“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” Ringing in at Moonlight Amphitheater
I will get to why I think “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was Moonlight’s best show I’ve seen in a moment but first let me backtrack. This is my wife and I’s first year attending a full season at Moonlight and we’ve had a great time so far. Moonlight kicked off the season with “Mamma Mia,” which had us in stitches, singing, and even up out of our seats dancing at the end. It was a perfect date night. Next up on the roster was “Newsies” which reminded us why live theater is way better than the same old entertainment you get from a screen. Going into the first two musicals I had some knowledge of what to expect.
Then came the daunting thought of watching “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Going in, I knew only one thing for sure; The Hunchback of Notre Dame has a hunched back. The story line seemed both serious and sad. Honestly, this left me somewhat dreading seeing the musical as I tend to avoid depressing music, TV, and movies.
Restless in my seat, my eyes fixed on the stage, I sat anxiously as the orchestra began to play.
The curtain rose and the stage was transformed into an impressive towering cathedral, 2 stories high, with massive stone archways. I was overwhelmed and surprised by the extraordinary stage which felt over and above anything we’d seen from Moonlight before.
Over 40 plus voices instantly flooded the quiet night with layers of intricate harmonies, creating a unique chorus from the tops of the stone towers with their powerful pipes. Imagine my surprise when giant bells descended from the rafters during the song “The Bells of Notre Dame.”
The story starts with two brothers Dom Claude Frollo and Jehan Frollo, raised in historic Notre Dame who take completely different paths, one towards the church, the other away. Years go by and the brothers have no contact with one another. Dom Claude gets word his brother Jehan is dying. During their last conversation, Jehan’s dying wish is that Dom Claude would take care of his severely deformed illegitimate son, the product of his relationship with a gypsy. Dom Claude shows disgust and disdain but reluctantly takes Quasimodo (meaning “half-formed”) and raises him, banned in the bell tower of Notre Dame. With only gargoyles for friends, Quasimodo looks down on the town below, wanting desperately to be a part of it.
During the festival of fools, the townspeople adorn costume and mask and elect one person the “king of fools.” Quasimodo wanders out of the tower and in a moment of beautiful mockery during the song “Topsy Turvey” he’s crowned king.
The story takes an endearing turn when gypsy Esmeralda reaches out and shows genuine kindness to Quasimodo for what must be the first time in his life. It’s here the audience realizes Quasimodo and Esmerelda, despite their extreme differences in life and appearance, can both relate to what it feels like to be an outcast. Esmeralda goes on to become a central figure to the story creating a tension between Captain Phoebus de Martin, just back from war, Dom Claude, and Quasimodo.
The cast of the show was truly incredible and was the best vocal group of any Moonlight performance we’d seen. Janaya Mahealani Jones who played Esmeralda stole the show as her voice soared high in “Rhythm of the Tambourine.” The character of Quasimodo, played by David Burnham, instantly won the hearts of the audience with touching moments of comedy, tender innocence, and highlighted the show by masterfully singing “Out There” and “Heaven’s Light.” Burnham’s performance alone is worth going. Richard Bermudez is another stand out playing the part of Clopin Trouillefou.
This story takes you on a heart wrenching journey of twists and turns from tender acts of true kindness and compassion, to moments of pure darkness. Dom Claude Frollo, whose character is convincingly played by Lance Arthur Smith, dominates the stage in the performance of “Hell’s Fire,” revealing to the audience who the true monster of this story is.
Overall the musical showcased superb acting, sound, stage design, and choreography. I was pulled into the story and never once regretted being there. The creativity in set design and story made this an incredible experience worth seeing; maybe twice. So whether you’re a musical fanatic or a newbie like me,“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is a show that will not disappoint and was by far the best we’d seen at Moonlight to date.
By Connor and Bri McFadden