Stadium’s Hunchback Leaves Audiences Begging for More

I’ve seen a handful of productions at the Stadium Theatre, and I’m consistently blown away by their talent and their production value. It’s not even a matter of being good for a community theater group they’re easily on the level of a professional production. As good as they’ve been in the past, however, nothing can hold a torch to their most recent production, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It is easily among the most beautifully done shows I have ever seen.

Hunchback is most widely known for its Disney movie adaptation. The original story was written by Victor Hugo, the same writer behind Les Mis, and like its novel-turned-musical cousin, it’s a pretty dark story, and the musical pulls in some of the darkness of the original that was taken out for Disney. The musical was first produced in Germany and was one of Berlin’s longest running musicals. Unfortunately, when it came to the US a few years ago, it was not as successful, never making the leap to Broadway. The music in both the Disney film and the stage version is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, two of the biggest names in Disney music.

The show begins with a prologue that delves into the backstory of the villainous priest Frollo (John Kevin-McElroy Morgan). He and his brother, Jehan (Brandon Michael), were taken in by the priests of Notre Dame as young orphans. While Frollo is pious, Jehan is more deviant and ends up leaving the church with a gypsy woman. The couple die of the pox, leaving behind a deformed child who Frollo is left to raise. He gives the child a name that means “half-form,” Quasimodo (Jack Cappadona).

Twenty years later, Quasimodo is a young man who has never left the confines of Notre Dame and whose only friends are the statues and bells, though he dreams of life “Out There,” and his chance to go outside arrives in the form of the Festival of Fools. Here, he meets Esmeralda (Hannah Duhamel), a kind gypsy, who encourages him to participate in the contest to become King of Fools, which he wins only to be humiliated and beaten as a riot ensues. He soon falls in love with Esmeralda, as does Phoebus (Cooper Cerulo), Captain of the Paris Guard who just came back from fighting in a war. Frollo lusts after her, and when she rejects his advances, he orders her arrest, leaving Phoebus and Quasimodo to question their loyalties as they try to save her from Frollo’s wrath.

The entire cast is absolutely flawless, and this includes the ensemble and choir as well as the leads. The role of Quasimodo requires a level of vocal flexibility, as he has largely been deafened by the bells, but he also has these powerful moments in songs that function as an inner monologue. Cappadona handles both of these masterfully. The power in his voice, especially in the numbers “Out There” and “Made of Stone” is astounding. Not enough can be said about his vocals; they need to be heard to be believed. Packing an equally powerful voice is Duhamel as Esmeralda, who plays the role with such sincerity and grace. Her dance numbers, like her entrance, “Rhythm of the Tambourine,” are fun and energetic, while her more emotional and deep numbers, like “God Help the Outcasts” and her duet with Phoebus, “Someday,” are gorgeous and poignant. “Someday” in particular is such a moving song due to how relevant it still is, though it’s being sung in the early 16th century. In this number, Esmeralda and Phoebus sing of a world where people who are different are not persecuted, and people “learn to live and let live.” Little did they know, five centuries later, we would still be working on that. Morgan’s standout moment comes in the chilling “Hellfire” where his pious uprightness begins to crumble before his obsession with Esmeralda. It’s also amazing considering that a few years ago, he played Horton in Seussical, which couldn’t be a more different role. This just shows the incredible range of his acting abilities.

The set features two levels of pews, with a beautiful stained glass window at the center, a chess board floor, and of course, Quasimodo’s bells in various sizes. Dean Palmer’s lighting design is also noteworthy, especially as fire is a major symbol in the story, and the lighting is used to create the impression of fire to the extent where you can almost feel the heat.

There are a few fantastic dance moments – with gypsies running amok, how could there not be – choreographed by Matthew Parello, whose impressive credentials include working with the New York City Ballet.

The program for the show includes bios for the cast, most of whom list their day jobs, and it’s amazing to see how people as talented as these are spending their days as accountants or customer service representatives. You almost want to shake them by the shoulders and say, “Quit your day job! This is what you need to be doing!”

What is an absolute travesty about this production is that it only ran for one weekend. For all the work they did and how amazingly it turned out, this team deserves at least another weekend – and we as audiences deserve another week to get the chance to see it. Hopefully in the future, the Stadium can be more generous with their showtimes, especially if future productions are even half as good as this one.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame ran the weekend of Oct 20 at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket. For more information on upcoming events, visit stadiumtheatre.com.

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