The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Avon Players, Rochester MI
Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos courtesy of Avon Players
A Colorful, Moving “Hunchback” at Avon Players
There are many things to be thankful for this holiday season, and many reasons to be joyful. High on any list should be Avon Players’ thoroughly enjoyable production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.
The stage musical’s concept springs from two sources: Victor Hugo’s classic 1831 novel of the same name, and the 1996 Disney animated musical film. In 1999, “Hunchback” had its world premiere in Berlin, Germany, with a successful run through 2002. It opened in North America at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, CA in 2014. While not making it to Broadway, it did have a brief run in New Jersey and White Plains, NY from 2015 through 2017 as it opened up to popular regional theater productions around the country.
Although Avon Players, as a small community theatre, does not boast a professional Equity cast or crew, theirs is a praiseworthy effort here. With excellent staging of what can be, at times, rather mediocre material, the result is a fine work of stagecraft and a wonderful showcase for some of our local talent.
Hugo’s enduring French morality tale, set in 1482 Paris, seeks to answer the question: What makes a monster into a man, and what makes a man into a monster? It tells the story of Quasimodo, a sensitive young man full of courage, kindness, hopes and dreams. Since a child, his outward deformities have driven him to take sanctuary in the majestic cathedral of Notre Dame. He becomes the bell ringer and soon is almost deaf, further isolating him from the rest of humanity. His guardian is the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, whose despicable actions are anything but Christian. A young cavalier, Phoebus de Martin, arrives to assume duties as captain of the Cathedral Guard under the archdeacon. Conflicts soon arise as all three men fall under the spell of a beautiful gypsy girl named Esmeralda.
Themes of religious hypocrisy, classism, and how those seen as different are treated – all are addressed in the story, set to an original musical score. Gargoyles, played by members of the ensemble cast, serve as a narrative device to help interpret Quasimodo’s inner thoughts and motivations, as well as move the story along.
Clayton Hargrave is superb as Quasimodo, with soaring vocals and an intense pathos guiding his sensitive performance. He has a hard task, singing bent over much of the time, but he knocks it out of the park.
Other lead performers include: Anthony Tringali, who delivers an engaging flourish as Clopin, King of the Gypsies, with first-rate vocals and dance moves; Salvatore Sbrocca as the dashing cavalier Phoebus de Martin, like a modern-day Errol Flynn with his commanding swashbuckle moves and excellent voice; Lori Smith as the enchanting gypsy dancer Esmeralda offering a sizzling triple-threat turn that wins, and breaks, the heart of every man she meets; Frollo, the archdeacon (and archvillain) of Notre Dame, capably portrayed by Nick Frederick, who, like the other leads, has fine vocal abilities, although at times his movements appear a bit stiff. Indeed, some of the actors seem to be holding back just a little, while still offering memorable performances.
Kudos to the remarkable Avon Players president and director John (JD) Deirlein. His handiwork is evident throughout the show with impressive staging, lighting effects, vocal direction and costume design. Note: Be on the lookout for an amusing and unexpected wardrobe twist at the beginning of Act Two. Versatile set design by Brad Holoday, which features massive bells, wooden walkways and plaster gargoyles, can be at turns foreboding and inspirational. Louise Holoday provides effective and brightly colored period costumes and hairstyles that allow for plenty of movement. Choreography by Maritoni Harte, while lively, is uneven and a little chaotic at times.
The orchestra pit holds pleasures as well. In many community playhouses, live music can leave something to be desired. But in the capable hands of music director Jim Territo, the orchestra for “Hunchback” does not disappoint.
The Avon Players have created a truly entertaining theatre experience, well worth seeing. Heads up: You may want to keep in mind that seating is very tight, especially during sold out performances.
When: Now through December 8, 2018
8:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $20 to $22
Where: Avon Playhouse
1185 Washington Rd
Rochester, MI 48306