Friday, July 13, 2018

A Hunchback Full of Heart

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical

Presented by Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre
2961 16th St, San Francisco
July 7 to August 5, 2018

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Like the stony interior of the renowned cathedral itself, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical is suffused in a human darkness that first flowed from Victor Hugo’s pen and many years later coursed its way to becoming a Disney musical animation. Although rich with moving songs, the show never made it fully to Broadway and, like Quasimodo, was not completely formed.
Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez) as the King of Topsy-Turvy
Set in medieval times, it’s the beautiful, sad story of Quasimodo, the bastard orphan of a gypsy and a life-loving but aimless young man who, at his death, beseeches his brother Frollo, the clerical caretaker of Notre Dame, to care for the child. Appalled by the child’s physical deformities, Frollo sees it as a cursed, aberrant monster that must be hidden away at all costs, and in what better place than the dark sanctuary recesses of the cathedral.

Closing its season, Bay Area Musicals brings a fantastic, talent-rich production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical to the Victoria Theater in San Francisco. One thing that distinguishes BAM is how its cast and crew consistently generate an energy of collaboration and enthusiasm for their shows, and Hunchback is no different.

Opening night ended with a rousing standing ovation for the performers and artistic team, with the only challenge being some inconsistent lighting during the performance.

The play’s undercurrent of religious fanaticism masking sexual repression, of loneliness and rejection, of cruelty and fear, are the kinds of things that would make anyone, much less a child, lie awake at night. But the musical does take on these topics, expressed in lovely songs like "The Bells of Notre Dame," "Out There" and "God Bless the Outcasts." In the darkness, there is, like Notre Dame's beautiful circle of stained glass, some glimmer of hope,kindness, acceptance and love.
Frollo (Clay David)
Clay David as Frollo has a Christopher Lee kind of chilly intensity, looming like a clerical cobra with his severe frock and wildly stern expression; it is always a pleasure to see this finely trained and experienced actor perform.
Esmeralda (Alysis Beltran)

Tormented by his attraction to the sensuous gypsy Esmeralda (played with heart, sultriness, compassion and a beautiful voice by Alsyis Beltran), Frollo reconciles his confusion by declaring witchcraft and the ultimate punishment of death to Esmeralda. "Hellfire," with its liturgical strains of "kyrie eleison," speaks of the rigid good-evil, heaven-hell, righteous-sinning dichotomous worldview of Frollo and the medieval world he resides in.

Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez)
Alex Rodriguez, another Bay Area treasure, is a gentle, loving Quasimodo who can barely speak but whose interior voice soars in songs like "Heaven’s Light." Friends with the stone gargoyles that guard the cathedral and the huge bells he names as friends, Quasimodo’s yearning for, and right to, love and be loved is what touches our hearts.

A delightful disruption is Trouillefou Clopin, the extreme and ebullient trickster played so entertainingly by Branden Thomas.

The set (Matthew McCoy) suggested, as well as one can on a tiny stage, the cavernous cathedral and the busy town square. The costumes (Brooke Jennings) were colorful, creative and well-designed, and the orchestra (Jon Gallo) sustained the pace, in some cases competing a little too much with the singers. There were some technical glitches in lighting and miking that will most likely be worked out in subsequent performances.
The Cast
This story about outcasts, oppressors and enduring love is a sad, timely mirror of our current political situation where the idea of sanctuary is seen as a threat and not redemption.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical
Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
July 7 to August 5, 2018

Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Peter Parnell
based upon the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney film
Direction and Choreography by Matthew McCoy 
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo

All photos by Ben Krantz

CAST

Alex Rodriguez, Quasimodo
Clay David, Frollo
Alysia Beltran, Esmeralda
Jack O'Reilly, Phoebus
Branden Thomas, Trouillefou Clopin
Pauli Amornkul, Player
Patrick Brewer, Player
Alvin Bunales, Player
Jorey Cantu, Player
Juan Castro, Player
Julio Chavez, Player
Z Hansen, Player
Christopher Juan, Player
Benjamin Nguyen, Player
Loreigna Sinclair, Player
Kaylamay Suarez, Player

ARTISTIC TEAM

Matthew McCoy, Director/Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Wayne Roadie, Stage Manager
Cat Knight, Assnt. Stage Manager
Genevieve Pabon, Assnt. Stage Manager
Matthew McCoy, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Designer
Clay David, Prop Designer
Jackie Dennis, Wig Designer
Jake Delgado, Sound Board Op
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director
ORCHESTRA
Trumpet - Sonja Lindsay
Trombone - Jeremy Carrillo
Reed 1 - Amar Khalsa
Reed 2 - Larry De La Cruz
Violin - Corey Johnson
Cello - Laura Boytz
Keyboard 1 / Conductor - Jon Gallo
Keyboard 2 - Kjirsten Grove
Percussion - Randy Hood

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