recent video interview from his home in Freligsbourg, Quebec.
He added, “The traditional story of three different people loving the same woman is one that I think people identify with easily.” “The songs are beautiful, and not just beautiful.”
Holly Thomas, 26, a guest service representative for a Broadway ticket company and stage manager, first saw the show in New York last summer — and she’s on her way to see the show 11 times here by its closing time Sunday.
“It deals with issues that we deal with constantly as a general community — racism, misogyny, and power correction,” she said.
Michael Lewis, 52, an IT consultant in Boston, attended one of the original performances in Paris 25 years ago, and has also seen the musical in London and New York. In addition to its timeless character, he added, “the theme of migrants seeking asylum resonates today”, “especially given what just happened with Pakistani migrants on their way to Greece”.
Here in New York, reeling from its own immigrant crisis, the show’s initiatives for shelter and asylum have had similar poignant sentiments.
My boss at the New York Times recently watched the show with his daughters—and the next day I got a text from him: “I must have watched this video “Belle” is on YouTube at least a dozen times today.
“Is this how it begins?”