One of Notre Dame de Paris‘ core weaknesses is the way it presents the story. The narrative is very patchy and filled with a lot little gaps. To really understand what is happening you have to know that story before going into it.
For instance it takes seven songs for the story to get to the beginning of the book. Before that it’s all set-up plus a few lines that marginally tell us about the characters. But seven songs for the Feast of Fools to start. And the plot kind of trots at weird pace, giving us the bare minimum to get to the plot points
However the larger point of the musical isn’t so much to tell the story of Hunchback, as I suspect the creators were under the impression that the audience already knew the story prior to seeing it but the to tell the emotions of the story which the musical does very well. The emotions in this musical are like that of The Phantom of the Opera, over-the-fucking-top, I still get misty eyed during Danse Mon Esmeralda. Does that excuse the musical for some of its jarring weirdness?
Nope. I don’t care how emotional effective the songs are, so many of the transitions from emotion to pivotal story points are down right jarring. For instance to get from Phoebus’ song, Dechire, when he sings about two ladies wanting him to Quasimodo’s punishment we have the bridge song Anarkia which is 42 seconds to explain Gringoire being married, the word “Ankaria” and then OMG look it’s Quasimodo, let’s go check that out. Or how about going from the lovely song where Esmeralda sings about wanting to live to BAM attack on Notre Dame. And for the record Notre Dame de Paris sports a very sloppy hastily done attack scene. First off Quasimodo is not around, Frollo can just end sanctuary and I’m unclear if Clopin and the court of miracles are defending Notre Dame or attacking it.
Despite the narrative weakness, Notre Dame de Paris is faithful in some ways to the book. For instant the fate of the characters is all on point and this is the best portrayal of Frollo in any version outside the book, even better than the opera that Hugo himself wrote the lyrics to.
It is easy to over look the weak story telling of Notre Dame de Paris because you do get lost in the big emotions. Does that make it ok? No, but thank goodness the musical is so powerful, that is its very mighty strength.
Next Time – Differences between the book and the musical, (I wrote them once for my Hubpage, so outline, done)Follow thehunchblog