The Hunchback of Notre Dame
A New Musical
Music by Alan Mencken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Peter Parnell
Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney movie
Bay Area Musicals
Quasimodo and Esmerelda as metaphors for the current anti-immigrant racism of the moment may not seem your typical Disney fare, but Bay Area Musicals does a top-notch job of presenting a dark, thoughtful and unsettling musical full of great performances and stellar technical creativity. This musical comes by way of the of the famed Victor Hugo novel, a successful Disney animated film (1996), then a musical play in 1999 telling the story of the deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame and his struggle for acceptance.
BAM Artistic Director Matthew McCoy pulls double duty as director and scenic designer, successfully recreating the Gothic aesthetic visually, as well as imbuing the characters with the weight and drama equal to the themes of sexual repression, lust, sin, guilt and physical deformity. Alan Mencken and Stephen Schwartz’ score is one of the best of the Disney films, mixing sweeping orchestrations with Wicked-like storytelling.
Quasimodo is one of the great prose heroes; physically deformed but pure in heart, he’s reviled and ridiculed but eventually becomes a savior. In the heavy religious sub context, he’s an angel in a devil’s body. Alex Rodriguez is a marvel, delivering a bravura performance as Quasimodo, lending him a vulnerability of the innocent with the bravery of his new understanding of morals. Rodriguez owns the demanding physicality of the role as well as possessing a wonderful tenor.
Escaping his captivity and solitude of the bell-tower in a quest for fellowship, Qausi is scorned for his deformity and made the King of the Fools by the equally reviled Gypsies. Only the beautiful Esmerelda (Alysia Beltran) takes pity on him, and he’s captivated by her free nature. He’ll have competitors for her affections in the handsome Captain Phoebus (Jack O’Reilly) as well as archdeacon Frollo (Clay David), the show’s villain. Belken’s Esmerelda is the strong-spirited underdog, willing to fight the ecclesiastical powers that condemn her people.
Clay David is deliciously wicked as the unsympathetic Frollo. With a vacant, unfeeling stare, David can appear menacing and domineering as he lords over his charge and nephew Quasimodo. Frollo of course is a hypocrite; professing piety while lusting for Esmerelda. David channels the frustration and irony of dogma and extremism (sound familiar?).
Each of the characters gets a theme; (“Out There” for Quasimodo, “God Help the Outcasts” for Esmeralda, “Hellfire” for Frollo, and “Rest and Recreation” for Phoebus). Musical Director Jon Gallo and his orchestra weave magic with the score. Costume Designer Brooke Jennings dresses the shows beautifully while Eric Johnson’s lighting creates an other-worldly environment.
My only minor concern in this stunning production is the sound in the cavernous Victoria Theatre, one not designed for acoustics by any stretch of the imagination. The lyrics occasionally get muddled and melt into an undecipherable blur. Still, BAM in their short existence has formed a powerful, creative force in musical theatre. Hunchback may be their finest achievement to date, and with its topical social themes, is must-see theatre.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame continues through August 5th, 2018 at Victoria Theater, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http:// https://www.bamsf.org or by calling 415-863-7576.
Photo credits by Ben Krantz.