Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The musical received pre-Broadway productions in California in 2014 and Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2015 before it was made available for regional licensing. Seeing the production at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, one can feel a certain heaviness about the musical, which includes a full onstage choir, but there are enough virtues and, most especially, exceptional songs in the piece to warrant a visit.
Director Christy McIntosh-Newsom is faced with the daunting task of presenting this somber musical and, on the whole, she has succeeded very well. On a two-level set, masterfully designed by William Russell Stark, her large cast is positioned in various areas onstage, as they serve as both choir members and as stone gargoyles who oversee the proceedings. There are essentially five leading roles and the actors who portray them in this production are uniformly excellent.
As Clopin, the fine Joe Cardoza leads off the show with the stirring "The Bells of Notre Dame." Joining in is the character of Dom Claude Frollo, who ultimately serves as the villain in the musical. Perry Liu is most convincing as this holy man with a dark secret, and Liu is wonderful singing such songs as "Hellfire" and "Rest and Recreation," which he shares with Nicholas Kuell as Phoebus De Martin.
Nicholas Kuell possesses both the appropriate stature and the strong voice that the role of Phoebus De Martin demands. Also doing well is Alexis Willoughby as the heroine Esmeralda. Just about all the characters are mesmerized by this alluring woman, and Willoughby's lovely performance certainly warrants all this attention. She especially shines in the touching song "God Help the Outcasts" in the first act before dueting beautifully with Kuell in the second act number "Someday."
And then there is, of course, the title character, named Quasimodo, who lives secluded in the cathedral under the watchful eye of Frollo, his only connection to the outside world. One could argue that any production of Hunchback will rise or fall on who is cast in this central role, and Downtown Cabaret Theatre has the phenomenal Ben McCormack in the part. Possessing one of the most gorgeous voices I've ever heard, this actor is a stunner in his soaring opening solo, "Out There," and then he seems to get even better as the plot unfolds.
With minimal changes to his costume (supplied by the talented designer Jessica Camarero) and effectively applied makeup that McCormack believably becomes Quasimodo, the most hideous creature in the town. This actor also contorts his facial expressions and uses the way he walks about the stage to convey the fact that he is a monster. But one truly comes to care for Quasimodo and his plight, and McCormack is simply astonishing throughout, especially when he delivers "Made of Stone" and the gloriously sung "In a Place of Miracles," which he shares with Kuell's Phoebus and Willoughby's Esmeralda.
As seen at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a demanding show, both for the people putting it on and for the audience watching it. But because the Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz score is so good, director Christy McIntosh-Newsom works so well with her designers, and the offstage band is so terrific, this Hunchback of Notre Dame is a dark but wholly worthwhile show.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame continues performances at Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT through October 15, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.dtcab.com or call the box office at 203-576-1636.