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Let the Praise Ring Out for CCM’s “Hunchback”


Review by Liz Eichler of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”: CCM

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music has an amazing musical theatre program, one of the best in the world.  These students are winners, hitting their notes, charming the audiences, high-kicking it every night, and consistently go pro. Occasionally a player comes along– raising the bar to an even higher level. In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” there are several star performers that can turn a mediocre musical into an amazing evening. 

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was originally developed by Disney Theatrical Productions by the renowned team of Alan Menken’s music, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Peter Parnell. Playing through March 10, audiences see the fantastic array of rich CCM talent, from the beauty and texture created by the design team, the musical mastery of the orchestra, the clear notes from the balcony choir, and prime time performers. 

In case you never saw the Disney version or read the book, “Hunchback” is the story of Quasimodo (Alex Stone) a young man born with birth defects, being raised by Frollo (Bryce Baxter), a rigid misguided priest of Notre Dame Cathedral who forbids him to ever go outside. Drawn to the excitement of the annual gypsy gathering, he sneaks out and meets the kind and caring Esmeralda (Jenny Mollet), who stands up for him when the town turns on him. Esmeralda also captures the attention of the brave and handsome Captain of the Guard (Frankie Thams), and the lascivious and conflicted Frollo. 

This musical is more true to Hugo’s gothic novel than the Disney cartoon. more attention is paid to the Machiavellian and sexually frustrated villain Frollo, but there are still plenty of talking statues (and a really amazing one at the beginning of Act 2). This musical never made it to Broadway, (workshopped at LaJolla Playhouse in San Diego, CA in 2014, the musical moved to NJ’s famous Papermill Playhouse in 2015) but instead it was licensed for regional theatres. As written, there are some confusing issues with the story, and some unresolved issues at the end of the show, but this production does an amazing job with the material. The strengths are in the performances, musical direction, design, execution, and direction, getting each intricate piece to shine.

Each character has a theme song and they are some of the strongest moments– when we see the CCM stars shine. Stone’s “Out There” literally reverberates off the rafters with a clean clear voice. Esmeralda’s “God Help the Outcasts” shows off Mollet’s amazing range, but it is in her first entrance that she burst off the stage and into your hearts. Baxter crackles and burns in “Hellfire” and Thams is heroic in “Rest and Relaxation.” Kevin Chlapeka plays the leader of the gypsies with both power and ennui.  Stone and Mollet are powerful and sweet with the lovely “Top of the World” tour of the city, both for their performance, but also the fluid movement and choreography of the set pieces. That’s the heart of the show. 

The athletic ensemble of dancers own the huge stage, lighting it up with seemingly effortless moves. The set (CCM student Lindsey Purvis) is an intricate puzzle of platforms and levels, with a variety of projections that take us from the bell towers to the forest. The clothing (Dean Mogle) is richly textured and moves with the performers.  The lighting (student Oliver Tidwell-Littleton) helps tell and accentuate the story. I’m happy to report that the sound (Matthew Tibbs) was clean and clear, and I did not feel like I was in an acoustical black hole as has happened in past CCM shows at Corbett Auditorium. 

Director Aubrey Berg with Musical Director Stephen Goers and Choreographer Katie Johannigman have pulled off a great showcase of CCM treasures. The story and performances show passion, depth and great skill. Contact the CCM Box office at boxoff@uc.eduor 513-556-4183 to get your tickets now.