BWW Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME - Texas State Rings In Masterpiece
With the Notre Dame Cathedral still in the news after a nearly catastrophic fire so recently it seemed strange coincidence to attend a production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. It certainly brought home for me the majesty of the medieval church but it also lent a small glimpse into the immense scope of Hugo's work. Kaitlin Hopkins takes the medieval setting and recreates it in a high concept artwork in black, white, tones of gray and slashes of crimson. The effect is a feast for the senses.
Based on the 1996 Disney animated movie with music by Alan Merkin, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Peter Parnell, and the 1831 book by Victor Hugo, the musical follows the story of Quasimodo (Daniel Z. Miller), a misshapen bellringer raised at the cathedral. I consider the movie to be far superior to many of the animated musicals of the same era. It has timeless storytelling at its heart and has an operatic quality that is simply beautiful. The ending of the movie was changed to soften the tale for younger audiences, but Hugo's original ending does reappear in the stage version. Quasimodo's disabilities have been compounded by his uncle Frollo's (Ron Ulen) cruel treatment and his anger over the hunchbacks' illegitimate birth. When Quasimodo sees the Feast Of Fools being celebrated below his perch high in the bell tower, it's more than he can resist, he must see the spectacle at ground level. It's here that he meets the seductive gypsy, Esmeralda (Anna Yi Puig). The dancer also captures the attention of the guard captain Phoebus (Chris Clark). It's this contact with strangers that sets in motion a series of events that lead to love, loss and death. The musical is so achingly beautiful it captures the soul and sends it soaring with the ringing of the bells of Notre Dame.
It's so odd that this Disney musical hasn't met with the massive acclaim that others such as THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST or THE LITTLE MERMAID. To me the story is vastly superior and the songs more meaningful. But I'm not a 8 year old child either. I'm an opera enthusiast, who loves the pageantry and sweepingly tragic stories written by Verdi or Puccini, and Kaitlin Hopkins direction elevates this material to that classic stratosphere. The high concept production is simply gorgeous in every element. From Court Watson's stark skeleton that creates the framework of the great cathedral with elevated parapets and open arches, to the intricate simplicity of Brandon R. McWilliams' eye popping costumes, no detail has been overlooked. Andrew McIntyre's lighting design not only illuminates, it actually feeds the emotion on stage. The orchestra directed by Stephanie Wells gives a flawless performance equal to any professional musicians I have ever witnessed. Choreography by Cassie Abate fills the stage with the vibrance of gypsy movement and the excitement of a Broadway caliber musical. The stage ensemble is remarkable in its maturity and level of skill, they glide from scene to scene with ease and grace. The leads could easily walk on to the stage of any Broadway tour and be unrecognizable from their peers. Daniel Miller as Quasimodo captures our hearts and fills our scenes with is clear tenor. This young man will be a star with his name in lights one day very soon. It was an honor to see the show in all its glory and these young performers show their stuff in such a perfect setting. Huge kudos to the entire production team for putting together such a sweeping tale is such a magnificent fashion.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney film
Directed by Kaitlin Hopkins
Texas State University Of Theatre and Dance