"What makes a monster, and what makes a man?"
The answer to this haunting question is explored in the provocative musical "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"—with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Peter Parnell, based on the novel by Victor Hugo.
Quasimodo (Will North), a hunchback with a deformed face, has spent his whole life hidden away in the bell tower of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. His master, the staunch and sanctimonious Dom Claude Frollo (Gregory North—no relation to Will North), is the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, and sees it as his duty—along with the help of the cathedral guard, and its new leader Phoebus De Martin (Adam Hollick)—to rid Paris of all gypsies. When the Festival of Fools comes into town, Quasimodo, Phoebus, and Frollo are all mesmerized by Esmeralda (Cassandra Marie Murphy), an enchanting gypsy. Her dancing sparks a dangerous fire in Frollo, whose new obsession for her may cost Esmeralda her life.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is a challenging show to stage, however, under the direction Misti B. Wills, this cast makes a valiant effort. Murphy is absolutely spellbinding as Esmeralda, and her rendition of "Rhythm of the Tambourine" is scintillating. Hollick is dashing as the soldier-turned-gypsy lover, and powerfully nails some of the toughest notes in the show. North is a stern Frollo, but almost a little too kind to Quasimodo. Had he been crueler, there would have been a greater sense of justice to his death at the end. That being said, his performance of the song "Hellfire"—complete with red-clad, desirous dancers and live flames illuminating the stage—is thrilling. Will North as Quasimodo is endearing, and his sweet voice complements his gentle demeanor.
Where this show can go wrong is in the pacing. Scenes of pure dialogue drag on, but then are rushed into a new song. However, this whiplash of slow-fast-slow is more of a comment on the book than the cast. Furthermore, the impressive orchestra is also a little too impressive in sound, and a lot of Schwartz's rich lyrics are lost.
However, this particular production excels is in its technical aspects. A portion of the famed cathedral, that "symphony of stone," is reconstructed onstage, and Jose Santiago's superb lighting design excellently captures the image of light that has been sifted through stained glass windows and disrupted by stone pillars.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" will be playing through April 29th at the Thousand Oaks Civics Art Plaza. Tickets are available at 5startheatricals.com