and ended in New Jersey (having never made it to Broadway), is an atypical Disney production. More Les Miserables than The Little Mermaid, it’s an interesting amalgam of Victor Hugo’s original gothic novel with music and elements from Disney’s 1996 animated adaptation. Far darker than one would expect from a production with the Disney named semi-attached, Spreckels’ decision to replace it in their season with a more ‘family-friendly’ production of the classic Peter Pan is understandable. It’s also regrettable, because as the production running now in San Francisco produced by Bay Area Musicals reveals, it’s a very good show.
Hugo’s 15th century-set tale of Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez), the bell ringer at Paris’s Cathedral of Notre Dame, his guardian (and uncle) Archdeacon Frollo (Clay David), and a gypsy girl named Esmeralda (Aysia Beltran) contains enough thematic elements for a half-dozen shows. Religious extremism, class differences, bigotry, love vs. lust, lookism, repression and oppression are all explored in Hugo’s story and Peter Parnell’s book and through the score with music by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast) and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Wicked).
It’s grand opening number “The Bells of Notre Dame” provides the somewhat lengthy backstory before the main narrative kicks in. A band of gypsies has come to Paris and its newest member Esmeralda has caught the eye of both Quasimodo and Archdeacon Frollo. Quasimodo is taken by her kindness while Frollo is taken by ‘impure thoughts’. Add a dashing French soldier to the mix (Jack O’Reilly) and you have one helluva triangle.
Music director Jon Gallo and the nine-piece orchestra do well by the score, which runs from the light (“Topsy Turvy”, “Tavern Song) to the dark (“Hellfire”). The choral numbers are particularly powerful with tremendous vocal work done by the entire cast.
Alex Rodriguez makes for a fine Quasimodo and Clay David is excellent as the conflicted Frollo, who utters a few comments about immigrants and borders that might seem rather prescient. Both bring substantial vocal power to their musical moments.
Director/Choreographer/Scenic Designer Matthew McCoy and his team do a pretty good job with the show’s technical aspects and the limitations imposed by the venue. Narration eliminates many of the challenges, but the solution to how to present a flood of molten lead poured over a rioting crowd was ingenious.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is no children’s show, talking gargoyles to the contrary. Operatic at times, classic American musical at others, it’s a worthy addition to the season of any company with the talent, facility and budget to do it as well as this production.
‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ runs Thursday through Sunday through August 5 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. Thursday and Friday evening performances at 7:30 pm, Saturday evening performances at 8:00 pm. Saturday and Sunday matiness at 2:00 pm.
For more information, go to bamsf.org