BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; book by Peter Parnell; based on the novel by Victor Hugo with songs from the Disney film; director, Shaun Kerrison; choreographer, Connor Gallagher; music director, Brent-Alan Huffman; scenic design, Adam Koch; costume design, Martha Bromelmeier; lighting design, Richard Latta; sound design, Kevin Heard; wig/hair and make-up, April Spain; fight director, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum; production stage manager, Karen Parlato

Cast in Order of Appearance:

Quasimodo, F. Michael Haynie; Claude Frollo, Bradley Dean; Esmeralda, Sydney Morton; Clopin Trouillefou, Paolo Montalban; Captain Phoebus de Martin, Christopher Johnstone; Jehan Frollo, Matthew Amira; Florika, Michelle Rombola; Father Dupin, Official, James Zannelli; Lieutenant Frederic Charlus, Collin Kessler; King Louis XI, Saint Aphrodisius, Neal Mayer; Madam, Blair Beasley; Congregation, Daniel Beeman, Matthew Curiano, Brian Dillon, Jordana Grolnick, Caitlin Humphreys, Nathaniel Irvin, Lexi Lyric, Diego Rios, Michelle Rombola, Emma Sohlberg

Performances and Tickets:

Now through August 6, Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St. (Route 1), Ogunquit, Maine; tickets start at $47 and are available at the Box Office, online at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or by calling 207-646-5511.

BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMEThe Ogunquit Playhouse in southern Maine has been setting the bar higher and higher with each new production under Bradford T. Kenney, artistic director. What used to be a quintessential ocean-side summer stock house now operates from May through November, often mounting New England, and occasionally national, regional premieres.

Its current musical, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, is the company's most ambitious venture yet. Adapted from the 1996 Disney animated film which was based on the classic Victor Hugo novel "Notre Dame de Paris," the Ogunquit production boasts a towering vaulted set design, a 21-member cast of Broadway veterans, and a tremendous 32-member choir. This HUNCHBACK delivers soaring vocals as big as its epic themes.

Why, then, does this magnificently staged musical featuring stellar performances and, for the most part, a terrific score so often lose its steam? Well, perhaps it's because (with apologies to another Disney musical featuring outcasts and a sentimental love story) it's a tale as old as time.

BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMETHE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME starts out with a powerful first act that establishes Archdeacon Claude Frollo (Bradley Dean) as a rigid but still somewhat sympathetic man of the cloth who, through equal parts duty and self-righteousness, takes his grotesquely deformed orphaned nephew (whom he names Quasimodo, half-man, half-monster) into his care. Ostensibly to protect him from the brutality of the world outside, Frollo imprisons Quasimodo (F. Michel Haynie) in the cathedral where he becomes the bell ringer. From his labyrinthine bell tower at the "Top of the World," Quasimodo longs to experience just one day "Out There" in the city that he sees from above. When the gypsies come to Paris on the one "Topsy Turvy" day they are allowed to perform in the streets, Quasimodo, with the encouragement of the stone gargoyle statues who "speak" to him, decides to leave his "Sanctuary" and enjoy the festivities. When he is subsequently crowned the King of Fools by the gypsy emcee Clopin (Paolo Montalban), he revels in his inclusion as the star of the troupe's satire.

BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMEQuasimodo's celebration turns quickly to panic, though, when the audience assaults and tortures him because of his appearance. Helpless to escape, he is saved by Esmeralda (Sydney Morton), the brave gypsy dancer whose kindness immediately captivates him. Soon we learn that Quasimodo is not the only man to fall under Esmeralda's spell. Captain Pheobus (Christopher Johnstone) decides he would love to enjoy some "Rest and Recreation" with her now that he has returned to Paris after four years at the front. The Archdeacon, too, despite every effort to suppress his lustful thoughts, is powerless under what he can only conclude is a witch's evil spell.

BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMEWhen the story pits France's medieval government and religious establishment against the mysterious outcasts embodied by Quasimodo and the gypsies, the musical takes flight. One can easily draw parallels to our current world politics where threats are seen in every dark corner and "others" are blamed for our own shortcomings. But when the story veers abruptly and focuses on the sentimental love story between Pheobus and Esmeralda, what had been a promising and provocative new musical becomes just another storybook Disney romance. The shift in tone is jarring, and momentum is lost.

BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMEThe character of Esmeralda is also never clearly defined, even though she is the tragic heroine of the story. She serves as little more than a catalyst for the men's longings - and far more interesting conflicts. Pheobus grows from an arrogant good soldier who simply follows orders into a selfless and truly loving rebel willing to sacrifice himself for others. Frollo devolves into a prototypical arch villain overcome by his own appetites and hell bent on punishing the woman he wants to ravage. Quasimodo becomes shattered by disillusionment yet still manages to rise up and mete out justice on behalf of the woman he loves. But we know nothing more of Esmeralda at the end than we did at the beginning. Her story is reduced to simple melodrama. It's an opportunity lost.

BWW REVIEW: Voices and Emotions Soar in Ogunquit's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMETHE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME has been in development by Disney Theatricals with an eye toward a Broadway transfer. It received its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in California and went on to Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey last year. This Ogunquit production is the first new staging since its rights were licensed regionally.

Whether or not Disney Theatricals still aspires to bring the musical to Broadway is uncertain. But what director Shaun Kerrison and the entire Ogunquit creative team have proven with this exquisite production is that THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME can succeed. Book issues aside, the Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz score soars, and with performances like those delivered by Bradley Dean, F. Michael Haynie, Christopher Johnstone, Paolo Montalban, Sydney Morton and the Entire company and choir, Quasimodo's humanity can melt the hardest stone-cold heart.

PHOTOS BY GARY NG AND JULIA RUSSELL: F. Michael Haynie as Quasimodo and the Company of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME; Bradley Dean as Claude Frollo; F. Michael Haynie, Paolo Montalban as Clopin and Company; Sydney Morton as Esmeralda; Sydney Morton and Christopher Johnstone as Captain Pheobus; Sydney Morton; F. Michael Haynie and the Company of Gargoyles

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From This Author Jan Nargi

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