Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Actor's Youth Theatre presents the Arizona premiere of the musical with a teenage cast for a two-week run which will then be followed by an adult cast production for another two weeks. The teen cast does a fairly good job in portraying the romance, intrigue and melodrama of this well-known story of a deformed man who falls in love with the gypsy girl Esmerelda, though the show itself leaves a little to be desired.
Set in and around the famous Notre Dame cathedral in 15th century Paris, the plot follows the deformed Quasimodo who lives in the cathedral's bell tower, held captive by the deacon Dom Claude Frollo. From his bird's eye view he observes the Paris sites and people far below him and escapes the cathedral to partake in the lively Feast of Fools celebration. He is made fun of by the cruel revelers yet finds himself helped by Esmeralda and the dashing Captain Phoebus. Frollo, like Quasimodo and Phoebus, finds himself drawn to the gypsy girl. When she doesn't return his affections, he is conflicted by his feelings and makes it his mission to destroy her, her fellow gypsies, and anyone who gets in his way. Can the deformed bell ringer save Esmeralda and himself from Frollo's evil plan?
The Menken/Schwartz film score is greatly fleshed out from the film and is very operatic in nature: a small, seated chorus on the upper level of the stage adds some nice vocal elements throughout. The show keeps the popular tunes from the animated film and includes some good new ones, yet, oddly, the majority of the new stage music is for everyone but Quasimodo. It just seems strange to deprive the title character of at least one additional soaring tune besides the film score's "Out There." His only added solo material consists of two short pieces including the beautiful, but short, "Made of Stone." The book, while completely serious, is still very melodramatic in nature with a bittersweet ending that, while in line with, though not completely consistent with, Hugo's original ending, detracts somewhat from the novel's main theme of the true nature of beauty.
While not everyone in AYT's cast is able to fully deliver the soaring vocals the score requires, and there is a major issue with the audio levels where just about the entire un-mic'd cast clearly needs to project more in order to be heard, the four leads do a decent job in bringing the main characters vibrantly to life. With a continually downturned gaze, Bailey Gorman is good as the lonely and obedient Quasimodo, the unlikely hero of the piece, while Noah Delgado has the right amount of serious gravitas, with a hint of lustiness underneath, for the troubled Frollo. Benny Cowans brings a perfect fiery yet romantic tone, with a beautiful voice, as the feisty Esmeralda, and Colton Stuart is appropriately strong and charming, with a clear singing voice, as the confident Phoebus. Also, Max Mashal adds a nice dollop of humor as the playful gypsy leader Clopin.
Director Dane Burk does well balancing the melodrama with the few moments of humor in the piece, though the idea that this is a show within a show, with us seeing Gorman put on a padded back piece and cloak to become the hunchback, and then take them off at the finale to morph back into himself, is lost somewhat when you don't clearly get that same sense of theatrical transformation from the rest of the cast.
Burk's set design, which is composed of circular stairs on both sides that lead up to two bell towers and an angled wall, with superb, large cathedral doors, is beautifully designed and executed, making the small space seem much larger than it is. Choreographer Corrinne Mann provides some lively dances and music director Tracie Jones and conductor Alexander Kantzos achieve some mostly pleasant sounds from the large cast and small orchestra. The costumes from Stephanie Wright are filled with rich, earth tones, while Skye Bradsher's lighting washes the stage in blues and reds to evoke the cool nighttime scenes and the hot "hell fire" moments when Frollo is conflicted, though there were several times at the performance I attended when the cast was in the dark due to either missed light cues, unfocused implements, or the actors not hitting their mark, and the spare use of spotlights isn't really that effective.
The stage version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a bit of an oddity when compared to other Disney theatrical adaptations. While the beloved songs from the film are present, and the expanded score is quite lush and moving, there are many adult themes and situations that weren't in the film, including a much more downbeat ending, which makes it unlike other Disney films that became Broadway hits like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, which followed the same plot, and family friendly tone, as their movie counterparts. That may be why this musical never made it to Broadway after two prominent pre-Broadway productions.
The Actor's Youth Theatre production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs through September 1st, 2017, with performances at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert, AZ 85234, it will then be followed by an adult cast production of the musical from September 7th to 16th, 2017. Tickets and information can be found at www.actorsyouththeatre.org or by calling 480-907-7050
Director / Set Designer: Dane Burk
Cast: (In Order of Appearance)