You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Musical theater stagecraft scales dizzying heights -- literally -- in the Berlin world premiere of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," the first Disney animated film to become a stage musical since "The Lion King." The design is likely to be the show's talking point, with a new $100 million-plus playhouse adapted to accommodate the demands of the piece.

Quasimodo - Drew Sarich Frollo - Norbert Lamla Clopin - Jens Janke Esmeralda - Judy Weiss Phoebus - Fredrik Lycke Antoine - Tamas Ferkay Charles - Valentine Zahn Loni - Yvonne Ritz-Andersen Domdekan - Carlo Lauber

Musical theater stagecraft scales dizzying heights — literally — in the Berlin world premiere of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the first Disney animated film to become a stage musical since “The Lion King” charged its way into Broadway record books. Will Quasimodo follow where Simba dared to roar? That much remains unclear, since Anglo-American audiences may demand a show as emotionally involving as it is technically involved. As a symbol of the newly confident and international German capital-to-be, “Hunchback” soars high as it introduces an American musical theater revelation in the stooped form of 23-year-old newcomer Drew Sarich, who plays the title role. But only time, further tinkering and some inevitable recasting will tell whether a show whose design often reaches to the skies is ready to take off.

It’s easy to see the appeal of a stage “Hunchback,” especially to the Hamburg-based company Stella, which can count the not thematically dissimilar “Phantom of the Opera” and “Beauty and the Beast” among its German-lingo successes. Who is Quasimodo, after all, but this show’s equivalent of the Phantom or the Beast — a societal misfit locked in a world of yearning who may or may not get the girl? To that end, it’s scant surprise that James Lapine’s intimate yet massive production — achieved with several of his erstwhile “Into the Woods” collaborators — seems suspended intriguingly in limbo between a faux-musical blockbuster along the lines of the ’80s Brit hits (“Les Miz,” after all, shares the same source novelist, Victor Hugo) and a transcription, a la “Lion King,” marking its own breathless aesthetic stampede.

What’s missing is the imprint of a director, like Julie Taymor, who brings to her work a purely joyous love of theater capable of moving millions. Or maybe it’s just that Lapine’s passions are in fact too private (as the emotionally hermetic “Passion” in fact suggested) to deliver the affective goods on a scale to match a physical production that leaves no doubt how the show’s historic $25 million budget was spent.

The design is likely to be the show’s talking point in any language, coupling as it does the best of British and American talent with a new $100 million-plus playhouse specifically adapted to accommodate the demands of the piece.

The aquamarine stage curtain, Gothic tracery encoded within it, rises to reveal set designer Heidi Ettinger’s ever-shifting array of cubes that join Jerome Sirlin’s projections to conjure the medieval world of the Parisian bell tower inhabited by Sarich’s misshapen orphan Quasimodo, his unyielding master Frollo (Norbert Lamla) and a trio of very chatty gargoyles who lead this show’s answer to “Be Our Guest,” the sprightly “A Guy Like You.”

Among its many wonders, the design — Rick Fisher’s jets of light included — works by intimation and not intimidation, while enfolding within it a triangular love story that finds Quasimodo and Frollo vying for the gypsy girl Esmeralda (Judy Weiss), whose fate — in marked contrast to the Disney film — lies with neither man. (Complicating the geometry is the gallant Phoebus, played by Fredrik Lycke, this show’s answer to “Les Miz’s” Marius.) While platforms shoot out from the sides of the set, little gets played on the stage itself, apart from the occasional scene of roisterous street life that Lar Lubovitch’s choreography makes somewhat self-consciously “colorful.”

The prevailing tone is far and away the most somber of the three Disney film-to-stage shows yet. That’s in keeping with the Gothic intensity of Hugo’s 1831 novel, if not with the facetious screenplay of three years ago whose central character, the relentlessly cutesy “Quasi,” bears scant relation to the afflicted figure Sarich so memorably cuts here, complete with a soaring tenor that suggests him as a potential Phantom.

Sarich benefits from some of the evening’s most singular images, among them the sudden, stark sight of Quasimodo hoisting Esmeralda aloft after a rescue that has the performer vaulting about the set in fearless pursuit of his not-quite-prize.

So why isn’t the show as a whole more affecting? To this non-German speaker, the answer has little to do with language. (Many operas have thrilled countless listeners in tongues not spoken by their audience.) The answer lies in part with Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken’s Oscar-nommed score (much fortified for the stage show), which is actually at its best in the Weillian strains of Clopin’s opener, “The Bells of Notre Dame,” sinuously delivered by Jens Janke, later doubling as the Gypsy King.

