Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the very first, if not the very first, musicals I saw live. It sparked my interest in the genre, and made me discover some great singers.
Notre-Dame de Paris is an adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. The lyrics were written by the famous Québec lyricist Luc Plamondon and the music by Italian-French singer-musician-composer Riccardo Cocciante, and the original cast featured singers from many different French-speaking backgrounds.
(I say singers and not actors because, well, the people who played these parts weren’t actors. There isn’t a musical theater tradition in Québec, not like in New York or in London; you can’t make a career out of musical acting. So when someone puts a musical show together, they cast singers, and usually pop singers, the kind your hear on top 40 radio. The shows are very song-heavy/dialog-light anyway, so it all works out for the best.)
Anyway, I first learned about Notre-Dame de Paris when I heard an excerpt from one of the singles of the concept album on the radio. I only heard the very last bit of the song, and the dj didn’t do the post-presentation thing they do sometimes, so I was left with a very nice melody in my head, and a vague impression that this song reminded me of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. (I’m not sure why it reminded me of the Disney movie and not of the book, because the book reading experience had been the more recent one, but anyway. Also, if Disney is the only experience you have of the story, you should try the book, because otherwise you are missing something.)
Of course, the show was first mounted in France, so it took a year to get to Canada, and then another year to go on tour to my hometown. So by then, not only had I learned the concept album by heart, I had bought the official sound recording of the whole show, and rented the official video recording many times, and learned the whole show by heart. The downside was that I could tell when they changed the range of the melody because tour-Esmeralda apparently couldn’t hit the low notes. The upside is that I was ready for the fact that there was no goat for Gringoire to run away with.
(For the Disney-only people; in the book, there is a poet called Pierre Gringoire, who stumbles across the Gypsy court. Esmeralda saves his life by marrying him, but nothing happens between them, because Esmeralda is in love with Phoebus and Gringoire falls for her goat. At the climax of the story, when Esmeralda is about to be hanged, Gringoire looks at the goat and says “I can’t save them both”, and he runs away with the goat. SEE WHAT YOU ARE MISSING?!)
I wish I could have seen the original cast, signing the show in that huge theater in France. It must have been awesome. But as it was, I am very happy that I had the opportunity to see this show, and to have all these albums, and that DVD.