BWW Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Cultural Arts Playhouse

BWW Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Cultural Arts PlayhouseStaging a musical like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is no easy feat. It calls for a company of strong voices, deep character study and a set worthy of emulating the titular Paris bell tower. The Cultural Arts Playhouse manages to bring all these elements together in a wonderful crescendo of theatrical magic.

Based on the 1996 animated Disney film and Victor Hugo's novel, "Hunchback" transports audiences back to 15th century France where classicism, racism and religious persecution are rampant. Delving far deeper into the story than the Disney film, audiences learn that the tragic protagonist Quasimodo - meaning half-formed - was born out of an affair between an orphan taken in by the church and a gypsy woman - who both pass away in his infancy. He survives only out of the charity of his uncle, the pious Claude Frollo who rises through the ranks of the church and shelters Quasimodo in the bell tower of Notre Dame for his entire adolescence. The story truly begins when Quasimodo takes the leap "out there" and discovers a world full of gypsies and other "undesirables," namely the beautiful Esmerelda. The musical chronicles both characters persecution by Frollo and the tragedy of being different in a society designed to destroy them.

Zachary Zain, who previously starred on the CAP stage as Tony in "West Side Story," is a revelation as Quasimodo. His performance is earnest and heart-wrenching as he forms together staggered speech - realistic of a person developmentally disabled and made deaf by living in a bell tower. His voice is both powerful and moving in his key songs - "Out There" and "Heaven's Light." At the performance I attended there were audible sniffles at the conclusion of his fate.

He is well matched with Michael Newman as Claude Frollo. His experience and professionalism as a performer is remarkably evident in his command of the stage. His performance of "Hellfire" - a fan favorite Disney villain song - is both intimidating and awe-inspiring. Although he is the obvious villain of the story, he brings a three-dimensional aspect to the character that descends the boundaries of the animated film.

Adrianna M. Scheer and Jared Grossman are also well-cast as eventual lovers Esmerelda and Phoebus. Their chemistry is evident and both use their strengths during their shining moments on stage - most notably Ms. Scheer's terrific dancing and Mr. Grossman's vocals.

Meanwhile, Adam Slawitsky adds tremendous - and much needed - comic relief to the the production with his apt timing and personality.

This particular show is designed for a strong ensemble and this group of actors and singers does it justice. The choir, seated upstage, contains a mix of vocal talents while the company onstage is endearing through their energy and execution of Jen Amy's organic choreography.

And Danny Amy's set design, constructed by Thomas McKenna, is a character in itself with its gorgeous architecture and layout that adds tremendously to the story.

My only qualm is that I wish there was an opportunity to bring in a full orchestra to truly bring this wonderful score to its fullest potential. However, this cast and production team makes up for it.

This production is one of the first of what I predict will be many if this musical and the Cultural Arts Playhouse has set the bar very high.

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"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is presented by the Cultural Arts Playhouse through June 10. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (516) 694-3330 or visit cap.booktix.com

Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Peter Parnell.

Directed by Tony Frangipane, Assistant Directed/Stage Managed by Diane Marmann, Set Design by Danny Amy, Set Construction by Thomas McKenna, Lighting Design by Tony Frangipane, Musical Direction by Carmela Newman, Choreographed by Jen Amy, Costumes by Debbie Parker.

Starring: Zachary Zain as Quasimodo, Michael Newman as Dom Claude Frollo, Adriana M. Scheer as Esmerelda, Jared Grossman as Captain Phoebus De Martin, Adam Slawitsky as Clopin.

Gargoyles: Jared Glazier, Karli Regan, Jason M. Donohue, Hage Deoquino, Madelin E. Dezego, and Kassidy Rieder.

Congregation: Richard Giordano, Jerry Callahan, Chloe Singer, Jay Braiman, Steven Press, Steven Burth, AJ Martinez, Rober Surber, Alyssa Seminario, Amanda Schmidt, Samantha Marmann, Camille Socolof, Allison Koeppel.

Choir: Erin Donahue, Frank Abrosini, Pat Gordon, Jenn Demopoulos, Tara Poultney, Grace Shin, Joseph Smaldino, Carol Siegel, Samantha Free.

Understudy for Quasimodo and Phoebus: Richard Giordano

Understudy for Clopin: Tony Frangipane

Swing: Diane Marmann

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