BWW Review: Lavish and Sweeping Production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME Celebrates 10th Anniversary At Carrollwood Cultural Center
The epic theatrical production THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Carrollwood Cultural Center can only be accurately described in this single word.
The beautiful set, ominous lighting, unique sound and special effects, subtle color changes, live orchestra, and colorful, eye-catching costumes. Wow.
The use of the upper balconies to flood the theatre with voice. Wow.
The expert choreography and the actors using the not only the stage but going directly in and out of the audience. Wow.
The voices. Oh my God. Wow punctuating the end of every song doesn't begin to cover the beauty of these voices.
There's a saying - go big or go home. For the tenth anniversary of the center - for the very first time combining the talents of 44 members of MAS Community Theatre, and 22 chorus and band members under the direction of Mary Jo Hahn, and the Carrollwood Winds concert band under the direction of Joshua Hobbs - directors Paul Berg and Aaron Washington went HUGE.
Despite music from the Disney film, the musical focuses on the darker side of Victor Hugo's book. The subject matter throughout the production is heavy - bullying, abuse, emotional manipulation, physical abuse, love, and lust.
The scenic elements designed by Paul lend to beauty of the production - an eight-foot by eight-foot stained glass window as a center color-changing focal point on stage, stained glasses windows to the left and right of the stage, gargoyles hanging from the balconies above the audience, singers in the scaffolding balconies on stage and to the left and right above the audience, and grand bells hanging above the stage. And the cast entered the stage from its rear, leading to the feeling that we the audience were part of and immersed in 1482 Notre Dame.
The group choreography is delightful - from dancing to sword-fights - and the scene changes are seamless.
This show is exceptionally cast.
Archdeacon Claude Frollo (played by Marcus Blake) exudes a twisted sense of responsibility for his dying brother. He's a pious, intimidating, and hypocritical man thinking he's doing good by keeping his deformed charge, his nephew, exiled for his entire life. Later, bathed in red light, we see the lust of a man married to God and evil in its purest form when rebuked by the beautiful gypsy Esmerelda (Erica Garraffa) he wants to possess. "I could be a good friend to you or also a terrible enemy," he says. "Hellfire" showcases the strength of his vocals.
Ryan Bintz is absolutely phenomenal as the lonely boy, Quasimodo, the hump-backed nephew of the archdeacon. Imprisoned in the bell tower, Quasimodo's friends are the stone gargoyles who come to life only when he is alone. When the archdeacon enters, they freeze in their spaces. A special recognition to the ensemble in hooded grey robes for being able to stand perfectly motionless for such long periods of dialogue.
When Quasimodo is encouraged by the gargoyles to briefly escape his captivity to visit the city during its annual Feast of Fools, the cruelty he suffers at the hands of the villagers literally brought me to tears. In a stooped body, Ryan's facial expressions broke my heart, but then we he opens his mouth and those notes waft across the expanse of the theatre, words can barely do justice to the power of this man's voice. He turned my skin to goosebumps holding the long note in "Heaven's Light."
You cannot take your eyes of Erica Garraffa as Esmerelda. She conveys her character's strength and unconventionality, but also her heart and kindness when she rescues Quasimodo from the villagers and befriends him. Her song and dance in "Rhythm of the Tambourine" is fun and invigorating. Paul, Aaron and Katie Castonguay's costume choice is spot-on, as the red captures the passion of this beautiful, statuesque independent woman. I doubt a woman of lesser height could carry the role as well, as Esmerelda stands toe to toe, eye to eye, with some powerful men and doesn't flinch. The pure beauty of Erica's voice is showcased in "God Help the Outcasts" and "Top of the World," with Ryan.
High school senior Seth Alderman plays the archdeacon's soldier Phoebus, who has fallen for the gypsy and must choose between love and disobeying the archdeacon or remaining steadfast in his assigned duties to bring her to him. Another goosebump-worthy moment is "Someday" between Erica and Seth. When the voices rise to crescendo, it is a breath-taking moment.
Before the cast could link hands to take their bow, the audience was on their feet greeting this performance with a rousing standing ovation.
Undeniably, you must experience the pageantry of Paul and Aaron's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, but come understanding this isn't your lighthearted Disney film with "and they all lived happily ever after." Be ready to cheer when Frollo meets karma at the hands of his charge.
But also, be prepared to have your heart broken. I know mine is.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME runs through March 25 at Carrollwood Cultural Center. Tickets are available online here. Advanced tickets are $21 member / $25 general admission and Day of Show tickets are $23 member / $27 general admission.