Music Theatre

Papermill Playhouse: The Hunchback of Notre Dame review

An obvious and appealing title to become a stage musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame features soaring music and heightened drama packaged in a impressive and inventive production. The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical, Disney, Papermill Playhouse, Michael Arden With a score including songs from the Disney film but a book written by revisiting the Victor Hugo novel, the focus shifts in favour of an adult audience, with dark dramatic themes driving the action. The result is much more Les Misérables than The Lion King. Peter Parnell’s book is void of Disney homogenisation, with hunchback Quasimodo being deaf with related speech difficulties, and his keeper Frollo hiding insidious, lustful urges behind the façade of his holy orders. The ending of each act is loud and dramatic, and the final denouement is certainly not the patented Disney happy ever after. The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical, Disney, Papermill Playhouse,, Andrew Samonsky, Ciara Renee Two Broadway titans have joined forces to write the compelling score. Alan Menken’s music and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics fit so naturally with their film songs that it becomes very hard to pick the difference. Plenty of storytelling occurs through the songs, and they provide numerous climactic moments with big finishes. Quasimodo (Michael Arden) has the early I wish classic “Out There,” as well as the gorgeous “Heaven’s Light” later in act one.  Frollo (Patrick Page) reveals his lustful demons in searing power ballad “Hellfire.” Esmeralda (Ciara Renée) has the sweet 11 o’clock number “Someday,” which was heard over the closing credits of the Disney film. This song clinches the Les Mis connection , based on the fate that befalls heroines after they sing their big ballad. The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical, Disney, Papermill Playhouse, Ciara Renee, Produced on an impressive scale, the stage features an elaborate two-storey wooden construct representing Notre Dame cathedral. The mighty bells, so often referred into in song, hang overhead, and various locations are created with imaginative combinations of benches and balustrades. The lush choral singing is supported by 32 choristers, who are seated on rear pews. In a feature moment, this choir sings the entr’acte in Latin. Director Scott Schwartz (son of Stephen) uses an interesting concept in which the full company is dressed in grey robes, which are briskly discarded as they take on the various characters throughout the story. This includes Arden as Quasimodo, who puts on his dirty face paint and hump in plain sight after a Wicked-style prologue that explains the origins of the unwanted baby. With its adult themes, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not a neat fit for the Disney brand, so it will be interesting to see if the show ever makes it to Broadway. The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical, Disney, Papermill Playhouse, Michael Arden, Ciara Renee The Hunchback of Notre Dame was reviewed at 1.30pm Thursday 2 April 2015 at Papermill Playhouse, New Jersey, where it plays until 5 April 2015. Footnote: If you are in New York and notice an interesting show playing at the Papermill Playhouse, go out and see it! The train trip is only 30 minutes, and the theatre is a very short walk from the station. They even do Thursday matinees. Photos: Matthew Murphy

Categories: Music Theatre, Reviews

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4 replies »

    • Ok so next up I expect to see that you have visited Melbourne, Australia! NJ is so much more scenic than NY. Papermill Playhouse is charming.
      Meanwhile, I have an idea for which show you might like to see on Broadway this season. I am seeing it this weekend, so keep an eye out..

  1. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz joining forces is one of the greatest things to happen on Broadway! They have to be some of my favorites! They have also worked on Pocahontas and Enchanted with Disney. The new production is quite great I heard, and your review sort of confirms a couple of the “rumors” I have heard about the style and content of the new show. Great write-up!

    • Thanks Chow. I really hope this show has a further life beyond its final show at Papermill this Sunday. Great to have a serious show from Disney for a change!

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