The Hunchback of Notre Dame Presented By The Visalia Players

May 8, 2024 | 2024 Articles, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Theatre

by Terrance Mc Arthur

The Hunchback of Notre Dame—That rings a bell.

Hustle on down to the Ice House Theater in Visalia where the Visalia Players present the stage version of the 1996 Disney animated musical film. You’ll like it (I’ve got a hunch.).

Based on the 1831 Victor Hugo novel, with music by Alan Mencken (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid), lyrics by Steven Schwartz (Godspell, Pocahantas), and book by Peter Parnell (And Tango Makes Three), the musical tells the story of Quasimodo, a misshapen bellringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France in the 15th century.

Quasimodo (Christian Daniel Araujo), a hunchback, lives in the towers of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, ringing the bells. His master, Dom Claude Frollo (Rick Lotenero), Archdeacon of the Cathedral, has repressed desires, unleashed by the gypsy dancer Esmerelda (Kayla Vander Schuur). Clopin Trouillefou (Jaida Jolene), leader of the beggars and thieves, stages a contest to crown the King of Fools for the ugliest face: Quasimodo wins. Esmeralda falls for Phoebus (Jason Bionda), Captain of the Guard.

Characters get captured and menaced, escape, and seek Sanctuary.

Quasimodo (Christian Daniel Araujo)

Araujo dons a distorting costume, takes on halting movements and speech, and becomes an electrifying figure, the focus of any scene he enters. As Quasimodo would have been deafened by the clamor of the massive bells in the tower, Araujo incorporates a type of sign language into his dialogue. His voice is powerful, exploding with strength and massive lung capacity. He doesn’t evoke pity as much as he inspires awe.

Esmerelda (Kayla Vander Schuur)

Vander Schuur is willowy, sensual, and possessed of amazing vocal intensity. Esmerelda entices. She teases. She stands up against those who would demean her. She shows compassion as she defends a tortured Quasimodo. Her performance is well-shaded, showing many facets of the character.

Lotenero shows the conflict inside Frollo’s mind, the schism between his compulsion to be pure and honor the church that took in him and his brother Jehan (Joe Ayrton Ham) when their parents died of the plague, and the desire excited by Esmerelda, of the Gypsy culture he despises. He is conniving, duplicitous, and vile, and you love every moment you get of him.

Phoebus is one of those romantic male pillars in stories whose purpose is to be adored, and not much else. Bionda manages to make him honorable and earnest, which isn’t easy. Jolene is nimble, limber and sly in a part that lies somewhere between the Emcee of Cabaret and the Leading Player of Pippin.

Esmerelda (Kayla Vander Schuur) and Phoebus (Jason Bionda)

Ham is drunken but intense as the younger brother who embarrasses Dom Claude before dying (and who is the father of Quasimodo). Recently seen at the Ice House as Sweeney Todd, he also plays several other characters and a narrator in Hunchback. Ariana Murillo has too few moments as Florika; she makes a lasting impression on the mind.

Kelly Ventura manages to pull all the moving parts of this musical into a cohesive whole; after this show, he desires (and deserves) a long break. Phae Lockwood’s musical direction and Charlotte Garcia Da Rosa’s vocal coaching provide a sound experience that is amazing—even when the lyrics are in Latin. James Alves’s choreography makes the stage come alive with movement. The technical direction of Mal Lockwood turns the stage into a chessboard, dungeons, towers, and the projected glow of the cathedral’s rose window.

This is a production you can savor. Savor it at the Ice House Theater, 410 E. Race Ave., Visalia, until May 26. For reservations, call 559-734-3900 or go to the Visalia Players website.

All photos by Susi Youngs.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. You can also find more theatre coming up on KRL’s Local Theatre event page.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur worked for the Fresno County Public Library for three decades. He is retired, but not retiring. A storyteller, puppeteer, writer, actor, magician, basketmaker, and all-around interesting person, his goal is to make life more unusual for everyone he meets.


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