When one thinks of musical theatre, it’s easy to have a myopic focus on Broadway. After all, it is held as the pinnacle of the art form, and in American culture, the name is used interchangeably with “musical” (ie: people will refer to themselves as “Broadway fans” just as quickly as “musical fans”; someone might say he saw a “Broadway” show in Cleveland; etc.). Many fans will also know of London’s West End as well, as it’s a similarly prolific producer of musicals and there is such a frequent exchange of shows between the two.
What many fans may not realize, however, is that there is a whole wide world of musical theatre ready to be explored.
All right, I know I’ve been writing about this show for a while, but I figured since I’ve done two characterstudies I may as well go all out and just discuss the show as a whole and how it has been received in different parts of the world. Since the production was such a success in France, it was quickly translated into English for productions to be mounted in Las Vegas and London’s West End. Neither production came close to replicating the success of the original, and there are various possible reasons for this. I’m going to look at what I feel to be the most likely of these reasons
As I said before, I’m really into Notre Dame de Paris right now and I spend a lot of time thinking about the show, primarily its characters. Last time I talked about Esmeralda and today I’d like to focus on the other female character, Fleur-de-Lys.
Fleur-de-Lys is possibly my favorite character in the musical, or at least the one I find the most interesting, because she is the only one who really goes through any kind of change over the course of the story. While Esmeralda, Phoebus, Quasimodo, et. al have more stage time than Fleur, they still end the show as more or less the same person they were when they started it. This is not the case for Fleur-de-Lys.
So there’s this musical I’m currently obsessed with, and it goes by the name of Notre Dame de Paris. This musical, based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, opened in Paris in 1998 and took France by storm–quite a surprise for a country in which musical theatre is not a popular medium. Though the story is better known to English-speaking audiences as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the title actually translates to “Our Lady of Paris” and can be interpreted with a double meaning. It refers to the famous cathedral of the same name which is dedicated to the Blessed Mother and is the setting of the novel, and it can also refer to the character of Esmeralda, who exists at the center of the story.
The reason I say Esmeralda “exists at the center of the story” rather than calling her the central character of the story is because she is more of an object than a character. As the title implies, she is important to the story because the men around her feel possessive of her (“Our Lady of Paris”) and though she does have some amount of agency in the musical, most of her time on stage consists of things happening to her, rather than her making things happen.
[Warning: Spoilers for a nearly 200 year-old story ahead]