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[Herald Review] Two Victor Hugo stories unfold on musical stage

By Park Ga-young

Published : March 13, 2024 - 18:05

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A scene from A scene from "Les Miserables" (Les Miserables Korea)

Two musicals based on works by French author Victor Hugo are attracting audiences in Korea: “Les Miserables” and “Notre-Dame de Paris.”

Both musicals are inspired by stories written by the prominent French writer, poet, and playwright and utilize a sing-through format, where the majority, if not all, of the dialogue is sung rather than spoken. The musicals include melodies that are iconic numbers worth enjoying on a live stage.

“Belle (Beautiful),” sung by Quasimodo of “Notre-Dame de Paris” is one of the best-selling singles of all time in France and Belgium. “Notre-Dame de Paris” also offers mesmerizing music composed by Riccardo Cocciante, with lyrics by Luc Plamondon, such as “The Age of the Cathedrals” and “Dance My Esmeralda” and “Moon” which are familiar songs for Korean audiences.

“Les Miserables” features a range of powerful songs that contribute to its emotional depth and narrative power, from ballads like “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” and “Bring Him Home” to powerful ensembles like "One Day More" and "Do You Hear the People Sing?"

The productions both feature themes of love, redemption and societal injustice and more while telling diverse stories set in different times and places through distinct artistic styles.

Having premiered in London in 1985, "Les Miserables" focuses on the struggles of various characters during the French Revolution and highlights injustice, sacrifices and redemption. The story unfolds across four different cities and a variety of settings, including streets, a factory, an inn, a cafe, a mansion and more.

"Notre-Dame de Paris," which unveiled in 1998 in Paris, explores the tragic romance and societal tensions surrounding the 15th-century cathedral in Paris. Three men from different societal backgrounds fall in love with Esmeralda, a French Roma dancer. The main setting focuses on the Notre Dame Cathedral and its surrounding areas.

A scene from A scene from "Notre-Dame de Paris" (Mast International)

"Les Miserables" presents live music performed by the M.C. Orchestra, while “Notre-Dame de Paris” uses recorded music, which for some audiences, may come as a disappointment. However, any disappointment will soon dissipate thanks to the dynamic acrobatics and break dance performances that “Notre-Dame de Paris” incorporates into its show with 22 professional dancers, acrobats and breakers. The sight of the dancers hanging from the bells and climbing the walls of the cathedral is particularly captivating.

The most striking difference between the two productions is their thematic emphasis.

While "Notre-Dame de Paris” delves into the tensions between different social classes, the pursuit of justice and the struggle for redemption, it primarily focuses on the hunchbacked bell-ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo, and his love for Esmeralda, a compassionate young Romani woman. Esmeralda is also the romantic interest of three other men: an archdeacon, a poet and a captain.

In contrast, "Les Miserables" introduces a multitude of complex characters, offering audiences choices for who to focus on. For instance, some may find resonance in Jean Valjean's acts of sacrifice, while others might empathize with Javert's relentless pursuit driven by an unwavering sense of duty.

Having completed its Seoul and Busan runs, "Les Miserables" will travel to Daegu where it will run from March 21 to April 7. "Notre-Dame de Paris” is running at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts until March 24.