Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is spectacular theater destined to be a classic

hunch rail
Not since the U.S. premiere of the 25th Anniversary edition of Les Miserables at the Paper Mill Playhouse four years ago have we heard such thunderous applause for a musical.....the  premiere production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  This Disney Theatrical Group's retelling of Victor Hugo's classic love story of the beauty and the beast is best described with one word spectacular. This Broadway bound production has all the elements to become a musical theater classic in the same league as Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Disney's box office champ The Lion King.  It has it all, great music, great voices, and great staging (including exciting choreography, marvelous costumes, breathtaking set, excellent lighting and sound effects).

First is the lush dramatic music with a score by Alan Menken (Disney's The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast) and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin) originally composed for the Disney animated film. The superior, almost operatic, voices of the principals is supported by the splendid Contiuo Symphonic Chorus....a total of 50 voices. The book, also based on the Disney film, is by Peter Parnell (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Trumpery, QED, The Cider House Rules). Directing credit goes to Broadway and Paper Mill veteran Scott Schwartz. He directed the PMP's critically acclaimed production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (he is the son of lyricist Stephen Schwartz). The exciting choreography is by Chase Brock. The large fine orchestra is led by music director/conductor Brent-Alan Huffman. Michael Kosarin is the Music Supervisor, Vocal & Incidental Music Arranger.

hunch church bell Director Schwartz' cast is also spectacular, from leads to supporting ensemble members, in their own right. In the lead role of Quasimodo is Michael Arden, a fine voiced, handsome performer who in full view of the audience makes the highly effective transformation into the grotesque hunchback (top photo). Patrick Page with his outstanding voice is equally impressive as Dom Claude Frollo, the villain Archdeacon of Notre Dame and Quasimodo's protector (photo right). He and Quasimodo combine early in the first act with "Sanctuary" where he informs Quasimodo that his home is to be the bell tower of the cathedral...never to venture into the world below. 

hunch couple Ciara Renée is the sultry fiery, gypsy Esmeralda who captures the hearts of  Captain Phoebus,  Quasimodo, and the celibate Frollo.  Andrew Samonsky makes a dashing Captain of the Guard, Phoebus de Martin. His musical highlight is the duet with Esmeralda in the hope for a better world "Someday" (photo right)  Particularly effective is Erik Liberman as Clopin Trouillefou, the leader of the Gypsies. He excels in two musical numbers..."Topsy Turvey'' and "The Court of Miracles."

The outstanding supporting cast is led by William Michaels, a past Phantom, Javert, and recent star of New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre's acclaimed production of The Man of La Mancha, and Jeremy Stolle, also a past Phantom. The remaining members of the ensemble include Julian Decker, Mary Joe Duggan, Ian Patrick Gibb, Beth Kirkpatrick, Samantha Massell, Neal Mayer, Nora Menken, Anise Ritchie, Vincent Rodriguez III, Richard Ruiz, Joseph J. Simeone, and Dashaun Young. Most cast members joined The Hunchback of Notre Dame at its birthplace the La Jolla Playhouse.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame design team all Broadway veterans includes: Alexander Dodge (Scenic Design); Alejo Vietti (Costume Design); Howell Binkley (Lighting Design); Gareth Owen (Sound Design); Charles LaPointe (Hair & Wig Design); and Steve Rankin (Fight Director). The Production Stage Manager is M. William Shiner.

In short; if you are a lover of the great American musical theater....this is a must-see event. Rarely have all elements of stage craft come together so magnificently. We were properly forewarned on what to expect as we engaged the valet parking attendant. His only words were "you are going to see a great play." What more do we need to know!
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  March 15, 2015

The Hunchback of Notre Dame will run eight times a week at the Millburn, New Jersey theater through April 5, 2015. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets range from $28 to $99. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at

Photos by: Matthew Murphy

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