by Lorie Lewis Ham
This past weekend saw the Central Valley premiere of the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, presented by Children’s Musical Theaterworks (CMT) in Fresno. I had never seen this show before, but now it is on my list as being one of my favorite shows.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a musical based on the Victor Hugo novel, with songs from the Disney film. The show begins with two brothers-Claude, also known as Frolo (Joshua Brava) and Jehan (Cameron Barger). They were taken in as children by the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Frolo has devoted himself to the church and Jehan has rejected the church and lives a wild life. Jehan returns one day with a child that he had with a gypsy woman–he is dying and asks Frolo to look after his child. The child is Quasimodo (Ian Jones), and because he is deformed, Frolo hides him in the cathedral and never lets him leave–teaching him that the world is evil and that Quasimodo is a monster and the world would reject him. A trio of living stone gargoyles (Lucy Lopez-Aita, Mary Perez & Claire Singer) serve as Quasimodo’s only company and friends.
Each year there is a festival and it is the only time that the gypsy’s can freely come in to town. One year Quasimodo sneaks out to the festival and here his life changes forever after meeting a beautiful gypsy girl named Esmeralda (Maya Sosa). Another key character in the story is a soldier named Phoebus (Nathan Fennacy). The plot is a complicated tale of bigotry and hatred, but also of acceptance, love, and a hope for a better world in the future. It is sad, inspiring, and far darker than the Disney movie.
There are two casts for this show-the Topsy and the Turvy casts-we saw the Turvy cast. Quasimodo, Phoebus, the gargoyles, and several others, are played by the same actors in both casts-while Frolo and Jehan actually switch places in the Topsy cast and Serena Myers is Esmeralda.
While I feel like this is one of those musicals that is more about the story than the music, the songs were all enjoyable and moved the story along. My favorite song was “God Help the Outcasts” sung by Esmeralda–it was moving and beautiful. Other favorites were Quasimodo’s songs “Out There” and “Heaven’s Light.”
Everyone in this young cast did a good job, and they were accompanied by a live orchestra, which is always an added bonus. There were a few sound issues here and there, but not enough to detract from the performance. Joshua was sufficiently evil as Frolo, and Nathan portrayed the conflicted hero well. However, the standout performances to me were Ian as Quasimodo and Maya as Esmeralda. Maya is a graceful dancer with a powerful and lovely voice. Ian was just plain amazing! He has a beautiful voice and his acting was wonderful. I have seen Ian in one other show-The Picture of Dorian Gray–and I said then that this was a career I planned to follow. He is an extremely talented young man.
I highly recommend seeing this musical! If I had time, I would go back and see it again with the other cast. The show is rated PG and it is rather dark for really young children, but my 9 year old niece loved it–so just be aware that the show is very dark.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs until July 23 at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium at 2425 Fresno St. Tickets can be purchased and more information found on their website.
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