×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Theater Review: Disney’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

With:
Michael Arden, Ciara Renee, Patrick Page, Andrew Samonsky, Erik Liberman, Lucas Coleman, Julian Decker, Mary Joe Duggan, Ian Patrick Gibb, William Thomas Hodgson, Beth Kirkpatrick, Samantha Massell, Neal Mayer, Nora Menken, William Michals, Anise Ritchie, Vincent Rodriguez III, Richard Ruiz, Brian Smolin, Christian Villanueva.

Musical numbers: “The Bells of Notre Dame,” “Sanctuary,” “Out There,” “Topsy-Turvy,” “Rest and Recreation,” “Rhythm of the Tambourine,” “God Help the Outcasts,” “Top of the World,” “The Tavern Song (Thai Mol Piyas),” “Heaven’s Light,” “Hellfire,” “Esmeralda” (Act One Finale), “Entr’acte,” “Flight Into Egypt,” “Rest and Recreation” (Reprise), “The Court of Miracles,” “In a Place of Miracles,” “Someday,” “Made of Stone,” “Finale Ultimo.”

Does the name Quasimodo ring a bell? Victor Hugo’s deformed outcast has swung from many rafters in his day, though rarely as poignantly or as lavishly as in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Peter Parnell, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s U.S.-premiere tuner which worked out growing pains in a 1996 Disney animated feature and 1999 Berlin engagement. At the La Jolla Playhouse it’s something of an odd duck: dark and medieval-moody, yet with exuberant Broadway roots plainly showing. Intensely emotional and sparked by three stellar performances, “Hunchback” is an intriguing bet as a long-term prospect, but it certainly sets its audience to cheering at the finale.

Someone, probably helmer Scott Schwartz, has clearly been studying “Peter and the Starcatcher” (and why not? It too kicked off in La Jolla), for “Hunchback” is right out of that hit’s playbook in merging sumptuous visuals with bare-bones platform staging conventions.

While thesps change roles before our eyes and narrate the action in third-person direct address, Alexander Dodge’s huge setpieces roam, a vast row of cathedral bells descends and Howell Binkley’s lighting drenches the stage in the deep blues and reds of Chartres stained glass.

On top of all that, cast voices are augmented by some 40-odd members of local chorus Sacra/Profana, ensconced against the back wall to lend startling depth to the Menken/Schwartz religioso numbers. (Not to mention surely the first-ever entr’acte sung entirely in Latin.)

The extravagance, fortunately, is justified by the story, whose engine is the dread Archdeacon Frollo (Patrick Page). His mission is to cleanse Paris of lechery and foreigners, which is to say he’s crusading against gypsies, which is to say he’s wracked with desire for the lovely Esmeralda (Ciara Renee). Little does he know his belltower-banished nephew (Michael Arden) has an eye on her as well, though a more innocent one.

Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s strongest numbers explicitly tackle the twin themes of social conscience and individual moral responsibility, from the celebration of an out-of-control, witless populace in “Topsy-Turvy” to Esmeralda’s prayer “God Help the Outcasts.” Unified by the through-line of the “Bells of Notre Dame” narrative ballad and individual character motifs, this may not be the catchiest score either songwriter has contributed to, but it’s a serious and effective one.

The main roles smack of familiar types. In a “Les Miz” touch, Frollo is poised to out-Javert Javert for ruthless self-righteousness, down to the “Stars”-like, wickedness-justifying anthem “Hellfire.” Esmeralda is an Aldonza waiting for a monk of La Mancha to redeem her, while Quasimodo himself, pure soul misunderstood through misshapen body, may be too close to “The Elephant Man” for comfort, right down to the theme expressed in song: “What makes a monster and what makes a man?”

But Scott Schwartz and thesps overcome the traps. Page’s gradual descent into unmitigated evil is believable, complex and blessedly underplayed. Renee’s sizzling gypsy — choreographed with lighthearted artistry by Chase Brock — resists cliche through genuine vulnerability and charm.

And Arden is a revelation in the title role. His delicately communicative physicality (perhaps derived from past work with Deaf West theater company) is wholly of a piece with a remarkably wide emotional range. The laughs he earns are warm and in context, while his “I want” songs are the clarion calls of a tortured soul, devoid of any “American Idol”-influenced vocal pyrotechnics. He is splendid.

The planks-and-passion concept is inconsistent: While sometimes the ensemble changes personas in front of us, other times they emerge fully costumed in traditional doubling mode. The movie’s singing-and-dancing gargoyles have wisely been jettisoned for actors whispering to Quasimodo through statuary, but Alejo Vietti’s gray kerchiefs identifying them as stone don’t sell the convention.

Taste issues also emerge. The fourth leg of Hugo’s romantic quadrangle, Captain Phoebus (Andrew Samonsky), comes off, as he did on screen, as a typical swaggering Disney hunk of the Gaston variety, offering blatant beefcake and too-modern wisecracks. He and an excruciating act-two opener, in which a beheaded saint offers Quasimodo advice, seem utterly out of place in the pervading pious context.

hunchback-review-disney-musical

Theater Review: Disney's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla; 504 seats; $137 top. Opened, reviewed Nov. 9, 2014; runs through Dec. 14. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production: A La Jolla Playhouse production by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, in association with Paper Mill Playhouse, Milburn, New Jersey, of a musical in two acts, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Book by Peter Parnell. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

Creative: Directed by Scott Schwartz. Choreography, Chase Brock; sets, Alexander Dodge; costumes, Alejo Vietti; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Gareth Owen; music supervisor/arranger, Michael Kosarin; music director, Brent-Alan Huffman; orchestrator, Michael Starobin; production stage manager, M. William Shiner.

Cast: Michael Arden, Ciara Renee, Patrick Page, Andrew Samonsky, Erik Liberman, Lucas Coleman, Julian Decker, Mary Joe Duggan, Ian Patrick Gibb, William Thomas Hodgson, Beth Kirkpatrick, Samantha Massell, Neal Mayer, Nora Menken, William Michals, Anise Ritchie, Vincent Rodriguez III, Richard Ruiz, Brian Smolin, Christian Villanueva.

Musical numbers: “The Bells of Notre Dame,” “Sanctuary,” “Out There,” “Topsy-Turvy,” “Rest and Recreation,” “Rhythm of the Tambourine,” “God Help the Outcasts,” “Top of the World,” “The Tavern Song (Thai Mol Piyas),” “Heaven’s Light,” “Hellfire,” “Esmeralda” (Act One Finale), “Entr’acte,” “Flight Into Egypt,” “Rest and Recreation” (Reprise), “The Court of Miracles,” “In a Place of Miracles,” “Someday,” “Made of Stone,” “Finale Ultimo.”

More Legit

  • A still image from The Seven

    How Magic Leap, Video Games Are Defining Future of Royal Shakespeare Company

    At the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon, Sarah Ellis has the difficult job of figuring out where theater of the 1500s fits into the 21st century. As Director of Digital Development, a title which might seem out of place in an industry ruled by live, human performances, Ellis represents a recent seachange on [...]

  • Gary review

    Broadway Review: 'Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus' With Nathan Lane

    Nathan Lane and Kristine Nielsen, two of the funniest people on the face of the earth, play street cleaners tasked with carting away the dead after the civil wars that brought down the Roman Empire. Well, a job’s a job, and Gary (Lane) and Janice (Nielsen) go about their disgusting work without complaint. “Long story [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content