Honesty Time

Keeping it real since 2013


True Life: I cried at Hunchback


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.

Talk Back with the cast. Yes, Patrick Page has on a Spiderman shirt.

Talk Back with the cast.

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.

Yes, I sat nice and close. The set was a sight to behold.

Yes, I sat nice and close. The set was a sight to behold.

Here are 7 reasons why you’ll cry because of Hunchback.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

    Photo by Jerry Dalia. Source: Playbill.com Michael Arden and Ciara Renée during "Top of the World"

    Photo by Jerry Dalia. Source: Playbill.com Michael Arden and Ciara Renée during “Top of the World”

  5.  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.
  6. 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.
  7.  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.



Time to Cry aka Big Fish Time

Big Fish. I don’t know what to say, but it’s time to say it. This movie, this book, this musical, has such a hold on me. What is it about Edward Bloom and his story that gets me? Guess what? Big girls do cry because all three variations of this story make me sob like a baby.

This morning, I spent a lot of time talking to my boss-lady about the spectacle that is Big Fish, the new Broadway musical (which is why I had the urge to write something about it today). We were talking about our spring show, All Shook Up (ugh, sorry, but just…ugh jukebox musicals), and she was saying that we should try to use projections to create the locales that we need. It will be visually interesting, unique, and saves us money on sets. Not to mention our “stage” (aka classroom) is itty bitty, so we need space saving ideas!

So of course, I told her about Big Fish and the drop-dead stunning projection, scenic, and lighting work that help set the scenes and the moods for each part of the show. Benjamin Pearcy, Donald Holder, and Julian Crouch made seamless magic together. Now that’s how different designers create a unified vision successfully. Take notes, children!

And then of course, I got all weepy and sentimental because we started watching clips of the show on YouTube and I love everything that has to do with Big Fish.

Daniel Wallace’s original novel is very different from the movie, which in turn is also different from the musical. The musical is a combination of both source materials, though it is larger than life in ways more similar to the movie than the book.

Susan Stroman and her spectacle, y’all. Also, you can’t employ William Ivey Long to costume a show and not have pure brilliance, detail, and magic up on that stage.

Speaking of magic and going on a totally new train of thought…

You know how some girls say that Disney ruined falling in love for them? I think Big Fish did that for me. When Edward Bloom is at the circus and sees Sandra, time literally stops. He is captivated by her because he knows that they are destined to be together. There is an entire song dedicated to time stopping in the new musical. I think I have always expected time to stop, the moment to stand still. Welp, that’s never happened for me. Maybe when I met my cats? Eh, not even then.

Someday, I want to open my window and see a well-dressed man, hopefully in tweed with elbow patches on his sweater or jacket, standing with a field full of my favorite flowers (purple roses and lilies, everyone. Just FYI). I don’t want him to get punched in the face a million times though. But I do want a “Daffodils” moment.

“Remembering a man’s stories makes him immortal, did you know that?”

I hope that with my enthusiasm for the show, I can make sure it’s remembered for what it meant to so many people. I am not affiliated with the show in any way (though gosh I wish I had been) but one of my saddest recent days was finding out that Big Fish set a closing date.

I know some people found the show cheesy and campy (I’m looking at you, student of mine who is actually hopefully never going to read this), and had problems with the fantasy versus reality. To them, I say that they missed the point, and that’s such a shame. The show is supposed to be clean-cut, fun, bright, and above all else, poignant (without being a drama).

The point of Will Bloom’s story is that he didn’t know what to believe about his often-absent, now ailing, father. Life was a fairy tale for Edward. Stories drove him forward in his life, and he was an excellent storyteller. Obviously, so is Norbert Leo Butz, who plays the role in the musical. He was able to play young Edward, old Edward, sick Edward, all with such a natural verve. It was impressive. And I just love to listen to NLB sing, of course.

Don’t we all have family members like Edward? A big fish tale in life, and one day in death. I’m thinking specifically of my grandfather, actually, who is in his mid-90s right now. I’m thinking of his photo album from the war and far-fetched stories like how he claims he invented Boston Cream doughnuts while he was a cook in the war (it has to do with undercooking bagels or buns or something like that).

In real life, Ryan Andes kind of is a giant, even without stilts. Also, the nicest person ever. Photo source: Paul Kolnik.

In real life, Ryan Andes kind of is a giant, even without stilts. Also, the nicest person ever. Photo source: Paul Kolnik.

I’m also thinking of Will’s struggle with his father, and the pain and frustration of losing trust and faith in a family member. It took tragedy to bring them back together. The time line is a matter of months in the musical, but in the movie Edward and his son are estranged for what seems to be quite some time.

Sometimes, I’m afraid of my own family hurting in the same way. We argue a lot. We don’t see eye to eye. The older I get, the harder it is to believe in my family. I find that I identify a bit with the character, played by Bobby Steggart in the musical.

For real, the way I describe this all, in short, to anyone in regards to my feelings about the musical is always “If you have ever loved any family member, ever, through disagreements or not, you will understand this.”

And you will cry. I cried every time the father and son duo were not in sync with one another. I cried during “Daffodils” because it was just so touching and a gorgeous way to end the first act. I really cried when Kate Baldwin sang “I Don’t Need a Roof” and I failed to keep myself together for the remainder of the show. Big Fish turns everyone into proud “ugly criers” for the night.

Spoiler alert.

In the end, all of Edward Bloom’s stories had some truth to them, and all of his stories were right there with him to say goodbye. Always believe in your loved ones. Sometimes, a big fish tale is just that. A little exaggerated and it won’t hurt anyone, but it certainly will add more spice to your life.

Perhaps my love for this story also comes from my love of fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. Disney movies are still my favorite movies, I’ve already spoken about my love for fairy tales and books related to the genre, and a good fantasy moment makes every glum day better for me.

Big Fish, in all of its incarnations, has this for me.

This fierceness garnered a great big "YAAASSSSSS" from my pals and me. Photo source Paul Kolnik

This fierceness garnered a great big “YAAASSSSSS” from my pals and me. Photo source Paul Kolnik

I’m so heartbroken that due to my sad wallet, I will never see Big Fish the musical again. I am blessed that I had to the chance to see it and I’m thankful that two of my great friends came alone for the journey on the last night of previews back in October. I’m glad that they’re both still my friends even after I smacked them with excitement when I saw taps come out on the stage for “Red, White and True”. I’m so glad that we all “awww”ed over “Daffodils” together and that we all gave major snaps and claps for the fierceness that is Ciara Renée as The Witch. Together we took a journey to watch elephants dance, a giant come to life, and a mermaid swim in the pit.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of what this show means to me, why I watch the movie on the reg, and why the book is my favorite.

It’s part of my heart. And I highly recommend that everyone checks out the story in whichever form you are able to. You have until December 29th to get your butt to the city to see the musical. I’ll be weeping silently to myself until the cast recording is released in February.

To end, here are two more videos that show off some of the cool visuals that took my breath away and captured my imagination during the show.

Thank you, Big Fish, and all of your many creators, the casts of both the movie and the musical (thanks y’all for signing my Playbill and being so talented and beyond friendly at the stage door), for giving me something so special that I feel speechless when I talk about it. That’s the end of my incoherent babble about a story that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.