Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame brings a powerful mixture of student and professional performers to the Byham Theater, where it continues playing through February 5th.
The show – based on the Victor Hugo novel and animated Disney movie – captures the drama of Paris in the Middle Ages, with its brutality and the cruel, corrupt version of religion often seen in the 16th century. The stage setting recreates the unmistakable architecture of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with curving triangular windows – backed by members of the orchestra playing in a dark background – mimicking the shape of the cathedral’s concrete impressions.
In the opening, the actors and actresses make a surprise appearance from these dark areas; they come out singing their first number, “The Bells of Notre Dame,” near the front of the stage. We are introduced to the opposite Parisian communities: the gypsies, seen as immoral, and the high-society religious folks headed by ruthless archdeacon Frollo. The background story is set when Frollo – well played by pro actor Allan Snyder – accepts an orphaned baby. Quickly, that baby turns into grown man Quasimodo – the “Hunchback” who has physical abnormalities and limited verbal skills, having been raised in isolation as a bell ringer for the cathedral under Frollo.
Quasimodo – played powerfully by Quinn Patrick Shannon, who brilliantly channels the bedraggled young man’s social difficulties and soft heart – forms the core of the touching and sad Hunchback tale, which fundamentally is a story about love and sacrifice. Quasimodo – having enjoyed sweet stolen moments on the Notre Dame roof’s “Top of the World” with lady interest Esmerelda – knows he likely will lose his love to the handsome Phoebus, played by New York actor Javier Manente. But Quasimodo still risks his life to rescue Esmerelda – played by Emily Lynne Miller, a pro with a beautiful voice – from the murderous wrath of Frollo.
Often, Pittsburgh Musical Theater shows uses their students in their casts, with mostly teenagers, as was such in their fall production of Jekyll & Hyde. But the many professionals in this cast bring an extra punch of quality and depth to the show; plus, it would have been difficult to portray characters of such a large age range, especially Frollo, with a cast of youths.
And the young cast members played strong supporting roles, lending their voices to group numbers, singing in robes from a choir loft, and often portraying the Notre Dame gargoyles that speak to Quasimodo and advise him on what to do.
The music throughout the show ranges from lively, sweet and lighthearted to intense. Shannon’s Quasimodo especially gets credit for singing with such passion and intensity, about the character’s anguish and desire to fit in with society.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs at the Byham Theatre through February 5th. For tickets and more information, click here.
Photos courtesy of Julie Kahlbaugh.