Dillon Giles as Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at the Henegar. Detail of photo by Dana Niemeier.
By PAM HARBAUGH
Spectacle, glorious voices and heartfelt performances add up to a thrilling theater experience. It’s the Henegar Center’s production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and it is sensational.
A deep current of nobility runs throughout the show, evident not only in Peter Parnell’s book but also Alan Menken’s soaring music and Stephen Schwartz’ lyrics. Director Hank Rion amplifies that noble essence in his heroic staging of this musical. In fact, it’s so strong that those goosebumps will remind you of “Les Miserables.” And of course, that is fitting seeing that both musicals were based on novels by romantic 19th century author Victor Hugo.
You will get chills when you experience the splendid singing directed by Kaimi Lucker and the excellent orchestra conducted by music director Jordan Evans. And those chills will get goosebumps from David Robertson’s big bold scenic design, complete with enormous stained glass window and an array of enormous bells hanging from wood scaffolding…and all that baptized by Joshua Huss’s gorgeous, evocative lighting design.
The story goes down a few paths of love, lust and piousness. It also raises the notion of “ethnic cleansing” when Parisians are told that the army will rid the city of foreigners and gypsies. And yes, that raises an audible response in the audience.
Action revolves mostly around Quasimodo (a wonderful, heart-rending Dillon Giles), the deformed bell ringer of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. He lives in the upper most reaches of the cathedral. His only friends are a group of gargoyles who come to life and speak with him. The town’s citizens despise him because of his differences. But one day, he ventures into town where he sees Esmerala, (a sensational Amanda Manis), who befriends him.
Esmeralda also stirs Quasimodo’s cruel uncle, Claude Frollo (a powerful Damon Dennin at his best yet), the pious archdeacon of Notre Dame. Taught as a child to be disciplined, Frollo becomes conflicted over his feelings for Esmeralda and whips himself bloody with repentance. Yes, there are shades of Javert from “Les Miz.”
There are also Captain Phoebus de Martin (Joe Horton at his very best as well) but the Captain also falls for Esmeralda, and the Gypsy leader, Clopin (the talented Dominic del Brocco, a real stage pro) who sings and dances and disappears in puffs of smoke.
And there are the voices: Two choirs of a dozen each sit on the sides, ever present, lending rich, beautiful sound to the music. You will feel as if you are in a gothic cathedral when the show opens, that stained glass window lights and the bells start ringing.
Excuse me. I must take a moment while my goosebumps recede.
Vanessa Glenn lavishes the stage with a ton of costumes that move perfectly with Kim Cole’s stunning choreography. Thom Restivo’s excellent sound design adds even more layers to the production. And with more than 100 people to wrangle, big kudos to stage manager Nathan Dobson.
This show is a visual treat, a musical treat and a performance treat. Mr. Rion promised this would be one for the record books and it certainly is. This one will be a hard one for the cast and crew to put to bed. But sleep it eventually must, so call now and get your tickets. In other words: “Don’t miss it.”
SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” runs through March 26 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $16 to $26. Call 321-723-8698, visit Henegar.org or click on their ad.
N.B. I direct occasionally at the Henegar, so I am not calling this a “review.”