Monday Moments: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”

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The US premier of the musical production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at La Jolla Playhouse soars past Disney’s cartoon version to reveal epic storytelling backed by a dramatic score.  What resonated in me deeply was the weight of the question weaved throughout great storytelling.  “Who is the monster and who is the man?”

The two and a half hour production entertains swiftly starting from Quasimodo’s physical transformation from a regular man to a disfigured one.  Actor, Michael Arden makes this dramatic transformation by putting on a hump, distorting his body and smearing black streaks across his face right in front of the audience.  Throughout the production there is a mixture of stunning vocals and theatrical spectacle telling the story through dark suspenseful scenes as well as joyous moments like the gypsy parade of Topsy Turvey—a familiar tune by Disney’s Alan Menken version. The ending dramatically concludes effectively as it began with Arden removing the hump and black streaks from his face.

Ciara Renee as Esmeralda and the cast of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at the La Jolla Playhouse.-Kevin Berne

Ciara Renee as Esmeralda and the cast of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at the La Jolla Playhouse.-Kevin Berne

It is at these metamorphoses and unmasked transitions where the show makes the leap from lighthearted jokes to anchoring down one of the messages that the complexity of a life can’t be forced into a shallow mold. The production’s use of kindness and yearning to fulfill human desires rings true for the audience.

The show had me wonder how many times do people in real life put on their version of a hump and smear makeup on their face to fulfill the world’s expectation of them and to hide what they treasure most? How many times are people expected to judge too quickly? What makes a monster and what makes a man?

Michael Arden (foreground) as Quasimoto in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." — Kevin Berne

Michael Arden (foreground) as Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” — Kevin Berne

You can catch this epic tale of “passion and hope” at  La Jolla Playhouse until December 14th, at Paper Mill Playhouse from March 4-29th and possibly on Broadway!

What: Inspired by the classic Victor Hugo novel and the only stage collaboration between two giants of American musical theater. Music by Alan Menken (Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Little Shop of Horrors), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin). An intimate retelling of the famous love story, with a lush, emotionally rich score and a production that will leave you inspired. Not recommended for children under the age of 10.  A US premiere by two Broadway legends.

When: La Jolla Playhouse through December 14th, Paper Mill Playhouse March 4-29th

Happy Monday!  See beauty in everyone!

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