‘Notre Dame’: Not the usual musical

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‘Notre Dame’: Not the usual musical

“Notre Dame de Paris,” the French-language musical that opened last Friday at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, isn’t the kind of production that Koreans who enjoy touring Broadway-style musicals have come to expect.
Touring musicals that come through Seoul, such as “42nd Street,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Mamma Mia,” tend to have actors in sparkling outfits and pretty, neon-lit set designs. “Notre Dame’s” sets were simple, and the actors wore relatively modest costumes. What’s more, the story was presented differently. There was no spoken dialogue ― just songs, as in an opera.
For the show’s two and half hours, however, the stage was glittering ― not with flash, but with 54 powerful songs and dances.
The audience at Friday night’s opening performance seemd curious and excited. From the first song, “Le temps des cathedrales,” sung by the story’s narrator, Gringoire, there was enthusiastic applause.
The melodies were romantic, dramatic and beautiful, reminiscent of French chansons. The lyrics were all in French, which added to the romantic flavor of the music; unfortunately, it also meant that viewers had to keep looking back and forth from the stage to the Korean translations on the screens built into the back of each seat.
The musical is based on “Notre Dame de Paris,” the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo better known in English as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The American musical based on the same novel simplifies its plot and themes; the French musical is closer to the original story, with more realistic characters who aren’t merely “evil” or “good.” Like the gypsies’ chaotic life in Paris, the characters are lost and confused. Esmeralda is depicted as both the goddess of beauty and the “source of evil,” not unlike Eve in the Bible.
One of the most powerful moments in the musical is the song “Belle,” sung by Quasimodo, Frollo, and Phoebus, three characters who desire Esmeralda. They sing, “Oh Lucifer, please let me go beyond God’s love and run my fingers through her hair ― Esmeralda.”
Another special element of the musical was the dynamic dancing, which spanned acrobatics, breakdancing and modern dance expressing the liberal and passionate life of the gypsies. The dancers turned, rolled on the floor and screamed on the dimly lit stage. The well-built dancers added the sensualism to the stage, constantly moving on the floor, the wall and even in the air.
However, none of these elements would have shone as much without Esmeralda, played by Nadia Bel. Her sensual appearance and her fairy-like voice made a good combination for a character who is both tragic and extremely charming. Ms. Bel conveyed complicated emotions throughout, especially in the songs “Bohemienne” and “Ave Maria paien.”
Matt Laurent, who played Quasimodo, moved the audience to tears with “Danse mon Esmeralda (Dance My Esmeralda),” which he sang while holding Esmeralda’s dead body. As he sang, three dancers were lifted into the air, where they danced slowly and delicately, creating a surreal, fantastic atmosphere, as if Esmeralda’s soul were dancing.
“The musical showed the French people’s perfectionism in the arts,” said Kim Rok-yang, an audience member from Yeouido, Seoul. “The songs were so beautiful. It was amazing that these thin actors and actresses had such strong and beautiful voices. I especially liked the songs of Quasimodo.” Kang In-hui, a woman in her 70s who was once a singer, said she was so overwhelmend by the production that she began to sweat. “I think that sums up the musical,” she said.


by Choi Sun-young

Performances continue through March 20. Ticket prices range from 20,000 won ($20) to 150,000 won. Call (02) 399-1111 or go to www.ndpk.co.kr for information.

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