The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical energizes the Victoria Stage.

Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez) as the King at the” Feast of Fools” in Bay Area Musicals’ The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Victoria Theatre. Photo by Ben Krantz.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Musical. Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney animated feature, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.  New songs byAlan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and new book by Peter Parnell. Bay Area Musicals at Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco, CA. tickets at www.bamsf.org/hunchback.

July 7 – August 5, 2018

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical energizes the Victoria Stage.

 Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” reached theaters in 1923 in the silent movie era starring Lon Chaney and in the 1939 talkie with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda. In 1956 the French film “Notre-Dame de Paris” was the first to appear in color. The 1996 animated musical film version was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. The stage musical with Menken and Schwartz still in control of the music was produced in Germany in 2002 where it played for 3 years. The latest musical version had its world premiere in 2014 at the La Jolla Theater in conjunction with New Jersey’s famous Paper Mill Playhouse in preparation for Broadway but it never made the big time.

One probably reason for failure to make it to Broadway can be identified at the Victoria Theatre where Bay Area Musicals has mounted an energetic but problematic staging. This production overemphasizes the dark side of story and buries the hopeful angle needed for a Disney musical to be successful. This occurs despite the talented creative staff that put together the initial script. It is a re-working of both the animated film and the stage production under the auspices of Disney Theatrical. They have brought aboard Peter Parnell to revise the book working with music/lyrics from the animated film by Scott Schwartz  and Alan Menken.

The evening starts with the spectacular opening number “The Bells of Notre Dame” led by Clopin (Brandon Thomas) as a narrator and later as King of the Gypsies, to tell parts of the story. The nine member on-stage band is a directorial conceit that may have been dictated by the depth of the stage and lack of an orchestral pit. It does not enhance the evening and to this reviewer is a distraction. 

Parnell has written a brief prolog and we learn that the deformed baby Quasimodo has been sired by the dead wastrel the brother of Dom Claude Frollo (Clay David) . When the storyline continues it is years later and Frollo is inculcating the adult Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez)) that his time in the bell tower has been his “Sanctuary.” This is contrary to Quasimodo’s thoughts having been made deaf by the bell ringing and he desires to be “Out There.”

When Quasimodo does leave the tower to attend the Feast of Fools (vivaciously choreographed by Director Matthew McCoy) his deformity leads to the crowd attacking him until the Gypsy Esmeralda (Alysia Beltran) intervenes. Sadly the deep affection that theoretically bonds the two does not cross the footlights and one has to be content with Beltran’s beautiful singing voice alone.

Complications set in when Phoebus (Jack O’Reilly) arrives to arrest Esmeralda. Just as her charm has captivated Frollo so it has with Phoebus. Frollo’s infatuation turns to sexual obsession and in a fit of rage orders the destruction of the Gypsies and the Court of Miracles.

Each major character has a leitmotif that is carried throughout the show in either words or music. Quasimodo’s is the plaintive “Out There” (a re-wording of the original “Up There”) expressing his desire to see life outside the tower even though he is on “Top of the World.” For Frollo the theme is expressed in “Hellfire” and for Esmeralda it is emphasized with “God Help the Outcasts” and “Someday.” For Phoebus it is “Rest and Recreation” and for the fictitious patron Saint Aphordisius it is “Flight into Egypt.”

Alex Rodriguez turns in a powerful performance as Quasimodo using his expressive tenor voice to accentuate the torment built into his twisted body. Clay David’s Frollo matches Rodriguez note for note and is able to modulate his distictive baritone voice displaying menace with a touch of vulnerability giving a stunning fully rounded performance.

The staging and thus the direction is problematic with the set being claustrophobic with glitches that will be corrected over time. The ensemble performs admirably with the caveat that the gargoyles interaction with Quasimodo is perfunctory not adding any depth to the concept of the play. Also the sound could be turned down a notch.

Be warned it is not for children. Running time is two hours and 20 minutes.

CAST: Feature Alex Rodriguez as “Quasimodo,” Clay David as “Frollo,” Alysia Noelle Beltran as “Esmeralda,” Jack O’Reilly as “Phoebus,” Branden Noel Thomas as “Trouillefou Clopin,” Pauli N. Armonkul as “Player,” Patrick Brewer as “Player,” Alvin Castillo Bunales as “Player,” Jorey Cantu as “Player,” Juan Castro as “Player,” Julio Chavez as “Player,” Z Hansen as “Player,” Christopher Juan as “Player,” Jessie Anne Lukban as “Player,” Benjamin Nguyen as “Player,” Loreigna Sinclair as “Player” and Kaylamay Suarez as “Player.”

 

CREATIVE TEAM: Set designer Matthew McCoy  and Jon Gallo; Wayne Roadie as Stage Manager;  Cat Knight as Assistant Stage Manager;  Genevieve Pabon as Assistant Stage Manager;  Brooke Jennings as Costume Designer; Eric Johnson as Lighting Designer; Anton Hedman as Sound Designer; Clay David as Prop Designer;  Jackie Dennis as Wig Designer;  Jake Delgado as Sound Board Operator; Richard Gutierrez as Wardrobe Master; Stewart Lyle as Technical Director.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of  www.theatreworldim2.com.

 

 

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