NOTRE DAME DE PARIS
MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands/Wednesday
SINGAPORE - Notre Dame De Paris is not your typical musical. There are no big chorus numbers, elaborate life-like sets or overly dramatic props. What the show has, though, is so much more: a rollicking mix of drama and rousing tunes packaged in a frenzy of amazing stunts and jaw-dropping acrobatics.
The musical is based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, which is often translated into English as The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Gypsy girl Esmeralda (a lusciously limber Alessandra Ferrari) steals the hearts of three men, but her carefree revelry ends in tragedy when the arch deacon of the cathedral, Frollo (Robert Marien), accuses her of sorcery.
The production is directed by Gilles Maheu, who has also worked with the renowned Canadian theatrical circus act company Cirque du Soleil, and his knack for acrobatic theatre is evident. He finds a way to weave amazing physical feats into a familiar story in a way which augments instead of distracting from the drama. When captain of the royal archers Phoebus (Alberto Mangia Vinci) sings of how he is caught between two women, we catch only glimpses of powerful male bodies behind a scrim, twisting and contorting with each tormented word.
The three bells of Notre Dame also featured human clappers, who suspended themselves from hidden bars and rang the bells with their bodies. When Quasimodo (Matt Laurent) gently sang of his love for the bells, the performers brought a touching note of humanity to the inanimate structures.
A quartet of powerful male acrobats, who played Phoebus' henchmen, were the stars of the show and also drew the loudest cheers from the audience. They flipped, break-danced and somersaulted their way through the musical, and also worked the audience with cheeky winks or mock calls for applause.
Their acrobatics were supported by a clean set. Instead of a complicated, realistic mock-up of a cathedral, the cast performed against what looked like a rock-climbing wall, with iron pegs hammered into it so performers could clamber up and down.
The show also featured a wonderfully modern industrial aesthetic. Some performers sang from suspended steel beams, while others vaulted over metal barricades.
While the acrobatics were undoubtedly the star of the show, the rest of the performance held its own. The score by Riccardo Cocciante was rousing, and delivered admirably by the cast, several of whom have had years of experience in their respective roles.
Watching Frollo's tortured internal struggle between his lust for Esmeralda and his religious convictions was breathtaking, and Gringoire's (Richard Charest) animated storytelling was also a treat.
At points, though, their delivery was marred by technical issues. More than once, Esmeralda's microphone cut out, leaving her lip-syncing to a pre-recorded track. The music balance was also a problem, and even in the quieter solos, the accompaniment overwhelmed the singing, leaving the audience straining to make out the words.
Fortunately, such technical difficulties did little to mar the overall delivery of the show, and Notre Dame De Paris - The Musical Spectacular lived up to its billing.
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