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Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Downtown Cabaret Theatre

I had the pleasure of being first introduced to THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME by seeing it performed at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. I was drawn deeply into the story that is based on the Victor Hugo novel. This stage production, with book by Peter Parnell, and directed by Christy McIntosh-Newsom features a first rate cast accompanied by excellent musicians and a harmonious choir, while performed on a brilliantly designed set, with well placed lighting that enhanced every scene.

The singing and choreography creates the intended ambience for each moment through a variety of songs conveying a myriad of messages and moods, songs taken from the Disney film with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. The costumes are elaborate and reflect the characters well.

As someone who was once in a college production in which I had to stand motionless on stage for prolonged periods of time, I have an extreme appreciation for the talent shown by the cast members who portray gargoyles, their stillness looking incredible from the audience's perspective.

Ben McCormack shines as Quasimodo, the central protagonist who is the hunchback. Remarkably staying in the character of someone whose movements are those of a deformed hunchback, he also displays the unique ability to deliver lines of someone who has speech issues, in a manner that makes all his words clear to the audience, while simultaneously conveying his speech difficulties. McCormack's singing was moving, with feeling that touches the hearts of all audience members, truly generating sympathy for the character, and empathy from all people who ever felt as if any unchangeable aspect of our physical appearance has ever held us back from anything in any way. The audience members find ourselves hoping that Quasimodo ends up with his love interest, Esmeralda.

Alexis Willoughby delivers a powerful performance as Esmeralda, a gypsy who sees Quasimodo being physically and verbally abused, and then interferes on his behalf, like the Good Samaritan who helps someone from a different background, realizing that we are all God's children with inherent human dignity, regardless of our culture or appearance. She is the first person to truly treat Quasimodo like a full fledged human being. It is not surprising that Quasimodo falls for her, and even views her as reflecting, "Heaven's light," which he had previously been made to feel as if he was never entitled to experience, due to his appearance. Alexis Willoughby touches the emotions of the audience in a captivating performance of "God Help the Outcasts," a song that reflects her own emotional connection with Quasimodo.

Quasimodo has competition for Esmeralda's heart, a man named Phoebus De Martin whose complex character is believably portrayed by Nicholas Kuell. Phoebus becomes a very likeable person, to the point where the audience wants to see good come to him, even though we are still hoping for Esmeralda to choose Quasimodo, romantically. The uniquely likeable portrayal of the central protagonist's primary competitor for his love interest brings a refreshingly positive flair to Esmeralda, showing her to be a person of strong character and sound judgment.

The always entertaining actor Joe Cardozo plays likeable gypsy Clopin whose musical number "The Court of Miracles" provides an excellently timed and wonderfully performed necessary distraction from the seriousness of the central storyline. The other gypsy cast members accompany him in what becomes a brilliant stage show, within the larger production, complete with special effects, including Clopin's abrupt disappearance in a puff of smoke.

The central antagonist is Dom Claude Frollo, a corrupt Catholic priest whose views towards others are the polar opposite of those that a true follower of Christ should have. Perry Liu gives a stunning performance as this villain, deliberately and phenomenally conveying this character's depravity through words, actions, and song. Frollo is Quasimodo's uncle and caretaker, yet Quasimodo calls Frollo "Master," as if Quasimodo was a slave. Frollo refers to Quasimodo as a monster and believes that Quasimodo's deformities are a divine punishment to Frollo's brother (Quasimodo's father), for becoming romantically involved with a gypsy. This reflects an abhorrent mindset that has been used throughout the ages to mercilessly and unjustly attack the moral character of parents of children with disabilities, while simultaneously denying the full human value and blessing that all children are to the world, which also ultimately denies the goodness and justness of the all-loving God who works all things together for good, creating all people for good, never as punishments for others. Frollo's ignorance of God's immeasurable love and grace is further displayed in Frollo's heretical belief that some people are so steeped in sin that they are beyond the reach of God's saving grace. In reality, no matter how far someone has strayed, God lovingly wants all people to come back to Him, have knowledge of the truth, and be saved.

Early on, Frollo makes a claim that he will raise Quasimodo to think just like he (Frollo) does. Frollo has an attitude that those who think differently from him or who refuse to follow his orders if such orders violate the dictates of their conscience are people who should be denied their basic human rights, including the right to life. A guardian who conveys such a warped view to a child, in addition to the spiritual consequences of leading a child astray, also risks dangerous Earthly consequences. If that child accepts that guardian's warped view against the value of the lives of those who disagree or disobey, yet disagrees with the guardian on some other issue, the child may find that disagreement to constitute acceptable grounds to murder that guardian.

Will Frollo come to see the errors of his ways and embrace the full humanity of Quasimodo and of all the gypsies, seeing them as precious children of God with equal inherent human dignity? Will Quasimodo and Esmeralda end up together, or will Esmeralda choose Phoebus? Will Esmeralda be forced to reject them both and enter into an illicit relationship with Frollo? Will whoever does not end up with Esmeralda find someone else? To find the answers to these questions, come to see the show! You will enjoy it tremendously, as I did! THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is scheduled to continue to run at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT every Friday at 7:30 P.M., Saturday at 5:00 PM and 8:15 PM, and Sunday at 6:00 P.M. through October 15, 2017. I highly recommend this production. Tickets can be purchased at

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