It goes without saying that Notre Dame de Paris has been a phenomenal international success since it’s premiere in Paris, 1998. Luc Plamondon and Richard Cocciante’s ground-breaking combination of operatic form with pop rock music, makes for a highly emotional, full throttle night of passion with mass appeal. The original French version has returned for one week only to the London Coliseum, as huge and unapologetic as ever. It’s no surprise to discover that it remains an irresistible guilty pleasure twenty years on but perhaps less expected is it’s very contemporary resonance with todays migrant crisis.

Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre Dame de Paris tells the story of the church and establishment versus the surge of migrants in Medieval France. At the heart of the story is outsider, Quasimodo (Angelo Del Vecchio), a monstrously ugly bell-ringer who falls in love with Esmeralda (Hiba Tawaji) the sexy and beautiful gypsy girl who lives on the outskirts of ‘respectable’ society. Actually, pretty much everyone falls in love with her as she washes her bare legs in the fountain and dances in front of the cathedral. This causes problems for the Frollo (Daniel Lavoie) who imprisons her and Phoebus (Martin Giroux) the Kings soldier who is already engaged to a more suitable beauty.

The show is divine with its frenetic energy, total lack of sense of humour and epic ensemble numbers. As well as playing the powerful surge of migrants, the talented ensemble represent the inner struggles of the lead characters through dance. When not employed in such sensitive matters, they throw themselves up walls and over barricades, generating constant gymnastic excitement that powers the show along.

The score is through written so there’s no dialogue in between and it’s quite incredible how many hits Cocciante packs in, each with a memorable musical motif. If you’re not already sated by the final number –multiple dead women spinning in the air as Angelo Del Vecchio cries ‘Danse mon Esmeralda!’ over his beloved with his huge, rasping rock voice…well, that should do the trick.

If you’ve missed this short run at the Coliseum, be sure to find out where it’s going next. Notre Dame de Paris remains ‘the people’s opera’ and is perhaps even more likely to resonate today than it did at its conception.

Photo credit: Tomas Turpie