Bad musicals are nothing new. But a more extraordinary modern phenomenon is the worrying trend for bad musicals to turn into hits. The dispiriting arrival here of Notre Dame de Paris continues that trend. Its unoriginal brand of muzak-lite is all pervasive. It starts the moment you enter the Dominion, with a live six-piece band playing themes from the score in the foyer (to compensate for the taped orchestral accompaniment to the show itself). And it doesn't stop when you leave the building, either: I have no doubt that you'll be hearing these tunes in an elevator near you any day now, not to mention on the charts.
That's the secret: scores like this are a series of pop hits in search of a show, and the show therefore turns out to be a pop video come to life. Notre Dame de Paris eschews book, sense, taste and even a live orchestra to provide the ultimate result of this process - a musical that keeps a hard-working cast constantly occupied and which an undemanding audience mistakes for the real thing.
This is not to patronise the public's taste - the show does that enough without me adding to it - but it's full of unearned emotions, synthetic melodies, meaningless aerobic choreography and pointless effects.
It's all put to the service of a piece that cynically appropriates the Les Miserables formula, even down to the fact that its source material is also a novel by Victor Hugo. The story, too, is uncomfortably close to that of another mega-musical, The Phantom of the Opera - substitute the Paris Opera House's Phantom who falls in love with a beautiful chorus girl for Notre-Dame cathedral's resident hunchback who falls in love with a beautiful gypsy woman, and you have an entirely recycled, generic musical.
Likewise, the writers of Les Mis, Schonberg and Alain Boublil, may have been as unknown when that show opened as Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon (who have respectively written the music and lyrics for Notre Dame de Paris) are now. But Boublil and Schonberg seem to have had an instinctive grasp for theatricality; Cocciante and Plamondon's pap Europop is not similarly graced.
First seen in Paris, France, and subsequently at the Paris Casino in Las Vegas, the production at the Dominion is a solidly professional affair, and doesn't feature an ex-Chippendale in one of the principal roles as it did at Vegas. Instead, we have such talents as Aussie pop star Tina Arena, Steve Balsamo and members of the original French company.
But their efforts can't disguise the ultimate fact that this dose of Europop is really Eurotrash.