By Gloria DuGan
As one who had reservations about enjoying a musical about The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I was pleasantly surprised viewing the production at The Arlington Players. It had passion, relevance, and drama. Expertly directed by Rich Farella who displays a keen eye for what works onstage, the show, full of beautiful music, was mesmerizing.
We all know the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a deformed and damaged person who lives in a Cathedral before the beauty and compassion of the gypsy Esmeralda transforms him; how he rescues her from burning at the stake and makes the Parisians realize his worth and dignity. But the musical elevated this story into a new dimension with its soaring ensemble musical numbers, especially “The Bells of Notre Dame,” “Topsy Turvy,” “Rest and Recreation,” “Top of the World,” “Esmeralda,” and “Kyrie Eleison.”
Special recognition should be given to Musical Director, Mark V. Deal, not only for the beautiful and precise sound of the orchestra, but also the stirring vocals of the cast who filled the theater with their exquisite sound. I must also mention the choir in their stalls who amplified the music and gave it a sublime sound. Their opening number in the Second Act, “Agnus Dei,” reminded me how much I love listening to a really good and disciplined choir.
Kudos to Rich Farella for casting a Deaf performer, Alex Bryce, as Quasimodo who was devastatingly effective in communicating his thoughts and pain to us in artful and poetic sign language. And to his alter ego, Alden Michaels, whose soaring vocals captivated the entire audience. Farella did a masterful job of combining these two incredible talents to form a perfect Quasimodo. Not to be undone, Farella also found an Esmeralda of great talent. Adeline Mitchell was irresistible as the Gypsy Queen with a stunning voice to match her acting skills. Her duet with Phoebus, “Someday and Top of the World Reprise” was a highlight.
Phoebus de Martin, as played by Matt Calvert, was another of the golden voices in this production. He has an appealing tonal quality and a gorgeous, powerful voice that gave us goosebumps. The villain priest, Frollo, as played by Adam Strube, who is a bass with the U.S. Army Chorus, was another dynamic and strong voice and pivotal character in this show. Something must also be said for all the other characters in this production; it was just one beautiful voice after another, especially Shakil Azizi who performed the gypsy, Clopin Trouillefou, with energy and power and IO Browne as Madam whose striking and potent voice stood out, Daniel Lakin as Jehan who not only had a great voice but his diction was perfection, and Bob McGrath who played three characters very well and distinctively.
The choreography by Paige Wakefield was creative and well-drilled. I appreciated that, at times, the cast was not dancing as a unit but as individuals or small groups. The scenes in front of the Cathedral with the entire cast were full of movement that made sense and seemed appropriate for the time period. Not an easy trick to pull off. The set design by Dan Widerski was clever using three arched windows in different configurations to mimic the different scenes in the show, and two staircases that also moved to indicate a number of locations. The use of platforms, gothic railings, and a cathedral window enhanced the time and place of the story. I must herald that rose window painted by Sandy Kozel, which was a real beauty. Credit to the Master Carpenter Tom O’Reilly for building all those pieces of the set to move quickly and easily, a skill in short supply these days.
The lighting design was thwarted by the late calls, and pop spots in some songs, so that some cast members found themselves in a dark spot. Otherwise, the design was quite good. Kudos to the Sound Designer, Seth Sacher, for his spot-on amplification balancing the orchestra with the singers. I could hear every word. The costumes by Joan Lawrence were extremely well done (except for Frollo wearing a Mass vestment outside Mass) and the properties/set dressing by Allison Gray-Mendes were excellent and both enhanced the time and place. Sheila Hyman’s hair and makeup design were very good, but her true distinction was the remarkable design for the gargoyle/statutes’ headdresses.
Everything about this production was excellent, both on the artistic and technical levels. I am certain that some of this is due to the producer, Janet Bordeaux, who has given us a production of which everyone should be very proud. I urge you to see it.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame plays at The Arlington Players through October 20, 2018, at Thomas Jefferson Community Theater – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the box office or go online.