Musical Theatre Musings Review: Hunchback Of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells of Quasimodo, orphaned and left in his uncle Frollo’s care. Quasimodo spends his life living in the bell tower at Notre Dame, that is until one day he decides to go into town for the Feast of Fools but in doing so he meets Esmerelda and it changes both of their lives.
The show is an ambitious show by anyone’s standard but Centre Stage’s motto for this production seemed to be ‘go big or go home!’ With a cast of 32, a choir of 30, an orchestra of 15 and a large set including bells suspended over the auditorium, they delivered on this. The first thing that hit me for this production was the scale of it and I adored how ambitious it was. The show opens with ‘Olim’ a beautiful choral number and from the off the wall of sound hits you. Musical director Mark Smith has done a magnificent job with the orchestra and the choir, with a really rich sound and harmonies. It is rare that we are treated to such a full sound in amateur theatre and this production really did Menken’s magical music justice.
The show was staged intelligently by using members of the congregation to narrate the story. The set was also well thought out. The set had a higher level and director, James-Lee Campbell ensured that was well utilised. This combined with the impressive bells ringing out over the auditorium and clever set dressing with a cathedral stained window being flown in and coloured tabs or washing lines depicting various moments brilliantly.
A slight concern was that due to the huge wall of sound from the orchestra and choir there were moments that I missed solo lines from the congregation, who were often telling the story or from smaller characters. It was hard to tell if this was a late microphone pick up issue or if not all of the cast were mic’ed up. In other shows you could possibly get away with this but in a show of this scale there was no way a solo voice could be heard over the orchestra.
The cast was very strong. Unfortunately on the performance I saw it Quasimodo was ill so Nick Dore stepped into the role with just 2 hours rehearsal. Whilst he was on stage with a script in a hand for his dialogue, for the entirety of the music he was off book and note perfect. It is incredibly impressive that anyone can do this, especially for a physically and vocally demanding role such as Quasimodo. Dore not only did the role justice with an empathetic and emotionally mature portrayal but gave an incredible vocal performance.
Playing Esmerelda was Suriyah Rashid. Esmerelda is a part which demands a lot of sensuality at the same time as being a character who immediately wins the audience over with her heart. Rashid succeeded in doing all of this and her 2 duets, ‘Someday’ and ‘Top of the World’ were 2 of the highlights of the show for me. Peter Shatwell took on the role of Frollo, Quasimodo’s pious guardian and pitched the malevolence well ensuring it never came across as pantomime and remained on the side of cruelty.
The choreography by Peter Stonell and Sara Ramirez was well drilled and ensured that the stronger dancers in the cast shone at various moments. Many of the tableaus on stage were effectively thought out, ensuring that despite a large cast the stage never felt overly crowded.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by its nature is a heavy show with very few lighthearted moments of comedy. Whilst James-Lee Campbell did very well to ensure that this never veered into melodrama, at times it would have been good to have some light relief and maybe not played all of it quite so serious. I would also like to commend Centre Stage for ensuring that the stage was not a sea of white faces (as a lot of amateur dramatic shows can be!). I know that Centre Stage have been working hard on diversity and for a show like Hunchback of Notre Dame this is a vital factor in ensuring that when singing about acceptance this does not comes across as authentic rather than tokenism.
Centre Stage have once again taken on an ambitious project and delivered a show that really levels up the reputation of amateur theatre, from the raw talent on stage, to the orchestra and choir to the effective set and creative use of it.