BWW Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME Highlights The Message Of True Spirit & Inner Beauty Through Movement And Song at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Dance serves a major purpose in musical productions. It enhances the script, it visually confirms what is being said and adds a physical energy that elevates the intent and solidifies who the characters are.
This production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, A NEW MUSICAL, which is produced by 5-Star Theatricals, based on the Victor Hugo novel, with songs from the Disney film, by the unbeatable team of Alan Menken (Music) and Stephen Schwartz (Lyrics), plays now through April 29th, at the beautiful Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
The central character is Quasimodo, played quite ably by Will North, the bell-ringer of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris, in 1482. He is born deformed, and adopted by the Minister of Justice by decree of the Archdeacon, a punishment brought upon by nearly killing the child, and telling Quasimodo he is a monster, a loathsome creature, a cross he must bear. Quasimodo lives in the bell tower of the Cathedral, mostly in solitude, forbidden by the Minister to leave, because of his appearance, barely able to speak, and almost deaf, because he is assigned to ring the bells of the Cathedral many times a day. He creates imaginary friends with the gargoyle statues and the birds, whom he pours his hearts out to. He sings to them about longing to have just one day to be "Out There."
The world outside bustles along, where about to be celebrated is the Feast of Fools Day, where the gypsies that live on the outskirts of town are allowed that one day to inhabit the town square, singing, dancing and making merry.
Enter the gypsies, who are scorned by the church and the townspeople, and looked down upon. Michelle Elkin, the Choreographer of this show, has done a wonderful job using the dancers to bring the gypsies and their joie de vivre to life. They are jubilant, costumed in colorful gypsy garb, and flip about athletically, twirling, clapping, stomping to the beat of the tambourines, dancing in large circles, then with partners, with the women beckoning to the men flirtatiously, mixed among clowns and jesters, "mocking and shocking" and having a grand time. They are clearly the lower class, the outcasts, living loosely and in "sin," according to the Church.
The King of the Gypsies leads the festivities, played by a flamboyant Justin Michael Wilcox, while Quasimodo, against orders, sneaks out of the Cathedral, longing to be part of what he has only watched from afar.
As Quasimodo mingles with them, they suddenly single him out, belittling, laughing and making faces at him, crowning him "king of fools" with a jesters' cap, and madly celebrate with raucous dancing; carrying him on their shoulders, the dancers/gypsies are again whirling, leaping, sword fighting; all performed with much precision, technique and bravado by the entire ensemble. ... a strong men's knee section, followed by a seductive and tantalizing "come hither" ladies section gives the frenetic energy needed so that when the Minister and his newly appointed Cathedral Guard (played by the handsome Adam Hollick) come to break things up, a hush comes over the crowd, as beautiful, sought-after Esmeralda (Cassandra Marie Murphy) rushes in to stop them torturing and tying up Quasimodo. This is the first time Quasimodo has felt any kindness towards himself and is smitten instantly by her care and gentleness, her inward and outward beauty. But, alas, the Minister declares her immoral, accuses her of using witchcraft, banishing her and the other gypsies, telling Quasimodo he is "saving" him from their debauchery and to go back to his bell tower.
There is so much more to the plot, and some gorgeous ballads sung by the leads as the plot progresses, but very little more dancing, other than staging, which I think is a shame, although certainly not taking away from the rest of the story, but might have been utilized more in the second Act to bring more attention and deepness to the emotions the characters are going through.
It is, in all, a wonderful production, and imparts to the viewers how, much like in our world today, what divisiveness and social strife can do to erode the human spirit, and cause sadness and undue grief to all that are in the midst. It shows, by our protagonist, Quasimodo (which has come to mean "a courageous heart beneath a grotesque exterior") how genuine kindness and the demonstrations of pure love can uplift and transform even the darkest of souls or most tormented outcasts into instruments of betterment and positive change, with confidence and purpose. We are wont to be reminded of these basic moral principles and this lavish production gives us a full dose of that.
The Noteworthy Ensemble includes:
Elizabeth Adabale, James Beardsley, Daniel Berlin, Emma Carlborg, William Carmichael, Zyheem Downey, Andrew Garcia, Veronica Gutierrez, Tom Hall, Katie Hume, Evin Johnson, Mitchell Johnson, Sarah Marie, Miyuki Miyagi, Kat Monzon, Alstair Murden, Naomi Murden, Andrew Perez, Jimmy Saiz, Elizabeth Sheck, Trevor Shor, Marie Spieldenner, Tyler Watkins, Laurence Wells, and Terry Woodall.
Hurry to catch this entertaining and well-worth seeing production!!