BWW Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Carousel Theatre Of Indianola: A Jewel in the Middle of Indianola's Busiest.
What a week it has been for the city of Indianola. Des Moines Metro Opera closed their 2019 season, RAGBRAI has been through town, the county fair has started, and we are preparing for the National Balloon Classic. Yet there is another event in town that people will soon be talking about. Carousel Theatre of Indianola is opening the final production of their 2019 season with a big and grand production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Their production opens on July 26, but I was fortunate to be able to catch a preview of the show, and this theatre is giving Indianola another gem to add to the treasures the town has to offer.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of "Hunchback of Notre Dame," it is the tale of Quasimodo, who was taken into Notre Dame by Archdeacon Claude Frollo as a child after his parents died. In this telling of the story, his mother was a gypsy and his father was Jehan, brother to Claude Frollo. From the top of the show, we see that Frollo sees Quasimodo as a monster and keeps him hidden inside Notre Dame. Quasimodo longs to go out in the world for just one day and experience life outside of the Cathedral. When he hears that Frollo plans to put an end to the Feast of Fools, where everyone dresses to look as horrible and frightening as possible, he sees his last opportunity to go out into the world and for one day leaves the Cathedral. While at the Feast we are introduced to Captain Phoebus de Martin who has come to join the Cathedral guard after serving on the battlefields, and a traveling gypsy by the name of Esmerelda. Frollo, Phoebus, and Quasimodo, all fall for Esmerelda for lust, love, and friendship. As the show continues the audience is left to decide who in the show is a monster, and who is a man.
This production is truly a gem to behold and is something that would be daunting for any director. This directing team is led by Alex Lindsley as Director and Andra Peeler as Music Director, who are were making their directing debuts after multiple shows onstage. Alex has a tremendous understanding of the story and it is apparent in how he tells the story on stage. One of my favorite touches he has brought to the show is the use of a moving arch that moves from place to place on stage to take the audience to each of the locations in the show. Andra Peeler has taken the ensemble to new levels as they tackled the most difficult music Carousel has ever tackled in the production, and the ensemble sounds amazing.
Carousel has polished this gem of a production with the detailed sets by Jim Lindsley and the gorgeous lighting by Shawn Jensen. Jim's set features the Arch we talked about before, as well as 4, 2 level choir towers that look like they could have been buildings in the period the show was set in. My favorite set piece is the beautiful prayer benches that were built specifically for the show. The detail put into them, made them seem that they had been borrowed from a church. The beauty of the pieces in this set is highlighted by Shawn Jensen' lighting design. While the set pays homage to the city of Paris at the time of the show, the lighting pays homage to the beautiful stained glass windows of Notre Dame. The lush use of color in hid lighting sets the mood of every scene of the show, and at times highlights the certain cast members and what their characters feel internally.
The cast also features a mix of people returning to the Carousel stage as well as people making their Carousel debuts. Making her Carousel debut in the role of Esmerelda is Michelle Vaudrin. Just as Frollo, Quasimodo, and Phoebus are entranced by Esmerelda, so is the audience. She grabs your attention as soon as she is revealed at the beginning of "Dance of the Tambourine," and takes command of the stage. Soon after that, we get to see the heart she brings to Esmerelda in how she treats Quasimodo. The care she shows him after he is beaten at the Feast of Fools sets up her beautiful character arc to the end of the show. Her beautiful singing voice is featured multiple times throughout the show, and allows for a powerful rendition of "God Help The Outcast." In this song, she shows the heart Esmerelda has to help others in a way that goes beyond the lyrics.
Besides the cast members making their debuts, we get amazing performances from people who have been in multiple shows with Carousel. One of them is Chris Williams in the role of Archdeacon Claude Frollo. In a change of pace for him, we get to see him as the villain in the show. And his performance makes the character truly evil. The laugh he has that comes a few times during the show is dark and maniacal. What truly brings his evilness across is the moments you see and hear his character snap at people, which comes slowly at the start of the show but picks up pace as the show continues. The first time he does this made me jump in my seat.
In the pivotal role of Quasimodo is Jay Jacobson, who also is making his Carousel Debut. His first entrance when he turns from man to Quasimodo was mesmerizing. As each piece of costume or makeup was added, it seemed as though a weight was pushing down on him, slowly causing him to take a posture that is crooked in its own way. I also appreciate the voice he came up with for Quasimodo. It had a great balance of showing that talking was difficult for him, but it didn't come off as mimicking a disability. One of the difficulties with this role is the range the singer has to have. Jacobson's vocal range matches the score beautifully from showing his lower range in "Out There," to sustaining notes in his higher range during "Made of Stone." He also will break your heart as Jay allows you to see the man inside Quasimodo. He does this by showing a selfless Quasimodo that we see as he cares for both Phoebus and Esmerelda when they are hurt or trying to hide.
Rounding out the leads is Greg DiMarco making his return to Carousel after winning the Cloris Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Gilligan in "Gilligan's Island: The Musical." This time he is tackling the role of the charming Phoebus de Martin. Greg has a powerful and commanding voice that calls you to attention. This works very well throughout the show as he gets the attention of the people of Paris multiple times throughout. My favorite moment is when he jumps on one of the choir towers to call the people of Paris to fight for their city against Frollo. What makes this my favorite of his is that Greg has built a character that seems to be trying to understand what his duty is. He knows it's not to be on the battlefield, and quickly learns that it isn't working for the cathedral guard.
From the phenomenal directing team to an amazing production team and a top-notch cast, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is a shining gem that shows the great tradition of Carousel Theatre, and earns a spot as one of the best things to do in Indianola the next few weeks. The show continues Friday's and Saturdays at 7:00 PM and Sunday's at 2:00 PM through August 4. Tickets are sold at the door 45 minutes before the show starts and are $15 for adults and $10 for students. To find out more about Carousel Theatre of Indianola, or this production visit https://www.carouseltheatre.org/
Carousel Theatre recently announced their 2019-2020 season. Their season features both classic and new stories that will be a treat for audiences. See their schedule below.
Delusions of Power
Written and Directed by David Dubczak
November 7-10 2019
Review written by DC Felton
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