Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The scenic design by Sean McClelland is breathtaking. A large, beautiful rose window center stage is flanked by arched gothic windows on either side. Moving stair units and upstage doorways are used to the best dramatic effect. Richly colored costumes mixed with the white robes of congregants, swirls of smoke, and piercing beams of light overhead paint the stage.
Set in Paris in 1492, a gypsy named Clopin (Trev Whittaker) begins to spin the famous tale of the hunchback of Notre Dame. He was born some 20 years before to a gypsy girl and the late brother of the present Archdeacon Frollo of the church of Notre Dame. On his deathbed, Frollo's beloved brother Jehan (Joshua Kolb) entrusts the boy into his keeping. Frollo accepts guardianship of the boy he names Quasimodo (half-formed) even though he has no love in his heart for the child, instead harboring resentment toward the deceased gypsy girl he believes led his brother astray.
Quasimodo (Bobby Cassell) lives a meagre existence as the bell ringer in the bell towers of Notre Dame, never venturing outside the church. His friends are the gargoyles and statues with whom he speaks regularly, and the bells he rings. His hearing is impaired by nature and the volume of the ringing of the bells. Though his speech is labored and thick, his heart is kind and his heart is pure. His kindness endures despite the cold, unfeeling tutelage he receives at the hands of Frollo (Matthew Korinko) whom he calls Master. His hunched back and grotesque face are hidden from the world until a type of carnival day called The Day of Fools, when he finally dares to venture out ("Out There").
At The Day of Fools he enters a contest in which the winner is the person with the ugliest face ("Topsy Turvy"). After he wins, he is taunted and beaten by spectators, then rescued by a beautiful, dancing, gypsy girl named Esmeralda (Shenise Nunez). Esmeralda captures the attention of a dashing new Captain of the Guard named Phoebus (Landon Summers). Unfortunately, she also captures the attention of Frollo, who is bitterly consumed by his inability to control his desire for her, particularly as he considers a gypsy far beneath him ("Hellfire").
When Esmeralda spurns the advances of Frollo and befriends Quasimodo, Frollo turns on her, ordering Phoebus to hunt her down and run the gypsies out of the city, burning homes along the way. But Phoebus and Esmeralda have fallen in love, and both he and Quasimodo try to save her and the other gypsies. Frollo chains Quasimodo in the bell tower, captures Esmeralda and Phoebus, and sentences them to death. The story continues toward a moving conclusion that may not be the happiest of endings, but does supply a small degree of justice.
Bobby Cassell is marvelous as Quasimodo. His lumbering gate and thickened speech capture the outward appearance of the hunchback. In contrast to his physicality, his clear, strong tenor voice shines through in moments of song, and there is an innocence to his portrayal that is quite appealing. Shenise Nunez both sounds and looks like the Disney version of the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda. She brings a determination, warmth and selflessness to her character, and does a lovely job singing "God Help The Outcasts." She has good chemistry with Landon Summers as Phoebus. His rippling baritone voice is unexpectedly rich and full. His only flaws are in the tight higher notes that sound completely different in timbre and placement.
A talented Matthew Korinko is imperious and controlling as Frollo. His commanding speaking and singing voice is perfect for the role. He captures Frollo's conflict and his anger, but needs to show a bit more of his sexual passion for Esmeralda, as it reads more like disdain from stage.
The lush score is glorious, and the melodies are memorable ("The Bells of Notre Dame"). The staging is clean and the choreography entertaining. A live, eight-piece pit orchestra is conducted with great skill by music director Caryl Fantel. She ably leads the orchestra, the on-stage cast, and a choir of 18 singers seated in boxes on both sides of the balcony from which they sing throughout the show. The complicated arrangements, stacked harmonies, and multiple melody lines make the choir invaluable. They are used throughout the show in ensemble numbers, and the result is the kind of ensemble sound one rarely hears even on Broadway.
The Slow Burn production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is nothing short of musically and visually magnificent!
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was Disney's first stage musical to premiere outside the United States. It originally premiered in 1999 as Der Glöckner von Notre Dame in Berlin, Germany, where it ran for three years. The U.S. debut was at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in 2014 in a co-production with Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.
The Slow Burn Theatre Company production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame will be appearing through November 6, 2016, in the Amaturo Theater of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For tickets or other information for Slow Burn Theatre Company, call 954-462-0222, or visit www.slowburntheatre.com.
*Indicates a member of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States