Elsewhere, away from its liturgical impulses (and notwithstanding the enduring hummability of “Esmeralda”), the music tilts toward the generic. That’s a shame, given the conditions that Schwartz’s lyrics describe, complete with references to ethnic cleansing that would seem guaranteed to strike a chord with audiences in Germany and beyond.

Furthermore, neither Lamla nor Weiss fully embodies his or her point on an amorous spectrum that comes commendably presented in shades of gray rather than the simplistic black-and-white one might expect.

Replacing originally cast Steve Barton (a “Phantom” alum), Lamla makes a rather relentlessly dour Frollo, a man in thrall to lustful impulses that seem to surprise even himself. Local girl Weiss simply isn’t up to the expressive demands of a fought-over heroine; for all the brouhaha Esmeralda engenders, Weiss remains a blank.

That may not matter to a public caught up in a buzz that goes beyond the hype of a Broadway or West End premiere to embrace issues of national pride. (The show received a long ovation at the perf caught.) There’s no doubt that this “Hunchback” carries real heft here, even as one awaits with genuine interest the show’s (and the incomparable Sarich’s) next, no-doubt mammoth, step.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Musical Theater, Berlin;1,800 Seats; DM190 ($100) Top

Production: A Stella presentation, in association with Walt Disney Theatrical Prods., of a musical in two acts with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by James Lapine, German-language version by Michael Kunze. Based on Victor Hugo's "Notre Dame de Paris." Directed by Lapine. Musical director, Klaus Wilhelm. Choreography by Lar Lubovitch.

Creative: Sets, Heidi Ettinger; costumes, Sue Blane; lighting, Rick Fisher; sound, Tony Meola; projections, Jerome Sirlin; makeup and masks, Michael Ward; fight director, B.H. Barry; technical director, Ulf Maschek; musical supervisor and arranger, Michael Kosarin; orchestrations, Michael Starobin; dance arranger, Glen Kelly; stage manager, William Metz. Based on the film by Tab Murphy, Irene Mecchi, Bob Tzudiker and Noni White and Jonathan Roberts. Opened June 5, 1999. Reviewed June 12. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.
Musical numbers: "Bells of Notre Dame," "Sanctuary," "Out There," "Hurry Hurry," "Balancing Act," "Rest and Recreation," "Topsy Turvy," "God Help the Outcasts," "Top of the World," "Heaven's Light," "Hell Fire," "Esmeralda," "City Under Siege," "A Guy Like You," "Out of Love," "Gypsy Dance," "Made of Stone," "Someday."

Cast: Quasimodo - Drew Sarich Frollo - Norbert Lamla Clopin - Jens Janke Esmeralda - Judy Weiss Phoebus - Fredrik Lycke Antoine - Tamas Ferkay Charles - Valentine Zahn Loni - Yvonne Ritz-Andersen Domdekan - Carlo LauberWith: David Oliver, Eladio Pamaran, Zoltan Tombor, Christopher Murray, Frank Logemann, Andreas Gergen, Andre Bauer, Ulrich Talle, Wolfgang Holtzel, Fabian Aloise, Ben Kazlauskaz, Andrew Gardner, Seth Lerner, Franc Tima, Gerald Michel, Christian Stuppeck, Philip Hogan, Scott Owen, Dominic Fortin, Petra Weidenbach, Luz Tolentino, Stephanie Reese, Ruby Rosales, Barbara Raunegger, Vera Bolten, Alyssa Preston, Inez Timmer, Sandy Nagel, Elena Frid, Coleen Besett, Patricia Gressley, Birge Funke, Danielle Gormann, Karin Sang.

More Legit

  • Isabelle HuppertIsabelle Huppert Life Achievement Award,

    Isabelle Huppert, Chris Noth to Appear on Stage in 'The Mother'

    Isabelle Huppert will appear opposite Chris Noth in the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of “The Mother.” It marks the U.S. premiere of the show. “The Mother” was written by French playwright Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton. Huppert, an icon of European film, was Oscar-nominated for “Elle” and appears in the upcoming Focus Features [...]

  • Could Anyone Follow ‘Springsteen on Broadway’?

    Could Anyone Follow 'Springsteen on Broadway'? Here Are Five Things They'd Need (Guest Column)

    After 235-odd shows, with grosses in excess of $100 million, a Special Tony Award and a hotly anticipated Netflix special debuting Sunday, “Springsteen on Broadway” is an unprecedented Broadway blockbuster. As with any success in entertainment, the rush to replicate The Boss’ one-man show reportedly is under way, with a consortium led by Live Nation, CAA [...]

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content