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November 13, 2011

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Musical 'Notre Dame de Paris'

THE new Shanghai Culture Square, designed specifically for the staging of musical theater, presents its first complete musical, "Notre Dame de Paris," from December 2 to 24.

Based on Victor Hugo's novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," the French-Canadian musical debuted in 1998 in Paris and has been staged around the world.

This performance is in English, starring Candice Parise as Esmeralda and Matt Laurent as Quasimodo.

Shanghai Culture Square opened with a musical collection "Ultimate Broadway" last month and planners hope that the square will be the anchor of a new entertainment district, Shanghai's Broadway.

The play, set in 15th century Paris, is notable for 50 pieces of music, far more than most musicals, and many pop elements, rather than an orchestra.

"Music and singing helps to tell the story rather than dialogues and monologues," says An Dong, associate professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. An is also a composer.

"It's very difficult to tell a story well with so much singing, and to ensure that the audience is not bored by endless singing, but it works well in this case," he says.

The music was composed by Richard Cocciante; English lyrics were written by Will Jennings.

Pop elements contribute to the popularity of the musical, in which guitar, keyboard and bass are important. The score combines opera, rock, French folk songs and Bohemian ballads. Each character has a unique musical voice, in addition to his or her actual vocal.

"The music is perfectly composed for each character. The smoky voice of Quasimodo (the hunchback) is reflected in the music."

Dance helps create atmosphere.

The seven major actors dance very little, which is unusual in musicals. Singers focus on singing and acting, while dancers dance and acrobats perform. Singers don't have to worry about difficult choreography, such as the scene in which Quasimodo dies - dancers perform on a steel wire.

"The dancers exhibit the thoughts and struggles of the characters in an abstract way with their body language, while the singers put this into words, which is quite French in artistic conception," says Fei Yuanhong, program director of Shanghai Culture Square.

For example, while Esmeralda sings "Bohemienne," dancers depict a gypsy girl with passion. While Phoebus sings "Dechire," four male dancers perform with their back to the audience, representing Phoebus' struggling with a difficult choice.

The stage setting for "Notre Dame de Paris" is romantic and abstract, leaving space for imagination.

The musical has garnered numerous awards, including Best Annual Performance in France. The album has sold more than 7 million copies and is still popular today.

Date: December 2-24, 7:15pm (except for Monday)

Venue: Shanghai Culture Square, 36 Yongjia Rd

Tickets: 80-1,280 yuan (US$13-200)

Tel: 6217-2426, 6217-3055


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