Circle Players' Stages Nashville Premiere of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Circle Players' Stages Nashville Premiere of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMECircle Players' 2017-18 season continues with the Nashville premiere of the Tim Larson-directed production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the epic musical based upon Victor Hugo's tale of hope, love and passion, which runs October 27-November 12 at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre in Nashville.

Larson's version of the musical features a cast of well-known vocalists/actors who bring the emotionally-charged story to life and transport audiences back to medieval France. The show's score was written by award-winning veterans Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote songs for the animated Disney film of the same name. Many of the animated film's songs are included in the stage version (as well as new ones), but the script by Peter Parnell is considered to be "dark, moody and more akin to the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo than the Disney film."

Larson, whose passion for staging sweeping period musical on smaller community theater stages is legendary, says his cast of 28 features some of the region's finest stage voices: "Typically, Hunchback the musical has an additional choir to help with background singing. But due to the size of the venue and the caliber of vocal talent, I decided to have the cast perform as both characters and the congregants (choir) of Notre Dame. I think people will find this group of singers and actors astounding."

Circle's production includes artists who have performed with the Nashville Opera, Vanderbilt Community Chorus and Fisk Jubilee Singers. Three cast members also sang on the professional cast recording for Disney/MTI licensing of Hunchback: BrIan Jones, Tyler Samuel and Tyler Evick, who performs Quasimodo for both Circle's show and the licensing track.

Circle Players' Stages Nashville Premiere of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Tyler Evick and Courtney Harkins
- photos by R.W. Groom

"Having recorded the role of Quasimodo for the Disney/MTI licensing recording, I am extremely excited to be able to put the performance on stage," says Evick. "Getting to be a Disney 'Prince' is such a cool opportunity! "

Evick's role as Quasimodo is complex, multi-faceted and demanding: "This is by far one of the most challenging roles I have ever played," he says. "From the vocal range, to the emotional scale, to being deaf and hoarse to clear and hearing inside my own mind, this role is a workout from the very start to the very end of the show. Being trusted with that responsibility is not something I take lightly. And showing the audience that, no matter your station in life, you can change the world is something that I take very seriously."

Hunchback is filled with emotional intensity, mostly centered around the relationship between the deformed Quasimodo (Evick) and the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (played by Courtney Harkins), who has also caught the attention of Captain Phoebus de Martin (Dwayne Mitchell) and the devious Claude Frollo (BrIan Jones).

"Esmeralda is sassy and smart while also being kind and loving," says Harkins. "In one of her songs she says 'I ask for nothing I can get by, but I know so many less lucky than I.' She puts others before herself and ... that's the type of person I want to be too. I can't wait to share her story with the audience."

While many of the songs were also featured in the Disney movie, the stage musical of Hunchback is probably too dark for very young audiences. But middle-school and older audiences will appreciate the story, the historical scenes and costumes and themes that remain relevant today.

Circle Players' Stages Nashville Premiere of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME"The written word was heavily censored in that day and, according to Hugo, whoever became a poet became an architect. In Hugo's words: 'There exists in this era, for thoughts written in stone, a privilege absolutely comparable to our current freedom of the press. It is the freedom of architecture.' It is important to note that authors and poets such as Hugo, are the reason we have freedom of the press and speech today," says Larson. "Without them we may all still be living in the dark ages."

Because the stage musicalization of Hunchback returns the story to its darker literary roots, there isn't a happy, Disney-like ending: the wicked are punished and some beloved characters sadly die. Audiences will probably leave the performance with various feelings, but love and understanding are the goals for many involved in Circle's production.

"This story shows us that persecution and misunderstanding between groups of peoples has happened since the beginning of time," muses Evick "Any time you can present a message to someone that opens hearts and minds to the truth that we should always consider someone else's point of view, even if we disagree, and see them as an equal human, it is an important moment for all involved."

Harkins agrees: "I think everyone at any point in time can relate to this story. If a soldier can love a gypsy and a city can love a 'monster,' then why can't we all love one another?"

Circle Players' Stages Nashville Premiere of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMEThe Hunchback of Notre Dame musical premiered in 1999 in Germany. The English-language version, which as yet has not been produced on Broadway, debuted in 2014 at La Jolla Playhouse (California), then opened at Papermill Playhouse (New Jersey) in 2015.

In addition to Evick, Harkins, Samuels and Jones, other actors featured in the Circle Players production include Trey Palmer (Jehan Frollo), Toryn Aáubrey (Lt. Frederic Charlus), Jacob Dingle (Clopin Trouillefou), Joshua Waldrep (Saint Aphrodisius), Zach Williams (Father Dupin), Henry Harrington (Tribunal) and Laura Amond (Madam).

The ensemble of congregants, gypsies, guards and statues includes: Charlotte Myhre Elena Giordano, Elena Reinert, George Hardimon, Gillion Welsh, Kamryn Boyd, KiAna Gonzalez, Jeremiah Bender, Lauren Case, Michael Tajalle, Sammie Purcell, Susan Wood, Tyler Samuel and Victoria Saunders.

Along with Larson, the creative team includes musical director John Kennerly, choreographer Patricia Peoples and producer LaTonya Turner. Costume designers are Rachel Gallup and Denese Kelley.

Circle's production is a Nashville theatre premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with performances October 27 through November 12 at Looby Theater, 2301 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard (featuring a newly-remodeled auditorium, now with assigned seating). Thursday, Friday and Saturday show times are 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows are at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20, except on Thursdays (November 2 and 9), when tickets are $10. Group rates are available for 10 people or more. Tickets are available online at www.CirclePlayers.net or at the box office one hour before show time. For reservations, email boxoffice@circleplayers.net.

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