The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater
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Mc Coy Rigby Entertainment is presenting the Los Angeles premiere of the Disney musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This story is based on Victor Hugo’s (the Les Mis guy) Notre Dame de Paris and, more specifically, a number of iconic film adaptations of the novel. Disney’s animated version softened the tragic plot by adding a cute trio of gargoyles and giving the main characters a happy ending, though it still pushed the envelope for Disney entertainment.

 

The American stage production, which sought to blend some of the bleaker elements in the novel with the film, started out at the La Jolla Playhouse and later transferred to the Papermill Playhouse. But the production did not receive a Broadway greenlight. The current production has seen more revisions as well as some canny conceptual changes which help to balance the show. These are mostly thanks to veteran director Glenn Casale’s ingenuity.

 

Casale’s most innovative idea is casting Quasimodo with deaf actor, John McGinty. This is no cheap device. Quasimodo is a misshapen man who has been rescued by Dom Claude Frollo (Marc Jacoby), who is secretly his uncle. Surviving on the “charity” of the church, Quasimodo is kept hidden from the public as the bell ringer for the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the constant tolling of the bells has deafened him.

Escaping from his bell tower for a day, Quasimodo meets the gypsy girl, Esmeralda (Cassie Simone), who protects him from the jeering mob. Frollo hates gypsies with a passion but finds that Esmeralda’s beauty awakens a powerful and forbidden passion within him. Enter the handsome guard Phoebus (Eric Kunze), who catches Esmeralda’s eye, and the characters are set for a dramatic confrontation.

The Deaf West productions of musicals have proved that deaf actors can bring a fascinating new dynamic to musical storytelling and McGinty’s casting as Quasimodo takes full advantage of that. McGinty brings a fresh innocence to the role, though his physical deformities are limited to a prosthetic hump which we watch him put on. Quasimodo’s speaking and singing voice are beautifully performed by a clarion-toned Dino Nicandros.

Jacoby has long had one of the best legitimate voices on Broadway, and he brings both anguish and evil to his despicable Frollo. Simone and Kunze are an attractive pair with strong voices, but they are hampered by the one-dimensional characters offered in Peter Parnell’s book.

Musical Director Dennis Castellano expertly marshals the forces of his cast of powerful singers, along with a choir which flanks both sides of the playing area. The glorious sounds that resound through the theater make Alan Menken’s serviceable score sound almost spectacular.

Casale keeps the action moving and plot points clearly and effectively staged. Stephen Gifford’s suitably grandiose scenic design blends beautifully with Jared A. Sayeg’s moody lighting to illustrate the many Paris locations.

Parnell’s script never successfully synthesizes the darker story elements with the lighter material from the animated film. Nor does it solve the problem that Frollo’s powerful intensity tends to steal focus from Quasimodo’s artless virtue. But this handsome production is certainly entertaining and filled with spectacle.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts    September 17 – October 9, 2016  www.LaMiradaTheatre.com