Friday, August 17, 2018

Voices And Music Soar In Moonlight’s “Hunchback”

The Alan Menken (Music), Stephen Schwartz (Lyrics), Peter Parnell (Book) musical of the 1831 Victor Hugo’s Gothic novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is now back in San Diego (Vista to be exact) at Moonlight Amphitheatre after premiering at The La Jolla playhouse in association with Paper Mill Playhouse in 2014.

Plans were to take it to Broadway, but that never happened although the set here was so impressive that more was made of the size of the YUGE bells, boasting from 4 to 8 feet wide that dropped from the tower to nearly touching the stage and the ropes attached to the bells actually control the swing of the bells that are hooked up to the sound board and ring when pulled by the actors and were in fact jaw dropping. “Bells Of Notre Dame”.  So much for that.
David Burnham and Company (Ken Jacques)

Much of Menken’s score is taken from Disney’s 1996 Oscar nominated animated classic film of the same name. In 1999, with kinks ironed out the film it played in Berlin for several years. The Disney-centric play originally developed by Disney Theatrical Productions will be in Vista through Sept. 1st.

If you want to hear some exquisite music, with orchestrations by Michael Starobin, incidental music and vocal arrangements by Michael Kosarin, both on the stage and coming from the pit under musical director and conductor Elan McMahan, where close to 60 actors, choir and orchestra will be singing and dancing (Rob Berman) to the story of Quasimodo, the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Moonlight has it all.

Hugo’s story is dark, oft times grotesque and just as timely now as was then as explosive news of sexual abuse within the church just surfaced again.

Under director Steve Glaudini’s staging, the pace is fast, concentrating on the five main characters: Esmeralda (Janaya Mehealani Jones), the gypsy girl, Dom Claude Frollo (Lance Arthur Smith), the deranged, abusing Archdeacon, Captain Phoebus de Martin (Patrick Cummings), Esmeralda’s lover, Clopin (Richard Bermudez) storyteller and gypsy leader, and of course Quasimodo (David Burnham) the deformed Cathedral bell ringer and Frollo’s nephew and adoptive son.
David Burnham and Lance Arthur Smith (Ken Jacques)
Hugo’s epic 1831novel about the travails of the grotesque looking Quasimodo watching Paris life pass him by from distances high above in the Cathedral towers with only the stone gargoyles as friends plays out in living color and high drama as the over twenty magnificent chorus voices above the stage action, captivate the audience.

The choruses of voices or stone talking heads, that speaks only to him, (could be his yin and yang) and is not always in Quasimodo’s best interests. Most of what is urged of the innocent, boy like creature is to venture out of his sanctuary that as could be predicted, leads to his isolation, abuse, punishment and humiliation. (“Out There”)
David Burnham (Ken Jacques)
But venture out into the mysterious world of the unknown beneath the cover of the bell tower, on, of all nights, “The Feast of Fools”, he does. On the crowded streets he finds out just how difficult it is to stay undercover.

He also finds a caring friend and free spirited gypsy girl Esmeralda as she comes to his aid after his attacks by the riotous gypsies in the street led by Clopin. Quasimodo immediately becomes love stricken, as do Phoebus and Frollo.

Lance Arthur Smith’s shows us the power of his voice and star performance as he belts out  “Hellfire” and “Sanctuary”. You will also revile against him as the authoritative bully who is plagued with repressed sexual urges even going so far as to force himself on Esmeralda.

He claims to be doing the work of the Church but his misguided, uncontrolled actions create the fallout in Hugo’s epic drama of love, lust and corruption as he also all but mentally brutalizes his ward Quasimodo, the bell- Toller atop the spires of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, played with unquestionable and child like tenderness and on some level a knowing heart by Burnham. (“What makes a monster and what makes a man?”)

Richard Bermudez and Company (Adriana Zuniga)
Janaya Mahealani Jones (“Someday”) has a beautifully measured voiced. She is the fiery dancer and sexpot Esmeralda the Gypsy girl looking stunning in Janet Swenson’s mostly colorful costumes, coordinated by Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd’s. She is at the center of three men’s affections and creates somewhat of a conundrum for Quasimodo whose hormones are just waking up.

The talented and muscle bound Richard Bermudez (“Court of Miracles”) looking gorgeous in his gypsy designer dud's convinces as the troublemaker Clopin who narrates, calls the shots for the gypsy population and is a thorn in Frollo’s side.

Bermudez recently seen as Radames in “Aida” at Moonlight as The Gypsy King Clopin nimbly dances (Roger Castellano) and sings (“Rhythm of the Tambourine”) and even becomes a party to harassing Quasimodo when the half deformed man/boy does venture down from the towers to get a glimpse of 15th century Paris nightlife.
Janaya Mahealani Jones (Ken Jacques)
Stephen Gifford’s set design with the rented scenery from the Actors Theatre Series (and yes, six yuge bells drop from the loft and ring out as directed) and projections from Musical Theatre Wichita and Timothy Babb’s projection design, and lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier all bigger than life and eye popping all drew collective oohs and aahs.

It felt as though we were right there especially when Paris goes up in flame after Frollo tries to burn Esmeralda at the stake as her punishment for her being a gypsy and on the streets past the allotted time. (If you can’t have ‘um, kill ‘um.). His mission was to cleanse the streets of Paris of all Gypsy’s.
Lance Arthur Smith and David Burnham (Adriana Zuniga)
And finally, expect to choke a bit at shows end when Quasimodo tries to wake Esmeralda from what he thinks is slep. (“ Made of Stone”)

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” isn’t a pretty story or adaptation for stage by any stretch of the imagination, but Moonlight’s staging and musically centered production will have you sniffling at plays end at the elegant sounds coming from both chorus and individual performers.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 1st
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Phone: 760-724-2110
Production Type: Musical Drama
Where: 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista
Ticket Prices: $17.00-$57.00
Photo: Ken Jacques, Adriana Zuniga


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