The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Fine Arts Association Presents a Vocally Rich Production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Community Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is quite a challenging piece of theatre to produced. I was thrilled to see that the Fine Arts Association was tackling this musical, which within itself is a message of the strength of the theatre currently under the Artistic Direction of David Malinowski. Sort of like, yeah, ring that bell loud Quasi, we're here, stronger than ever.

The musical is inspired from the 1831 Victor Hugo novel. In 1996 Disney brought the story to the screen in a musical. That musical had music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and an adapted book by James Lapine. The stage musical version opened in 1999, in Berlin, Germany, and became one of Berlin's longest-running musicals. The musical had its successful US premiere at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego from October 28 through December 14, 2014. The production soon moved to the Papermill Playhouse from March 4 through April 5, 2015. But it never did make it to Broadway. It wouldn't surprise me if down the line another version would be created. Maybe one with a happier ending. I mean, it's only a matter of time until Disney buys up every theatre in Time Square. 

The story follows Quasimodo (Ryan Peterson), a deformed man taken in by Arch Deacon Dom Claude Frollo (David Malinowski) as an infant, due to both of his parents, younger brother Jehan Frollo (Austin Stois) and Florika (Sarah Gordon), have died from illness. Due to his haggard appearance, Quasimodo was forced to remain inside the Notre Dame cathedral for his entire life. However, one night Gypsy King Clopin Trouillefou (Kyle Lorek) throws a festival. On a secret mission, Frollo and his new Captain of the Cathedral Guard Phoebus De Martin (JJ Luster) show up, as well as Quasimodo, who finds solace with the gypsy outcasts. When a girl named Esmeralda (Haley Gagnon) dances, hearts ignite and set a course for destruction. She becomes the target of Frollo's lust and genocidal mission to eliminate all Romani Gypsy people in France, the love interest of De Martin, and the love interest of Quasimodo. 

Awaiting the opening of the show, the preset on stage is breathtaking. The stain glass windows are a beautiful touch. The Opening company vocals are stunning. The transition of the choir into their stalls was well staged, and quite a surprise, and beautifully lit. This sets the stage for some fierce vocal performances.

Peterson as Quasimodo does a wonderful job. He has brought such an underlying tenderness to the role. His velvet powerful voice is able to highlight the strength and weakness of his character. Whether it is yearning to be out there free, or laying bare his torment, that even though disfigured, it doesn't change his human needs are emotions. You care about this character so much, that even when he fights back to a very bitter end, you feel that somehow he has won in the long run. Malinowski as Frollo brings a stoic and harsh clarity to his role. There is no smile here to emulate any true compassion, just lust. He creates a dark character that embodies spiritual ideology, but slowly reveals the darkness of his own tortured soul. Vocally making bass notes seem like threats to your soul. Beautiful work. Luster is terrific. His stage and character presence is solid and commanding. And his voice is a truly magical legit baritone tenor vocal party. I really liked the performance, executed with confidence and vulnerability as well. And he has a head voice, so does Peterson, which everyone knows I don't have. But I digress.

And the focus of their characters love and affection is Esmerelda, beautifully played by Gagnon. This is a beautifully thought-out performance. From her entrance, she radiates her natural beauty and sensual presence. Though simplistic clear choices she earns the stage attention she is getting with a very honest interpretation of her role. Then she sings, and it is captivating. She then enables us to see her fiery side without any gaff in intention. It is pure and confident. Her acting chops allow her to make intrinsic choices that guide her through love, hurt, pain, sacrifice, and humanity. Simply a big fucking BRAVO! Lorek as the Gypsy King is another standout. He has immense stage presence and energy. It is such a natural gift. He is a triple threat of pure entertainment.

All of the supporting roles are executed well. Energetic Austin Stois as Jehan Frollo. Sarah Gordon as Florika, Thomas F. Majercik Sr. as Father Dupin, and really putting his head to use as St. Aphrodisius. Corbyn Bentley as Frederic Charlus, Bradley Allen as King Louis XL, Angela Savochka as the Official, and the fantabulous (This woman was delivering FACE and ENERGY everytime she hit the stage!) Emily Stack as Madame. Add in the company congregation of Sammie Jo Adkins, Molly Lorek, Amanda Ostroske, Vanessa Pintabona, and Michelle Sohm. Also add in the incredible vocal wall of sound from the on-stage choir of Betty Anderson, Susan Becker, James Berner, Jonathan Gordon, Carol Hollaman, Patrick Lanstrum, Alice Nelson, Karin Ostroske, Nathan Park, Gabrielle Perusek, Jim Ray, Michael Richmond, Colleen Royer, and Mery Tomsick.

The Production Team for this production:
Lisa-Marie French - Director and Choreographer
David A. Thomas - Music Director
Greg Pribulsky - Scenic Designer
Michael Roesch - Technical Director
Bradley Allen - Lighting Designer
Tom Linsenmeier - Sound Designer
Susan Pestello - Costume Designer
Jillian Negin - Production Stage Manager
Extraordinary Sound Board Operator - Jenna Rickard

French has put together a wonderful cast and really proficient lead characters. The pace of the show was good, as was the staging of the show. This is a big monster to put up on its feet. And the choreography matched the abilities of the cast well. On the whole, the audience will enjoy, as I did. But I do have some considerations that I feel would have taken this production levels higher. The biggest one is that the stakes of the show are not high enough, especially in the group scenes. People don't seem to know what to do if they aren't given something specific to do. When Esmeralda was on fire, stage right was dead. I wanted to scream "She's on Fire!" to get a reaction. These are also the quietest gypsies I have seen. It should feel like and sound like a toga party every time they are having fun on stage or pissed off.  Overall, so many faces were not connecting with the scene work. Personally, I didn't care for the slow-motion fights, because it exposed everything that didnt work, and slowed the pace of the show. Everyone in any group scene needs to be personally invested. I thought the sign language was a nice touch, not overdone, but so subtle. It was very touching. The gargoyles were on point. Loved the interaction.

Thomas delivers strong musicianship. (I do like fuller sustained scene change music). But the score was handled well with adept musicians and keen conducting. Pribulsky knocked it out of the park with his design, major props to you sir. The stained glass was giving me life. Technical Director Roesch did remarkable work bring the design to life. Allen brought some deft lighting choices and design to the lighting. The Sound Design was very good, everyone was crystal clear, and the bell effects were on point. Pestello did an amazing job of costuming the cast. Beautiful period work. Production Stage Manager Negin called a great show. The Sound Operator Rickard was phenomenal.

Random notes in my notebook:

The Company Sopranos need to run for Congress.
I will get a major chill if I ever hear the phrase "Yes, you do." again.
The choir reminds us that religion is always watching.
No matter how damaged we look, we still have something to give.

The musical is a darker, more gothic adaptation of the film. But it is well worth the trip to see it. Although, the young ones won't like the outcome, so don't bring kids expecting the Disney happy version. But, there is wonderful work going on here.  Best wishes for the rest of the run.

Cleveland Stage Alliance
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

June 8 - June 24


7:30 pm Fridays
7:30 pm Saturdays
2 pm Sundays (Sign-interpreted performance 6/24)

$15-$25 Reserved Seating

(440) 951-7500

Fine Arts Association
38660 Mentor Ave.
Willoughby OH 44094