BWW Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME Swings In at Footlite Musicals
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is an internationally recognized symbol, a mammoth structure of stone and priceless art, some of which suffered from the ravages of fire in April. But it is so much more. It is the building that bears witness to the faith and failures of countless people who come to it every day, and Footlite Musicals gives you a window into some of those deep themes with their production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
The Cathedral could not have come to life without the set design. The flies used for the bells were cleverly constructed, which is a must for this production. The use of the full set and all its layers was also especially effective, with a full mix of scaffolding, floor, and trapdoor. It made it a very dynamic setting for the events of the show.
At first, I didn't expect the show to offer much in the way of choreography. I didn't think it would be a very demanding production. However, the choreography of Trish Roberds really shines through throughout the show. There were some excellent featured gypsy dancers who brought to life the Feast of Fools and the gaiety of the gypsy people.
This show could not have come to life without a proper Quasimodo, and Kyle Cherry did an excellent job. He had to contend with some prosthetics that can make it difficult to emote, but he really thought through how to make Quasimodo more than a hunchback or some caricature of a man. He brought out his humanity and depth.
Watching this show for me was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster because it has so many nuances that resonate with our modern world. You don't always come to the theater to think, but this show made it impossible to avoid delving deep into some of the darkest and brightest bits of humanity.
Claude Frollo is a difficult character to like. He descends into obsession and selfishness and temptation, despite the fact that he is meant to be a man of God. Markell D. Pipkins did so well showing the mental torture and anguish Frollo goes through. But more importantly he uses Frollo as a vehicle for teaching a troubling lesson. A title in front of your name does not make you a better person or a more worthy person. That is earned through actions, and Pipkins as Frollo helps debunk the notion that titles of authority equate to the right to rule even when the act itself is wrong. And he does it all in a profoundly touching voice. It is heavy with warmth and emotion, or at times fatality. It was a real joy to see him on stage.
The perfect foil to Frollo is of course Esmeralda, played by Adrian Daeger. Her role is to show that the kind of faith Frollo should have can be embodied in the least likely person. She may seem to be a profligate gypsy woman, but at every turn she shows the most compassion and sincere concern for her fellow human beings. It was especially moving to listen to her as she fought against racial prejudice and sexual harassment. She refused to leave behind what was right in order to follow an authority figure thoughtlessly.
Listening to the lyrics by Stephen Schwartz in these songs combined with the melodies from Alan Menken was haunting. They speak some intense and unwavering truths that are hard to miss. "God help the outcasts or nobody will." "What makes a monster and what makes a man?" "It's not my fault if in God's plan He made the devil so much stronger than a man." And finally, "And at its cruelest it is still the only world we've got, light and dark, foul and fair."
This production packs a powerful punch, and it seems so appropriate that it was brought to life by a cast entirely of young adults. They had a powerful presence on that stage, and it would be a shame to miss them show the horror and the beauty that can be witnessed in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME through July 13th.