Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a darker version than the Disney classic that will send you on a rollercoaster of emotions. The musical featured an outstanding addition of a thirty-person choir above the stage, and seventeen-piece orchestra in the pit.
This musical is the conclusion to the Center’s ten-year celebration. Justin Fortunato, a new artistic producer who has been there for two years, brought a new air of creativity to the theater. He has pushed the boundaries and brought on more risqué and adventurous musicals/plays to the stage.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is about a young bell-ringer, Quasimodo, who is a deformed hunchback that has been secluded in the bell tower of a church in Notre Dame. He longs to go outside from his sanctuary and interact with others. But when he finally gets the chance, the people were crazed at his hideousness – except a gypsy called Esmeralda. Esmeralda captures the heart of Quasimodo, along with the archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo, and a returning soldier, Phoebus. The admiration of this girl is what drives this tragic story.
An amazing part of the final portion of the introductory number, “The Bells of Notre Dame” was LPPAC student Zachary Mendola walked out on stage in just an undershirt and pants. He smeared black paint across the side of his face and transformed into Quasimodo right before our eyes! We saw as he put on the hunch and threw a green cloak over himself, turning from an ordinary man to a hideous monster. In the song, they give the audience a riddle saying, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” which is revisited later in the musical.
I give special kudos to Mendola in his role as Quasimodo. In the more startling fragments, such as the whipping or when Esmeralda died, Quasimodo cried. But Mendola had me believe that he himself was crying, not just the character. Quasimodo is a hard-hitting character to play. The actor must go through losing their incorruptibility in the most disturbing of ways, all-the-while having to act less-human.
Esmeralda, played by Annemarie Rosano, is the driving force in this whole story. She is what makes Frollo, Quasimodo, and Phoebus dynamic characters. Rosano did a wonderful job at displaying Esmeralda’s innocence and how she wanted to fit in, too. Her singing through Esmeralda contained the strength and independence that the character possessed.
Although the character of Esmeralda has some virtue, she is also a gypsy, and gypsies can tend to be seductive. The other gypsies along the side did good work with this characteristic – the swaying of the hips and pulling the men in. But, I would have liked to see Rosano go a little further. I would have liked to see her fall into the rhythm of the music and let her body sway with it.
From the start, you could see the submissive relationship Quasimodo had with his uncle/master, Dom Claude Frollo (Tim Hartman). Hartman did a splendid job with portraying Frollo’s holy yet sinful demeanor. His song, “Hellfire,” truly chilled my bones. Very clearly, you could see how Hartman made apparent the spontaneous change in Frollo’s manner, abusing his power saying that he would hunt down Esmeralda for her committing witchcraft. When Frollo asked for forgiveness of both him and Esmeralda, Hartman really expressed how Frollo can feel guilt for his actions, and that there may be some sense of a man in him. Hartman did an exceptional work at showing Frollo’s split feelings with his duties with God, and love for Esmeralda.
A moment that trapped me was when Hartman and Rosano were in the prison cell together: Frollo gave her one last chance to save herself and be with him. At a point, Frollo flung himself onto Esmeralda and screamed at her to love him. Hartman very much portrayed the desperateness Frollo felt towards Esmeralda, driving him mad.
Phoebus, played by David M. Toole, hit the classic “frat boy” appeal to this character. Regardless of Phoebus’s troubled past, he seemed more interested in playing around with the gypsies. It would have been interesting to see more of his disturbed war background affecting him. We see a moment of this during “Rest and Recreation,” but never again. It could have added an even profounder depth to this character if that past was brought through a bit more.
Midway through the first act, the song “On Top of the World” the cast cleverly used foam railings to represent the balcony of the church, and later prison doors and the streets of Paris in other songs. It was a great use of limited props to extend the imagination of the audience.
It was astounding how the actors and actresses altered into other characters by changing their costumes right on stage. Either by throwing on a cloak or taking off a small piece of garment. The gargoyles, though, could have been a bit further realistic. The actors and actresses still wore their townspeople attire but added on a light gray shawl over their shoulders. There could have more elaboration, such as horns or wings, or even make-up.
An absolute favorite part of mine was when Quasimodo carried Esmeralda and placed her on the ground. The townspeople flanked the sides of the stage and imitated the actor at the beginning when he distorted into Quasimodo: pretending to smear their face with paint then contorting their bodies. Some may have seen it as imitation, but I saw it as a sign of respect and admiration for the creature that was finally being a man.
You can see The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Pennsylvania from June 23-25. Tickets range from $15, $18, and $20 and can be purchased online at lincolnparkarts.org.
Special thanks to the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of LPPAC