The Hunchback of Notre Dame Review - A Feast for the Eyes and Ears

Based on the Victor Hugo novel with songs from the Disney film (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz), the Los Angeles premiere of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME inaugurates the 2016-2017 season at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. And, in the spirit of firsts, Quasimodo, the deaf bell ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, is played by a deaf actor (John McGinty).

John McGinty (center on shoulders) and cast - Photo by Michael Lamont

For all you Victor Hugo aficionados, this musical inspired a little quiz for you. Who remembers how Quasimodo got his name? (See last paragraph for answer.) In any case, prolific author Victor Hugo seemed to have a thing for unfairly-treated but kindly outcasts (take a peak at “Les Miserables”). Poor Quasimodo has been relegated to a kind of solitary confinement in the bell tower of Notre Dame – just because he happens to be perhaps the ugliest man in Paris – in an era when ugly was often equated with evil. Dom Claude Frollo has taken him under his wing, and not a very nice wing at that, and so has turned the innocent Quasimodo into a brainwashed slave programmed to do his bidding.

John McGinty as Quasimodo, Keith A. Beardon, and the company - Photo by Michael Lamont

Enter Esmeralda (Cassie Simone), a beautiful and captivating Gypsy girl who has a tendency to march to her own drummer, and Quasimodo falls hard and hopelessly in love with a woman who will never be his.  Despite her kindness to Quasimodo, she has attracted the attention of other men – including her dashing lover, Captain Phoebus De Martin (Eric Kunze), and her unwanted suiter, Notre Dames’ own Dom Frollo (Mark Jacoby).

Eric Kunze, Cassie Simone, and John McGinty - Photo by Michael Lamont

But the tragic tale of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is almost secondary to its presentation. Stephen Gilford’s scenic design will awe you: he has created a cathedral bounded only by the fluid sides of the stage. Huge stained glass windows dwarf gargoyles as six monstrous bells descend from the heavens. Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting and Josh Bessom’s sound are magnificent, as are the swelling voices of the 20 choir members and the principals themselves. And let’s not forget the eye-popping costumes by Marcy Froehlich, who has captured the spiritual and civil grandeur of that century.

The Company of La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment - Photo by Michael Lamont

Director Glenn Casale deserves kudos for his skill in helming this classic story, presented as a composite of Victor Hugo’s novel and Disney’s film musical. Music director Dennis Castellano also deserves kudos for his accomplished arrangements of the Menken and Schwartz music and his capable direction of the orchestra. Having a full orchestra in the pit certainly added to the virtuosity of the production.

John McGinty and Dino Nicandros - Photo by Michael Lamont

And last but not least, let’s not forget the entire cast of the production, who blended talented acting, beautiful vocals, and energetic and colorful dances to make this tragic tale of love and loss forever memorable. Quasimodo, played by deaf actor John McGinty, was a treat to watch as his singing shadow (Dino Nicandros) sang his heart out and McGinty doubled and tripled the effect of the words with every non-verbal means in his armamentarium. Quasimodo really ended up being larger than life. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts has outdone itself with this brilliant production.

Cassie Simone and Mark Jacoby - Photo by Michael Lamont

About the name Quasimodo? Frollo agrees to foster the baby Quasimodo on Quasimodo Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. The processional march appointed for that Sunday begins with the words, “Quasi modo;” and the lines of the march emphasize a child-like and guileless child. Quasimodo’s name fits him to a tee.

John McGinty and Cassie Simone (center) and cast - Photo by Michael Lamont

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME runs through October 9, 2016, with performance at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, CA 90638. Tickets range from $20 to $70 (discounts for students, seniors, children, and groups). For information and reservations, call 562-944-6310 or go online.      

     

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