Made for Heaven’s Light: A Review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame-La Mirada Theatre

It was another resounding night at the theater as McCoy Rigby Entertainment presented the first show of its 2016-2017 season with the Los Angeles premiere of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” As always they delivered yet another riveting, thought-provoking production to the sold out house on opening night. Under the direction of Glenn Casale (Peter Pan, Camelot and Disney’s The Little Mermaid) and its partner on this project, California Musical Theater, Sacramento Music Circus, the show received a much deserved standing ovation after its emotionally-charged debut.

I was first introduced to this masterpiece back in October 2014, when the production made its U.S. debut at the La Jolla Playhouse, after years of development by Disney Theatricals. Being a musical theater lover, I was first drawn to the ingenuity of the songs of this groundbreaking musical. When I heard such profound lyrics as “no face as hideous as my face was ever meant for heaven’s light…” I knew I had embarked on something special. Unfortunately, after its limited run in San Diego and later at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey the show did not transfer to Broadway. Many have speculated the reasoning behind Disney’s decision not to move forward with the musical, however, fans were still graced with a cast recording featuring all of the sublime songs.

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But if you’re expecting to see the beloved Disney version come to life on stage, be forewarned. This production rings true more to the original 1831 novel by Victor Hugo, which tells a much different story than the 1996 animated feature film. Peter Parnell, who wrote the book for the new musical did an excellent job assimilating the authenticity of the novel onto the stage. Much of the success of this adaptation is the poignant message behind the tale and how we’re still facing these same dilemmas today. We witness the characters both internal & external struggles with religious beliefs, senseless violence, political corruption, segregation and of course true love. By the end of the show you’ll be asking yourself “what makes a monster and what makes a man?”

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The immensely talented cast is led by deaf actor, John McGinty (Quasimodo). McGinty is the first deaf actor to star in the lead role as the bellringer of Notre Dame. Interestingly enough, Michael Arden (who portrayed Quasimodo in the U.S. debut) went on to direct Deaf West Theatre’s “Spring Awakening” featuring deaf actors. Accompanying McGinty on this awe-inspiring journey is Dino Nicandros (Voice of Quasimodo). The compelling duo commanded the stage with their talents. McGinty was charismatic, lovable and tender.  His gentle disposition was balanced perfectly with Nicandros’ powerhouse vocals. The musical number “Made of Stone” was filled with such raw emotion, it literally brought tears to my eyes, as I’m sure other patrons would attest to.

Creating havoc and resistance in the city of Paris is Mark Jacoby (Dom Claude Frollo). The character was complex and his unmistakable brilliance was most evident in the tumultuous number, “Hellfire.” Jacoby and McGinty also demonstrated great chemistry, which made the dysfunctional relationship between Quasimodo and his master, Frollo quite believable.

Alluring audiences with the rhythm of her tambourine is Cassie Simone (Esmeralda). Simone’s ravishing performance proved she’s a triple threat and her exquisite voice adorned more beautiful, heartfelt lyrics like “I used to believe in the days I was naive that I’d live to see a day of justice dawn. And though I will die long before that morning comes. I’ll die while believing still it will come when I am gone” from the song “Someday” which highlights the free-spirited gypsies strife in the failing city.
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Rounding out the main cast are Eric Kunze (Captain Phoebus De Martin), Keith A. Bearden (Clopin), Shannon Stoeke (Jehan), Doug Carfrae (Father Dupin), Devon Hadsell (Florika), Lance Galgon (King Louis XI), William Martinez (Lieutenant Charlus), Shannon Mari Mills (Madame) and Kevin McMahon (St. Aphrodisius).
The scenic design by Stephen Gifford and lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg appeared painstakingly meticulous and captured the haunting beauty of the cathedral magnificently. The story is certainly heightened by the lush orchestration of musical director, Dennis Castellano and the inclusion of a 31 piece on-stage choral ensemble. Disney brought back two of the masters of American musical theater, Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Newsies) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, The Price of Egypt) to complete the Oscar-nominated score with brand new original music specifically penned for this production including: “Olim,” “Top of the World” and “Esmeralda”, which are all soon to be time-honored classics.
Every once in awhile, there comes a story that touches your soul. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of those shows. Just like real life, this production may not have a happy ending but just like the moral in this production, we can believe that change will come someday.
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame is playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts until October 9, 2016. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or Order Online
Photo courtesy: Michael Lamont

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