The late Lionel Bart, composer and lyricist of classic musical ‘Oliver!’, apparently tinkered with this unfinished musical for some 30 years. So it took more than a little guts on the part of director Robert Chevara and writer Chris Bond to tackle the piece, building heavily on Bart’s loose score of songs inspired by Victor Hugo’s hunchback of Notre Dame cathedral to create a debut staging.
Unfortunately, Steven Webb’s Quasimodo isn’t so much dangerously volatile as a confused, abused innocent: a limp (and a port-wine stain) can’t disguise the actor’s boy band prettiness. But while he lacks menace, he is hugely touching opposite Zoë George’s Esmeralda.
Some of the numbers, mostly in the second act, have the ear-wormy lyrical dexterity, fun and poignancy you’d expect from Bart, and Quasimodo’s mournful song to the gargoyles in the belfry is an instant classic: a beautiful ode to the uncertainty of love, handled brilliantly by Webb.
But, structurally, the show is scrappy. Relationships are introduced that don’t really go anywhere, while pivotal ones – like that of Quasimodo and the priest who saves him as a baby – are hastily plastered over, giving the impression of missing scenes.
Hugo’s socially reformist themes also sit uneasily with the production’s very ’60s take on an unruly Parisian underclass of vagrants and ‘sexy whores’ who mill around in spandex and red leather, looking like rock musical rejects.
Ultimately, flashes of brilliance save this show from appealing only to Bart purists. In that sense, it justifies its existence. But it needs more work to be a properly great musical. Tom Wicker
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Quasimodo, the world premiere of the Lionel Bart musical at the King's Head in London - Robert Chevara has done it again. He found a nearly forgotten and never performed musical, added his ingredients (which are somehow magical and made of factual knowledge, artistic professionalism and artful directing) and created an unforgettable experience which made people cry with emotion and awe. A great cast, wonderful costumes by Jonathan Lipman who did a fantastic job, the King's Head Theater which was transformed into Notre Dame de Paris (with a London touch) and a stage that is both, imaginative and minimalistic enough to let you take part and live the story. The seemingly well-known story of the hunchback Quasimodo and the gypsi-girl Esmeralda told in different way with a remarkable, quite shocking ending. He, the disfigured creature who seems beasty from the outside but deeply human from within turns from a charcter barely noticed to the star of the evening. She, the gipsy girl who is beautiful but doesn't belong to the crowd experiences real devotion and passion. Her singing is stunning as well by the way. A story and a setting which reflects modern problems of our relation to the unknown and strange as much as who we are in the eyes of the others. Robert and his cast invite us to a sensual journey through time, beauty, uglyness and emotion which makes one reflect and most of all enjoy the artistic performance and the dedication to detail of all involved. "If only I were made of stone" ... I wouldn't be able to laugh, cry and enjoy the beauty of this show. Whereever this show will be going from here - DON'T MISS THE BEGINNING - This show must go on! And I am sure it will. I saw the show twice and will be back in a few days to see it again. This is what performance should be - loose yourself, have fun and fly away. Great job.