Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Lincoln Theatre

CCT production is not a sugary sweet confection

By: Apr. 29, 2024
Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Lincoln Theatre
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Columbus Children Theatre’s production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME had a couple of strikes against it even before the curtains opened on April 26. Combining the words “Disney musical” and “children’s theater” together can be the musical critics’ version of kryptonite.   

Perhaps this CCT production might cause many skeptics to rethink that prejudice. HUNCHBACK runs through May 5 at the Lincoln Theatre (769 E. Long St. in downtown Columbus).

Director David J. Glover, choreographer Myles Lawson, and musical director Zac Delmonte have produced an epic performance that is anything but a sugary sweet children’s musical. The two-act show draws heavily from the Victor Hugo novel as well as the 1996 Disney film. Brilliant acting mixed in with a powder keg of singing, dancing, and orchestration stuns its audience.

HUNCHBACK checks off many of the characteristics of the typical Disney offering:

  • Dead parents? Check.
  • Evil Stepparent? Bingo.
  • Catchy, earworm soundtrack? Yep.
  • Unlikely couple? Uh-huh.
  • Happy ending? Well, not so much.

For its seasonal finale, CCT assembles a 13-actor cast of adults and students, a 12-person choir, and a 12-member orchestra and spreads those talents across a stunning façade of the Notre Dame cathedral, designed by Dan Gray.

Hunter Minor stars as the orphaned Quasimodo, the deformed bellringer of the Notre Dame cathedral. After both of his parents die, he is taken in and kept out of sight by his caretaker Dom Claude Frollo (James Held). Quasimodo longs to be among the typical French citizens. During the Feast of Fools, he escapes from the cathedral and falls hard for the gypsy dancer Esmeralda (Olivia Noel). However, he is treated almost as harshly by the ones outside the cathedral as he is by the ones inside of it.

As the story progresses, Esmeralda unwittingly becomes the center point of a love triangle as Quasimodo, Frollo, and Phoebus De Martin (Jordan Young) all become smitten by this independent-minded outsider. Frollo, the obtuse angle in the love triangle, decides if he can’t have Esmeralda, no one else will.

Minor captures the mannerisms of Quasimodo. He sputters and stutters among his peers but can converse perfectly with the cement statues of the cathedral. Noel carries off the vocal attributes and attitudes of Esmeralda, who befriends Quasimodo, loves Martin, and is disgusted by Frollo.

Held’s Frollo is the worst kind of villain: the one who believes what he is doing is absolutely the right thing. He justifies his every misdeed as either an act of “God’s will” or as someone else’s fault. He is willing to destroy what he loves if he can’t control it. Young’s dynamic voice brings to life the war-weary veteran Martin, who often questions the orders he is given.

If it were just those four, HUNCHBACK would be an interesting story. However, it is the cavalcade of sideshow performances of Patrick Schaefer (who plays Frollo’s prodigal brother Jehran), Michael Neary (the gypsy king Clopin Trouillefou), and Tanner Wink (Frederic Charles) and many, many others that provide depth to this show. Lawson choreographs intricate dance sequences give HUNCHBACK its energy.

What also makes HUNCHBACK so compelling is its challenging score. Composer Stephen Schwartz composed the HUNCHBACK soundtrack seven years before he released his colossal hit WICKED (2003).

The choir of Jerrod Amstutz, Leah Buczek, Michael Bull, Karen Cook Sahlin, Dan Hildebrand, Mitch Kahn, Denae Lawrence, Madeleine McNamara, Dallas Ray, Sarah Santilli, Aaron Turnbull, and Deryn Tye recreates Schwartz’s desired wall of sound. They open the show with a steady march down the aisles of the Lincoln Theatre and then add chaos and madness to songs like “Topsy Turvy.”

Although unseen from the audience, the orchestra adds an extra layer of texture to HUNCHBACK. Delmonte masterfully directs Aaron Dvorak and Matthew Dowing on keyboards, the reed section of Melanie Richards, Jarred Small, and Robert Brooks, and Tristan Keaton and Brandon Barnes on trumpet as well as Luke Furniss, (trombone), Jaryn Danz (viola), Matthew Kinnear (violin), Robin Coolidge (cello) and Drew Martin (percussion).

While it has many of the attributes of a great Disney musical, one must be forewarned. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is dark, disturbing, and doesn’t end in a stilted cliché. That is something creators of future Disney musicals could learn from.  


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