THE BELL TOWERS OF NOTRE DAME RING IN TRI VALLEY REP’S 2019 SEASON
THE BRAVE QUASIMODO PROVES THAT ‘SOMEDAY LIFE COULD BE KINDER’ - THE HUNCHBACK OF
NOTRE DAME RINGS PASSION AND HOPE
Quasimodo has climbed to the top of the Bankhead Theatre in Livermore to ring in the new year. The bells are ringing at Tri Valley Rep’s wonderful production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME that is now on the Bankhead Livermore stage until January 27th. This spellbinding Disney musical opens the new theatre year for TVR, bringing together a first rate team lead by its producer and AD Kathleen Breedveld. Director Titian Lish and Musical Director Sierra Dee brought together a stunning cast of 47 to tell the story of Quasimodo.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame is such a painfully relevant piece of theater. This story, filled with beautiful music and performed by an incredibly talented cast, focuses on how we see the people in the world around us” says Lish. She also feels being new to the Tri Valley Rep team that HUNCHBACK is an important musical to stage, “Victor Hugo’s timeless story of love and redemption, power and sin, captures our imaginations/ deep down we recognize ourselves in the characters.”
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is adapted from the 1996 Disney animated film which was based on the classic Victor Hugo novel "Notre Dame de Paris." It includes a impressive vaulted set that includes a tremendous full choir. I have seen a number of Quasimodos on Bay stages and this HUNCHBACK delivers soaring vocals as big as its epic themes. Director Lish has cast some of the best in the Bay Area, a company of 20 players and a 27 member chorus to ring out Stephen Schwartz’ and Alan Menken’s words and music. The remarkable Brian Palac is cast as the tortured Quasimodo, creating a stunning performance as he transforms himself into the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The song "Bells of Notre Dame" fill the Bankhead theatre, under sound designer Adam Danska with a mix of gothic darkness adding to the overwhelming ringing of the bells.
Set in Paris in 1492, a gypsy named Clopin, played by the charismatic Justin Sabino, begins to spin the famous tale of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Born some 17 years before to a gypsy girl and the late brother of the present Archdeacon Frollo of the church of Notre Dame played by the authentic Geoffrey Colton. Palac and Colton prove their exceptional voices in the song “Sanctuary”. On his deathbed, Frollo's beloved brother Jehan played by Matthew Kelly entrusts the boy, his son, into his keeping. Frollo begrudgingly accepts guardianship of the boy he names Quasimodo - which could either mean “like a newborn” or the much darker, “almost human”. Frollo harbors resentment toward the deceased gypsy girl he thinks led his brother astray.
The tragic, yet empathetic Quasimodo, played by the superb Palac, longs to leave the tower to feel what it would be like to be amongst the citizens he’s been observing from the tower, to be “Out There”. Palac has a pitch perfect voice and his tragic hurt and longing for freedom will bring you to tears. From his labyrinthine bell tower at the "Top of the World," Quasimodo climbs the high rise set as he limps up and down the bell tower. There are large bells that lower to chime and the swinging ropes as the cast who is always onstage or standing by in the wings follows Quasimodo from scene to scene.
The commanding Sabino, who plays the storyteller Clopin Trouillefou, introduces himself with the show stopping “Topsy Turvy” as he sings with the company of gypsies. The free wheeling Sabino is perfect as the gypsy king character. The moments he broke the fourth wall to speak to us were spot on and strong. Sabino becomes the heart and soul of this story as he guides us thru this dark tale and proclaims Quasimodo the “King of Fools”.
The stone gargoyle statues that befriend him in the bell tower and come to life, like in the animated movie, to "speak and advise" Quasimodo, are played by the polished Jessie Ann Lukban, Taylor Hendricks and Michelle Roque who support and expand his imagination and press him to explore the city and enjoy the festivities. The story compares France's medieval government and religious morals against the outcasts like Quasimodo and the gypsies. It is easy to draw parallels to our current world politics where threats are seen in every dark corner while "others" are blamed and/or bullied.
Frollo develops a romantic fixation for the gorgeous Esmeralda played by the dynamic Alexis Vera. Esmeralda’s celebration of life, in many of her numbers, including the sinuously sexy dance number “Rhythm of the Tambourine” rests any doubt that Vera is sizzling as Esmeralda. The company is on fire during a celebration as the revelers sing and dance “Topsy Turvy”. Confetti fills the stage with the sizzling dance choreographed by the gifted Cathrine Delos Santos and Joren Reyes.
