Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Hunchback Of Cirque Du Soleil

Los Angeles is a place where at any time, someone you know may be appearing in a theatrical production; and you, as a friend, are obligated to be there to show your support. It was thus that Mrs K and I lit out for North Hollywood Friday to see the oddest production of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame that has ever been presented.

A theatrical company called Vox Lumiere (which includes my wife's voice teacher, who was excellent) has been formed using the gimmick of building shows around silent movies. So you get the silent movie with a soundtrack, but there are also dancers and singers, and soloists playing the characters on the screen. They don't look like the characters but they represent their inner lives.

As interesting an idea as this is on paper (or probably on word processor) it's pretty annoying in real life. Oddly too. I liked the music. I liked the performers, who were all energetic and precise, the way you have to be when you're syncing to another source. I even liked the set design and faux cirque-du-soleil costuming. What it amounts to though is a a movie and a stage show fighting with each other for my attention.

It was a lot like watching CNN, only the crawl at the bottom keeps expanding until it covers up Larry King completely, and you tuned in for Larry King. Or you love the crawl but that damn Larry King keeps trying to interview the crazy love-triangle astronaut while you're trying to read it.

Much of the time the screen is obscured by the white smoky spotlight on the Esmeralda singer so you can't see the original silent Esmeralda. And the silent screen has to be visible at all times because the show relies on it for the narrative thrust. The musical numbers are commentaries on the movie, which you can't see, or you're not looking at, and before you know it Quasimodo has kidnapped Esmeralda and you don't know when it happened or why the twisted little guy is on trial. On stage, by the way, he was played by a 300-pounds-of-muscle bouncer with extensive tattoos. Scary dude! Nice touch.

I suppose I should also add that the choreography was 90% emotionless calisthenics and 10% storytelling, but that's just my opinion and I don't know from dancin'.

Concept aside, can we now say that the Hunchback of Notre Dame is maybe not a terrific source for musical comedy? One Victor Hugo musical takes off and suddenly everybody thinks they can do it. Apologies if you have a dynamite score for THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, but maybe you should just shelve it and move on. You'll thank me.

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