The haunting strains of “The Age of the Cathedrals”, the opening number in the musical Notre Dame de Paris, filled the Marina Bay Sands elevator as it descended to the lower floors.
Glancing over my shoulder, I identified that the sweet humming was from a young lady of no more than 12 years of age. It was already 10.45 pm and all of us had just trooped out of the 2.5 hour-long performance at the MasterCard Theatres – Grand Theatre.
Notre Dame de Paris, the show that tells the story of Quasimodo the hunchbacked cathedral bell ringer of Notre Dame de Paris, and Esmeralda the gypsy girl, is not your usual musical with rousing choruses and repeated refrains. It is song after song after song (more than 54 in all), with absolutely no dialogue, whether sung or spoken, to move the plot forward.
French lyricist Luc Plamandon made no apologies for this as he said, “it’s a well-known story which stands up on its own and doesn’t need to be explained.” The story is emoted entirely through lovelorn ballads, arias of operatic beauty and energetic rock resonance.
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As result, we found ourselves at times straining our ears to catch the lyrics rather than appreciating the beauty of the music composed by Richard Cocciante. While the original musical was written in French by Luc Plamandon, the returning Singapore version features, for the first time here, the English lyrics by Will Jennings, Oscar-winner for “My Heart Will Go On” from the smash-hit film Titanic.
In a story that takes place mainly around the famed cathedral of the same name, beautiful Esmeralda captures the hearts of many men, including that of street poet Gringoire and hunchback Quasimodo. She is also the object of desire of priest Frollo and soldier Phoebus, who both flip-flop in their fierce struggle between lust versus faith and loyalty.
The musical exposes audiences to a gothic melodrama from a different era and deals with mature themes of religion and class. Unlike Disney’s animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the rowdy crowd scenes of the refugees set to uptempo rock beats and the sight of Gargoyle creatures on pillars at the musical bring the themes of cruelty and damnation up a notch.
The stage features a 12-metre high ‘climbing wall’ which changes from being the façade of the grand cathedral of Notre Dame to the famous Bastille prison in Paris. This is where we where we see dancers and acrobats masterfully performing amazing feats, scaling the walls and twirling themselves to ring three large suspended bells.
Under the avant-garde directorship of Gilles Maheu from Cirque du Soleil, the show is not just an emotionally charged ‘songfest’ between the seven principal artistes, but also a visual spectacle with fantastic stunts by 24 skilled dancers and acrobats. This highlights of the show are the gorgeous gymnastics, contemporary dance and energetic acrobatic somersaults choreographed and well woven into the story by renowned dance visionary Martino Muller.
At the close of the musical, the street poet Gringoire delighted the audience with the original French version of the opening song. With this music etched into her mind, it was no wonder the little girl in the elevator was left humming away its refrain as she left the theatre.
17 December 2013 to 5 January 2014
Tuesdays to Fridays: 8.00 pm
Saturdays & Sundays: 2.00 pm and 8.00 pm
Tickets from $55 to $175
MasterCard Theatres – Grand Theatre, Marina Bay Sands