Wednesday March 7, I had the privilege to see the dress rehearsal of Anne Shirley Theatre Company’s production of the musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Having seen ASTC’s production of 7 Stories in the fall, I went into this dress rehearsal with some expectations, and excitement. However, reviewing this musical, being a person who is not that familiar with — and not that intrigued by — musicals also made me feel a tad skeptical. I’ve never really fully appreciated or understood the intrigue of musical productions, and was worried that I was not the right fit as one of the primary reviewers for the hard work of the ASTC cast, company, and crew.
I say this as both a preface, and an apology. I will probably get some evaluations wrong throughout the course of this review, but also would like to stress that my opinion of the production largely has to do with the apprehension I mention above.
All that being said, I very much enjoyed the production.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the story of the abnormally-formed Quasimodo, a forced hermit, who seeks to explore the city of Paris and experience the world as it, removed from his forced home’s walls. Of course, there are obstacles to Quasimodo’s journey. He must navigate both his own anxieties and faults, as well the controlling and abusive reign of his guardian, the Archdeacon Claude Frollo. In the process, Quasimodo meets the beautiful Roma woman Esmeralda, and becomes involved in a scandal of romance, deceit, intrigue, and murder. I won’t summarize the plot completely, as to leave a bit of surprise up to the reader (if you hadn’t seen the Disney version as a child).
This version of Hunchback is not a direct adaptation of the Disney animated film, nor is it completely true to the original novel (which is 900 pages long!). Rather, it is a mixture of the two: taking much of the darker elements of the novel, which were cut from the Disney adaptation of the film, while still utilizing the musical numbers from the Disney version. This creates a sort of fusion of anxious fun. The songs are not always light-hearted, but like any musical, they bring a sort of foot-tapping, fun aesthetic to the production. The darkness left over from the book, however, creates a sort of sombre suspense, allowing for the viewer to revel in the momentary spectacle of the music but never completely lose sight of the bleak and tragic plot lurking in the background.
The play itself had a great cast of leading veterans, and lots of minor parts with moments that shine through. Brandon Remmelgas (your TCSA president!) plays Quasimodo (the hunchback himself) in a role that is both sympathetic and inspiring. The plight of Quasimodo’s situation is played wonderfully by Remmelgas, as he navigates the awkwardness and insecurity of his character, while also evoking the inspiration and beauty of the ‘half-formed’ Quasimodo.
Naomi Woolf also did a wonderful job as Esmeralda, bringing a lightness and beauty to the stage, both in her acting and singing skills. She is the most intriguing character of the play — never quite revealing herself entirely, but continually enticing the viewer’s attention, as they wish Esmeralda back to the stage.
Claude Frollo, played by Rowan Lamoureux, was my personal favourite performance, even though as a viewer we are supposed to dislike him. Lamoureux’s Frollo was just what it needed to be. Stern, mean, abusive, slightly sympathetic, and tragic: Frollo is a character that, although the viewer may not particularly like him, they will have to respect him and appreciate the performance of such a tough role.
As Sam Tweedle also comments in his Kawartha Now review of the play, Karsten Skeries definitely had the hardest role to play in this production. Phoebus de Martin is a returning soldier and the love interest of Esmeralda. Throughout the play, however, the viewer cannot help but root for Quasimodo. Phoebus, however, ends up pursuing the girl, and toes a thin line between cockiness and respectability. He is both an asshole and a hero, and although the audience may root against him at times, he ends up being a memorable character, albeit not the most liked.
The “Gypsy” girls and the Parisian prostitutes, while all being smaller roles within the cast, brought much of the energy and spirit of the play. Their playfulness and sassy nature allowed for the darker moments to shine in contrast. The choreography of their dances and their well-rehearsed singing definitely left an impression of colour and movement that I can visualize as I look back of my viewing of this play.
The instrumental accompaniment to the production was incredible as well. Led by Justin Hiscox and conducted by Ben Jackson, their accompaniment provided an emotional backbone and narrative dimension to the play. It was wonderful to see the dynamic of the band, which caught my attention during some of the more mellow scenes, as they worked cohesively to evoke the final touches of beauty to the play.
Overall, this production is another good one from ASTC, and has made this musical theatre skeptic, into a newfound, yet still a tad reluctant, believer.
I do recommend seeing it, and luckily, you still can! There are still three performances of this entertaining musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
These will occur @ Market Hall this weekend. The show times are below:
March 16th @ 7 p.m.
March 17th @ 2 p.m.
March 17th @ 7 p.m.
Tickets are 20$ (Adult) or 15$(Student/Senior/Child) and can be bought at:
Tickets can also be bought at the door, but may sell out by show time.