When Americans are requested to call French musicals, their go-to is “Les Misérables,” which opened in Paris in 1980 earlier than an extensively retooled English model went on to beat the world a number of years later.
That, or a number of the movies that Jacques Demy directed in the Nineteen Sixties, like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”
Usually not talked about on our shores are the wildly fashionable homegrown stage musicals that appeared in France in the late Nineteen Nineties. But now probably the most well-known of them, “Notre Dame de Paris,” is having its New York premiere at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on Wednesday, and can run there via July 24.
One of its creators has points with the terminology used to explain his work, although.
“I don’t think of ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ as musical theater,” the composer Richard Cocciante mentioned by video from Rome, the place he was making ready for a live performance tour in Italy. “For me it’s a people’s opera. That’s because it’s entirely sung-through. We don’t call the numbers arias, though: ‘Belle’ or ‘Le temps des cathédrales’ stand alone as songs,” he added, mentioning two of the present’s many sweeping ballads and its greatest hits.
Based, like “Les Misérables,” on an epic Nineteenth-century novel by Victor Hugo (which additionally impressed the Disney animated movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” to call simply one among many variations), “Notre Dame de Paris” efficiently exploited a distinctively French method to fashionable stage musicals.
The lyricist Luc Plamondon already had a profitable profession writing for artists each in his native Quebec (a sure belter launched an album of his songs, “Dion chante Plamondon,” in 1992) and in France, the place he wrote the lyrics for the musical “Starmania” in the late Nineteen Seventies. (That perennial favourite is returning to the Paris stage in November.)
Looking for one more long-form mission 20 years later, Plamondon thought that “Notre Dame de Paris” could be a becoming supply and referred to as up Cocciante, who occurred to have a tape of odds-and-ends melodies laying round.
“The first song began with him singing ‘Time … da-da-da,’” Plamondon, 80, hummed on the cellphone. He had been pondering of the scene in the 1956 movie adaptation in which Anthony Quinn, because the hunchback, Quasimodo, begs Gina Lollobrigida’s Esmeralda, the article of all the lads’s attentions, for water. “He’s chained to the wheel and he goes ‘Belle … belle …’” Plamondon continued, quoting the French phrase for lovely. “That gave me the idea to replace ‘time’ with ‘belle’ in the song.”
And they have been off. “From then on it gushed out of both us,” Cocciante, 76, mentioned. “We wrote ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ in a kind of trance.”
In the French reply to a backers’ audition, he performed the rating on the piano and sang all of the components for the producer Charles Talar, who signed on and booked a run on the Palais des Congrès in Paris for the autumn of 1998.
It was becoming for Talar to get that venue, which isn’t a conventional theater however a cavernous live performance corridor, as a result of he got here from the music trade: He needed to launch an album first, then construct on it to promote the stage present. It’s an method Andrew Lloyd Webber efficiently used for “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita,” however general it’s not widespread in the United States and Britain, the place a present precedes its recording.
“He assumed he could activate the networks he had built and use some of the same strategies he used to sell records,” Nicolas Talar mentioned on Zoom, recalling his father’s recreation plan. (Charles Talar died in 2020.) “The idea was to familiarize audiences with the music before the show started. The specificity of French musicals is that we promote them the way we would promote a pop record. If one or two songs become popular, you’re the star of the moment, you get on television and people want to see you,” he added. “The only way to hear ‘Belle’ live was to see the musical.”
That music, a trio for the three males in love with Esmeralda, was launched in the spring of 1998, months earlier than the present’s opening, and went on to turn out to be the biggest-selling single of the 12 months in France.
“There was this miracle — I don’t know how else to describe it — of ‘Belle,’” mentioned Daniel Lavoie, 73, who performed the archdeacon Frollo in the unique manufacturing and is again in the cassock for the New York run. “It was almost 5 minutes, which was inconceivable on the radio at the time because they didn’t play anything longer than 3 minutes. I remember that at our first TV appearance we were asked to do the song again. We knew then we were onto something.”
Another quantity, “Le temps des cathédrales,” was virtually as fashionable — many Americans might need found it on the 2015 Josh Groban album “Stages” — cementing the standing of “Notre Dame” because the It present that 12 months. And in contrast to in the United States, the place stage personalities don’t are inclined to make a dent on the Billboard Hot 100, it turned the forged members Garou, Patrick Fiori and Hélène Ségara into pop stars. (Lavoie already had a longtime profession as a singer by then.)
“Notre Dame” was so enormous that different producers adopted in Talar’s footsteps, most prominently Dove Attia, who was behind the favored “Les Dix Commandements” (2000), “Le Roi Soleil” (2005) and “Mozart, l’opéra rock” (2009). That final was among the many few to really, er, rock, which can partly assist clarify why these reveals haven’t had a lot of an influence in English-speaking nations, the place the tolerance for a excessive ratio of energy ballads appears to be decrease than in France, Russia or South Korea.
A decisive transfer by the “Notre Dame” crew was to have the forged sing reside to recorded tracks, that are nonetheless used in productions worldwide, although the New York engagement will complement them with a full orchestra. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Lavoie mentioned in English, earlier than reverting again to French. “‘Notre Dame de Paris’ was conceived as a show outside of time.”
“Notre Dame” has been translated into eight languages and carried out in 23 nations, although its producers now favor presenting it in the unique French, which is how its forged of 30 will carry out it in New York (with English supertitles). Still, this and comparable musicals have confronted an uphill battle to win over reviewers at house.
“Musical theater doesn’t get much critical support in France,” mentioned Laurent Valière, the producer and host of the weekly program “42e Rue” on French public radio in addition to the creator of a e book about musicals. “The press pans it — sometimes with good reason and sometimes not.” (Full disclosure: I’ve been a visitor commentator on the present.)
The French hit manufacturing unit appears to have hit a snag in latest years because it strains to search out successors to the blockbusters of the 2000s. There are oddities just like the biomusical “Bernadette de Lourdes,” which relies on the true story of a younger lady who claimed to see the Virgin Mary and performs in Lourdes, the city the place all of it occurred.
In a special vein is “Résiste,” a jukebox musical primarily based on France Gall’s pop songbook that benefited from a reside band taking part in the unique preparations and contributions from the rising choreographer Marion Motin.
Still, “Notre Dame de Paris” endures. “Another distinctive trait is that no matter where it’s playing, it’s staged the same way,” mentioned Nicolas Talar, who’s now producing the present and copresenting it in New York. (He additionally has producing credit on Broadway’s “Funny Girl” and “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”)
“Sometimes we wonder if the show has become outdated, but the themes are evergreen and the music was intentionally arranged to sound timeless, so we keep postponing making changes,” he added. “So far audiences haven’t complained and the show is doing well, so we’re staying the course.”