Disney fans, movie fans, theatre lovers and fangirls, cultured folks, and friends of all of the above, may have heard the growing praises for the new musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
And if you haven’t heard yet, you should.
By the way, the show may be produced by Disney Theatrical Group, but this is not marketed towards children. The Disney name doesn’t even appear on the poster or any merchandise. While some people are oddly turned off by the dark tone, I love it. There was a talkback with the cast after one of the performances and, I believe it was Michael Arden but stop me if I’m wrong, said it best when he said that he grew up watching the movie, but now this version of the story has grown up with him. Love it. So true. I adored having the songs and characters I already knew being explored in a different way. It is also more faithful to the original story by Victor Hugo. I don’t believe that stories need to be dumbed down or sugar coated for audiences, so I heartily applaud the truthful, faithful, and emotional storytelling of this adaptation.
Truth: The first night I saw it, two ladies behind me left at intermission because it was not the Disney that they were expecting. Those who react to a show in such a way are closed minded and missing out on life’s experiences. Suit yourself, but if you choose to leave a performance because it’s not playing out exactly as you wanted it to, then I find you to be selfish. Good day, sir.
I mentioned for a split second up there “the first night I saw it.” Which means, yes, I saw it twice. I went back two days later because I couldn’t get the show out of my head, and emotionally, I wasn’t done with it. The first time I was mostly in awe. I was sitting very close, and being an all around theatre person, I spent the entire show trying to take in the whole story, the set, the lights, the costumes, the sound design, and everything. My jaw was dropped the entire time, not only because I was a full time Chuckie Finster Mouth Breather that night, but also because I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. The second time was less of a shock, so I was able to delve into the lyrics and narrative a bit more, which resulted in a lot more tears than the first night.
Yup. I’m a big crier, even when it comes to works of fiction, and I’m never ashamed to admit it. I still get misty when I listen to Big Fish in the car, and don’t you dare get me started on the face-rain that happens when Sirius Black dies.
Here are 7 reasons why you’ll cry because of Hunchback.
- Your high school student walks out on stage and, surprise, is part of the production. Ok, fine. This isn’t applicable to most people, but it was for me. The choir accompanying the professional cast on the stage is made up of your everyday, talented folk from New Jersey. My student, now a senior, auditioned and was given the once in a lifetime chance to join this production. As I no longer work at that school, I had no idea he was doing this. One of the kindest and most genuine students, he is also hard to miss as he is tall and sports a curly, ginger head of hair. He walked right out and sat in the first row of the choral boxes, and I couldn’t mistake him. Apologies to everyone who sat near me as I exclaimed “That’s my kid! That’s my student! My student is up there!” I tried to be quiet but who knows how quiet I was. I was so proud. I love my students with all of my heart. And so, I cried.
- The show is starting. I tend to get misty eyed and let a stray tear loose when I listen to overtures, both in recordings and at shows. I feel that I am blessed to witness the gift that I am about to receive. When the opening is as powerful and well-done as it was with Hunchback, the chances of this happening are quadrupled. Thank you, orchestra and Continuo Arts choir. For most people, it might be a goosebumps moment, but, like I said, I’m a crier.
- Ciara Renée is singing “God Help the Outcasts.” Have you ever been an outcast? Do you understand that feeling of otherness? Come, child, here, have some tissues. Not to mention that Ciara had REAL ACTUAL TEARS in her eyes, so if I was welling up, seeing that made me actually cry. I cry when other people cry too. I’m a crier. Also, as a theatre lover, I can appreciate a truly well-done stage picture. The end of the song had Esmeralda singing out to the world (or, er, the house), with Quasimodo lurking farther up, against the colorful stained glass. Feeling the same feelings, but being so far apart, trapped inside the breathtaking prison, the merging of two people into one shared situation… it was a lot for my emotions.
- Quasimodo is singing “Heaven’s Light.” Michael Arden is the best Quasimodo I can imagine. His physicality was not a caricature, and he was honest. His honesty allowed Quasimodo to have a little humor, a lot of authenticity in his feelings and actions, and a truly broken spirit. His voice, though mangled a bit in speaking as the half-formed, mostly deaf young man, was clear as could be while singing. Arden’s tone was as pure and striking as the bells above him, and by the end of the song, I was brought to tears simply by his voice mixed with the ringing of said bells. I can’t even freaking tell you what he was singing about because by the end of the song, I was so emotional that I had no idea what was happening.
Side note: Has that ever happened to anyone else? You’re so into something, you’re responding emotionally, you love it, but what the hell just happened? All memory of the actual content gone?
- Ciara Renée and Andrew Samonsky are singing “Someday.” I wish there was a recording of them singing this for me to play over and over again. Part of the power of a lot of this show, but in particular this song, is how the themes are, sadly, always applicable. She’s singing about justice’s dawn, and learning to live and let others live, which is something we, as a world, struggle with immensely. Then they sing something to the effect of “someday, these dreams will be real/’Til then we’ll wish upon the moon,” which is one of the single most beautiful vocal moments ever, and the exact moment when, if you aren’t already dabbing your eyes, you’ll be scrambling for your tissues. You can listen to the super hip, super 90’s All-4-One recording, but it’s just not the same (literally. The songs are different from each other, but close).
You’re welcome for this fabs 90s style music video. Yas.
- Michael Arden is breaking the fourth wall (as is done masterfully so many times during the show to aid in narration, as the style calls for storytelling, and not just action) and giving a bit of an epilogue to Quasimodo’s story. The story he tells is almost direct from the book, in a chapter entitled “The Marriage of Quasimodo.” By this point, there was a distinct little river streaming down from one of my eyes and I gave up on trying to wipe it away. That’s some real honesty time there. I don’t want to spoil it, but the words were sweet, simple, and really hit the audience members right in the feels. Love and devotion and loyalty are eternal, y’all.
- Oh, well, here comes the finale. The entire cast and choir are singing. Erik Liberman, as cunning Clopin, comes to end the show, just as he began it. And then everyone joins in. And they’re just singing “bells, bells, bells, bells” and they’re just standing in a line. And then they’re not even singing any words anymore. But they’re singing with such conviction. And pride. And they move downstage. And I’m still crying, and then the lights go out, and then I’m on my feet applauding.
I could continue to gush about all aspects of the show… Patrick Page is the world’s best, most human villain and I’d also like to listen to him talk all day long. The sound design was brilliant in a way that I know most non-theatre enthusiasts are sure to notice, but not understand as I do. The congregants were versatile and fluid in their movements from one part to the next, taking on each little role with a firm mastery. The lights exemplified the perfect use of color theory that I wish my students would pay attention more attention to. Hello, all that orange and blue? The teal and purple? Quasi almost always being in what reads as a pure light? UGH love it.
But I have to leave it here. I could go on all day. I almost have. Sorry not sorry.
Be ready for wherever this show lands next, and catch it when you can. You will be sorry if you miss it. There’s only one more week left to see this show in its current life at Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. You can bet that when it goes to Broadway (and it has to. It’s too powerful to just sit on a shelf now), I will see it again.