Notre-Dame de Paris made its official debut at Midem, the international media fair, in 1998 - which seems highly appropriate when you consider that the media has played such a key role in Notre-Dame de Paris's success. The cast who performed at Midem opened the show in Paris at the Palais des Congrès a few months later. And from that moment on the French media went wild, inviting the show's songwriter and composer and practically all the main players to promote Notre-Dame de Paris non-stop on radio and TV.
The musical might not have made the same explosive impact on the French public if Plamondon and Cocciante had not assembled such a strong cast. But the pair chose their Esmeralda and Quasimodo wisely, not to mention the singers who carried off the other main roles. French and Quebecois singers, major stars and complete unknowns, shared the stage together night after night, playing to capacity audiences. And before Quasimodo rang his final bell, several cast members had gone on to launch major solo careers.
Quebec: two points!
The chart success story began with Le temps des cathédrales, the first single released from the studio album of Notre-Dame de Paris. Recorded by Bruno Pelletier, a singer who had already achieved star status back home in Quebec, Le temps des cathédrales went rocketing up the French charts within weeks of its release. The success was largely due to Pelletier's impressive vocal performance. The Quebecois singer hit high notes no-one had ever dreamt possible in the male register and brought the same charisma to the role of Gringoire (Esmeralda's husband) in the studio as he had on stage. But this was hardly surprising given that Pelletier already had solid stage musical experience behind him. In 1992 he starred in the Michel Berger/Luc Plamondon production La légende de Jimmy, then went on to triumph in the Quebecois version of legendary French rock opera Starmania.
While bringing the house down in Notre-Dame de Paris, Pelletier kept a close eye on his solo career. And in August '99 - while continuing his nightly performance as Gringoire - he put out his fourth solo album D'autres rives (recorded between studios in Paris et Montreal). As Pelletier continued to pace beneath the walls of Notre-Dame on stage in Paris, his career continued at mega-star pace back home. Pelletier had already won enough 'Felix' awards to decorate his house from top to bottom, and in 2000 his compatriots honoured him once more, voting him Quebec's Singer of the Year (just as they had in 1997 and 1999). Meanwhile, Pelletier also carried off a second award for Best Pop/Rock Album of the Year.
Following the chart success of Le Temps des cathédrales, French radio and television were crying out for a second hit from the show. And this soon came in the form of Belle, a collective effort from Daniel Lavoie, Patrick Fiori and Garou. While Lavoie and Fiori were already major stars, 25-year-old Garou had been a complete unknown before landing the role of Quasimodo. Bringing powerful, husky vocals and a magnetic stage presence to the role of the world's most famous hunchback, Garou brought the house down night after night in Notre-Dame de Paris.
Garou's only stage experience prior to the role of Quasimodo had been performing with a blues band on Quebec's bar and club scene - no matter, after a few nights swinging from Notre-Dame's bells, Garou was transformed into a major star. What's more, Garou's stage charisma, his mighty vocals - not to mention his sparkling eyes - soon brought him to the attention of Celine Dion herself. The international diva even invited Garou to perform at her special Millennium show on December 31st 1999 and the pair went on to record a duet together, entitled Sous le vent.
Needless to say, the song features on Garou's debut solo album, Seul (released in November of this year) alongside tracks from a host of other famous songwriters and composers including Luc Plamondon, Romano Musumara, Richard Cocciante, Didier Barbelivien and Franck Langolff. But despite this all-star line-up, Garou's first solo effort is sadly lacking in creativity. The album may be impeccably produced and well put together, but the songs are strangely lacking in soul and emotion. This does not appear to have bothered Garou's new fans, however - they rushed out to buy the album in their thousands and ten days after its release Seul went gold, selling over 100, 000 copies!
France: two points!
While Garou was riding high in the French album charts with Seul, his co-star Patrick Fiori was bringing the house down with a series of concerts at the Olympia in Paris. Swapping the coat of armour he wore on stage as Phoebus in Notre-Dame de Paris, Fiori slipped into a swanky suit and tie and set off on a major French tour to promote his own solo album Chrysalide. The Corsican-born singer's face was already familiar to French music fans who remembered him representing France at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993 with Mama Corsica.