BWW Review: Sacramento is 'On Top of the World' with New HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

BWW Review: Sacramento is 'On Top of the World' with New HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Disney musicals generate a lot of hype. The Lion King transformed the art of puppetry. Beauty and the Beast told a tale as old as time. And the upcoming Frozen... well, it's Frozen. But the company's stage adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame took a slight step to the side, never making the move to Broadway. Instead, after successful runs at La Jolla and Paper Mill Playhouses, the musical was licensed to three regional theatres for 2016, including Sacramento's Music Circus. The announcement of Sacramento's engagement met much excitement, making Tuesday's less than full house opening a shocking surprise. But the excellent cast did receive a well-deserved standing ovation.

One can only imagine how that grand applause must have felt to John McGinty, the first deaf actor to play Quasimodo. Hunchback already distinguished itself in its use of actual choral groups for cathedral music. Now, director Glenn Casale makes another significant addition with his choice of the magical McGinty, who lights up the stage with eager enthusiasm.

The bells of Notre Dame that Quasimodo rings each day have led to a loss of hearing. Aside from occasional visits from Dom Claude Frollo (Mark Jacoby), the bell ringer lives alone and makes friends with stone gargoyles who speak to him using sign language. One such creature, sung magnificently by Jim Hogan, becomes Quasimodo's secret and heart-felt voice. Like two halves of the same soul, Hogan and McGinty are remarkable to watch in numbers like "Out There" and "Made of Stone." Then comes the gypsy Esmerelda (Lesli Margherita), who seeks out Quasimodo's place of refuge to sit "on top of the world," learn his language and break every heart in the audience.

Creators Alan Menken (music), Stephen Schwartz (lyrics) and Peter Parnell (book) include several striking moments in the updated Hunchback, from Margherita's poignant "God Help the Outcasts" to Jacoby's intense "Hellfire." Frollo's internal conflict over justice, family and devotion unfold in intriguing new ways.

But other characters feel underwritten and without focus. Eric Kunze does what he can with Captain Phoebus, a lady's man lacking motivation and development. Kunze sings a lovely duet with Margherita in the second act, but the song is lost in its odd placement and gives the audience no more reason to like or understand Phoebus. Clopin, a sort of king of the gypsies and a favorite in the Disney film, becomes just another face among an ensemble of narrators. And the miniscule roles of Saint Aphrodisius and King Louis XI seem pulled out of other well-known musicals (cough, cough... Book of Mormon and Hamilton).

Between more outstanding numbers, the story sometimes jumps about at an awkward pace and includes a large ensemble in a staging that seems busy and rushed. Most unforgivable, however, is a poor sound design that distracted from gorgeous acoustics on opening night. Menken's score is not to be missed, whatever the book's faults may be. Omari Tau directed the chorus from Sacramento State University, while Dennis Castellano conducted a glorious, full orchestra. All other design aspects were perfection, from Marcy Froehlich's clever costumes to Stephen Gifford's cathedral arches and Jared A. Sayeg's dramatic lighting.

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THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
California Musical Theatre
Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavillion
Through August 28
www.CALMT.com

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler

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