Review - Notre Dame de Paris returns to London at the London Coliseum
In the onslaught of tried-and-already-tested imports that are arriving on our shores in the coming months from Broadway, here's a musical from the other side not of the pond but of the channel: a 20-year old Paris-born phenomenon which, during its London run at the Coliseum, will play its 5,000th worldwide performance, having played in no fewer than 23 countries in eight languages.
It was previously seen in London in a commercial run at the Dominion back in 2000, when it was presented in an English translation. Now it is back for a very brief showcase season at the London Coliseum. Usually the home of English National Opera, who present European operas in English language versions, it is now being performed here for the first time in its original French.
And it provides an instructive pre-Brexit example of how they do things very differently on the continent. Born in an arena stage concert environment in Paris in 1998, just as Les Miserables had begun in 1980 (before being comprehensively revamped in a brand-new production in London in 1985 that continues to run to this day), it puts the spectacle into spectacular, a pop rock concert of soaring anthemic ballads and gyrating gymnastics that are frequently eye-popping.
If Cirque du Soleil were to put on a musical, this may very well be what it would look like. It's quite unlike the sort of narrative-driven production values that a British or Broadway show brings to telling a story: this is frequently spectacle for spectacle's sake, not dramatic sense.
It bombards its audience with thrilling acrobats, staged against a climbing wall of a set that actors and gymnasts frequently scurry up and down, when not somersaulting across the stage and dodging swinging crowd control barriers or hanging upside down from giant bells.
Quite what this has to do with Victor Hugo's story is an open question, but it thrilled and riveted me. And the sweeping melodies of composer Riccardo Cocciante, set to lyrics by Luc Plamondon, create their own waves of haunting, Gallic-fuelled pleasure.
They are sung with full-bodied gravity and uplift by a cast led by the stunning voices of Hiba Tawaji as Esmeralda, Angelo Del Vecchio as the besotted Quasimodo and Martin Giroux as his love rival Phoebus. Meanwhile Daniel Lavoie radiates a malevolent intensity of his own as the archdeacon Frollo who is similarly besotted with Esmeralda.
In a week when I revisited the guilty pleasure of Thriller Live - the Michael Jackson concert revue that celebrated its 10th anniversary in the West End - Notre Dame de Paris's return to London in its 20th anniversary year is even more thrilling.
Notre Dame de Paris tickets are available now