Vera as the fiery dancer captures the attention of not only Frollo and Quasimodo, but also the handsome, Captain Phoebus, played by the talented Matt Skinner. Vera is marvelous singing "God Help The Outcasts." The rousing Skinner as Phoebus is a strong pairing with Vera; his smooth timing with Esmeralda is keen. The Lieutenant of the Cathedral Guard and loyal friend to Phoebus is played by the bold Dominic Lessa and other players are performed by the talented cast.
The Congregation members include the polished Aly Casas, Charles Anthony Sarah Deranleau, Katherine Mathers, Johnny Moniz, Celia Reddoch, John Ramirez-Ortiz, Michelle Roque, Dominic Tracy, Jenna Van Ommeren who all appear in multiple roles. The gargoyles arise from the cathedral roof and are present, like a Greek chorus, as the story progresses. The gargoyles haunt some of the more tumultuous scenes with Palac yet as the statues come to life this is the only real classic Disney moment in the two hour musical considered dark for Disney standards.
Palac is terrific in the title role as the tragic, bullied and tormented young man, superbly conveying his character's emotional pain and physical deformities while beautifully singing grand numbers such as "Heaven's Light" and the Act 2 highlight “Made of Stone”. As he opens up and reveals his heart to the audience and friends in the bell tower, he is heartwarming. When he shuts down and withdraws, he is equally heartbreaking. Quasimodo is a difficult role to interpret; silent film legend Lon Chaney played him as a feral, animalistic brute, nearly losing eyesight under the extensive makeup; the original Disney film was voiced by Tom Hulce (if you remember his tour de force role of “Amadeus”), played the man as a shy savant, crippled but brilliant in mind and soul.
Director Lish brings a foolproof craft team to TriValley including the fun explosive stagecraft for Esmeralda’s exits created by props by Joan Brown, Breedveld, and Lish. The huge bells loaned from Bay Area Musicals and other Bay statges. The light design created by Northern Lights takes us from the festival streets of Paris to the heights of the cathedral eaves, to the interior of the church that is reminiscent of the gates of hell as the stage turns blaze red for a “Hellfire” and Frollo’s eventual downfall. I also admired the lighting at eye level creating a bewitching mood. Stage Managers Brian Olkowski and Jess Hutchins are busy running the show and keeping this cast on cue that keeps all 47 members on stage throughout the musical.
Impressive music director Sierra Dee conducted the choir and the six piece orchestra; the Bankhead theatre was filled with a grand and glorious sound. Marcy Bowie and Rachel Anderson coordinated some very authentic and gothic looking costumes that feature rich textures and period touches while allowing for movement. Esmeralda's frothy dress shows power and flight. Frollo's buttoned-up vestments and public mask hide his inner turmoil. The Gargoyles costumes lacked any style but Quasimodo earth tone look was touching. The excellent production number “Esmeralda” featuring the entire cast and Santo’s and Reyes’ festive eye catching choreography are a highlight of the second act. The gypsy dance festival is a joy to watch. “Kyrie Eleison” and “Top of The World” with the ensemble begin and close the story, and Titian Lish’s gripping storytelling brings the darkside drama to a gripping tearful end.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME’S lush score is glorious, and the melodies are memorable. The complicated arrangements, harmonies, and melody lines make this ensemble shine. This TVR production is grand and Palac ends the show with Menkin's poignant lyrics, "Someday Life will be Kinder”. Next up at Tri Valley is SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE at their Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton. The summer musical brings back JOSEPH AMAZING DREAMCOAT that opens in July. But in the meantime, this production of HUNCHBACK is on my “Must See” list and I hope during awards season we will see this cast and craft team honored. Don’t miss Quasimodo climb to the top of the Bankhead in Livermore-- there are only two performances left.
Tri Valley Rep Presents
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Music by Alan Menken and
Lyrics Stephen Schwartz, book by Peter Parnell
Based on the Victor Hugo novel
and songs from the Disney animated feature
Director: Titian Lish
Musical Director: Sierra Dee
Choreographers: Cathrine Delos Santos and Joren Reyes
MUST CLOSE JAN 27th
The BANKHEAD Theatre
2400 First Street
Two and Half Hours with a 15 min intermission