Monday, February 1, 2016

The bewitching bells of Notre Dame


Sometimes it just doesn't seem feasible to create a product like this - a whole orchestra, brilliant core cast and a choir of 30, assembled for a complete recording of a musical that will probably never make it to Broadway. Therefore, I believe we need to chalk this recording of The Hunchback of Notre Dame up for the sheer sake of artistry.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the vastly under-rated scores of the Disney cannon. After missing out on the Oscar in 1996 it (along with the movie) disappeared into this void. Which is disappointing, considering the influences it draws upon and the complexity of its composition. This is also a score and film that doesn't shy away from complex themes and issues - the uncomfortable nature of sexuality, death, racism and [exclusion] all rear their glorious, ugly heads here encapsulated in this music. Originally the show was made in German to great acclaim in 1999, before making its long awaited English premiere in 2014. Now, it finally comes to a recording, and it couldn't be more perfect.

The cinematic feel of this recording is absolutely spine-tingling. No corners have been cut - this isn't a typical Disney musical soundtrack where you can hear a piano clomping around in the middle of the music holding it all together. The instrumentation and orchestrations behind the singers are absolute world class quality and pulls out all the stops - it potentially rivals the movie's original soundtrack. This music is powerful, oozing with grandeur and sparkling with brilliance. 'The Bells of Notre Dame' and is repeated motifs are breath-taking, as is 'God Help the Outcasts' and 'Heaven's Light'. And of course, one of the highlights is the brooding and dark twisted cry 'Hellfire'.

This feels like the only Alan Manken musical where the additional material fits into the same world, and feels like it's actually adding something to the story. 'Flight to Egypt', 'Thai Mol Piyas', 'In a Place of Miracles' and 'Made of Stone' are terrific additions, and the excellent 'Someday' which was cut from the original movie is re-purposed here (as a side note, 'Flight in Egypt' replacing 'A Guy Like You' is one of the best choices that Disney has ever made - it totally transforms the mood). A longer score has also allowed him to really flesh out brilliant themes. Stephen Shwartz might not have the same light and silly touch as the late Howard Ashman, but Schwartz manages to craft lyrics that aren't dumbed down to children. They speak esoterically and abstractly, and as such makes the material suitably feel more epic and suited to a musical.

You couldn't find another cast that would reach this level of confluence. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent, and absolutely rock their musical theatre ensemble feel and also . The remainder of the core cast include Ciara Renee's crystaline Esmerelda, Patrick Page's dark and authoratative Frollo, and Erik Liberman's flashing cheek and humour Clopain. The star of the show is Michael Arden, who brings an incredible flavour to Quasimodo. While Tom Hulcet's Quasi is quiet, refined and well spoken, Arden acts the role with a slight . But when he belts - and it's done fairly frequently - it's breathtaking and sounds like he can flatten mountains. 'Out There' made my eyes water from his emotion. Absolutely awesome.

You can tell that this soundtrack is the result of many hours of labor and passion of the collaborators - and for a measly $15 you'll get a slice this brilliance forever, along with a beautiful glossy 32 page book along with lyrics, pictures, and a forward from the creators. Please buy this soundtrack to support these gutsy, incredible artistic gambles. Everyone wins when the product is as great as this!!

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', composed by Alan Menken with lyrics Stephen Shwartzr, is available digitally on iTunes and, and is also available on Spotify & physical CD.