Candice Shedd-Thompson and Thomas Adrian Simpson star in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ at Riverside Center.

You are watching: What makes a monster and what makes a man

SUZANNE CARR ROSSI

From the ominous opening melody come the crashing “Finale Ultimo,” Riverside center for the Performing Arts’ production of “The Hunchback that Notre Dame” seduces a depth of fascinating from audience members not often seen at the dinner theater.


An ambitious production, led by Justin Luciano as Quasimodo and Thomas Adrian Simpson as Dom Claude Frollo, sends chills through the viewer, repeatedly motivating the wanted mix of horror and delight. The 18-person cast, the biggest in Riverside history, is backed by a chorus of 20 and accompanied through a nine-piece orchestra.


Exploring together adult themes together social exile and its effects on purity, cruelty and also manipulation, and also lust intermixed with spiritual devotion, the musical—directed by Riverside’s artistic director Patrick A’Hearn—is no happy Disney fairy tale. Though based on the 1996 man film, this “Hunchback” returns to its roots in Victor Hugo’s 1831 iconic disastrous novel.


After producing successful stage versions that “Beauty and also the Beast” and “The Lion King,” in 1999 Disney did the same with “Hunchback,” opening first in Germany making use of songs from the movie and added material. Additional revisions to be made before bringing it come La Jolla, Calif., in 2014, and new Jersey’s Papermill theater a year later, after i m sorry the show was exit for local theater production.


Along through memorable music well-known from the Disney movie—“God help the Outcasts” and also “Out There,” amongst others—composer Alan Menken (“Little Shop the Horrors,” “Newsies,” countless Disney movie numbers) and also lyricist Stephen Schwartz (“Pippin,” “Wicked”) have added nine pieces, and a new book through Peter Parnell.


The story’s central conflict in this variation is less about deformed bell ringer Quasimodo, who ventures out right into the real human being for the an initial time, discovering its cruelty but also finding a girlfriend in the gypsy girl Esmerelda (played v charm by Candice Shedd–Thompson). In a prologue sequence functioned into the opening number “The Bells that Notre Dame,” we discover archdeacon Frollo’s backstory. A greater portion of the following action focuses top top Frollo’s sinister struggles between virtue and vice, including his can be fried demise.


Though there room a couple of moments of feeling (a to sing beheaded saint is specifically entertaining), the story is rather heavy and also occasionally challenging to follow together narrators periodically seem come interrupt the action with details delivered too rapid or not loud sufficient to understand.


In despite the of this, the story is easy to follow. Because it involves a deeper evaluation into the personality of Frollo, the audience is cure to a healthy helping of Simpson’s velvety bass-baritone—every minute of i beg your pardon is a reward because that the listener—as that portrays a conflicted villain through multilayered motivation. “Hellfire,” i m sorry closes out Act I, reminds united state of Disney’s person who is abnormal dark animated song, but feels unleashed on stage in one adult manufacturing with a greater capacity to convey Frollo’s within turmoil.


Luciano is transformed right into Quasimodo—a cruel surname bestowed through Frollo meaning “half-formed”—before our eyes as he straps ~ above his hump and also rakes unstable lines of assembly onto his challenge to stand for his deformed ugliness, all the if accompanied by explanatory melodic narration (costume designer is Jimm Halliday).


Luciano skillfully displayed the bell ringer’s battle to communicate with other personalities due come impaired speech and deafness. In contrast, his soaring tenor voice plainly expresses those in Quasimodo’s mind and heart.


Shedd–Thompson as Esmerelda introduce a essential softness and also compassion to the show. She rendering the “God aid the Outcasts” is a moving prayer because that all that feel marginalized through society.


Providing the musical foundation for the show is the choir and nine-piece orchestra led by music director Garrett Jones, both teams unusually huge for a Riverside production. Utilizing rotating members the the Stafford local Choral Society, 20 singers in monk robes underpin the activity with solemn Latin reminders that piety and spiritual devotion.


Sean McClelland’s impressive collection features several levels, three giant bells, gargoyles and also the cathedral’s renowned multifaceted increased window, offering an efficient backdrop that enhances the action, bolstered through Michael Jarrett’s lighting design.

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After the last tragic, transcendent scene, the show’s main riddle ring in the air as the audience leaves the theater: “What provides a monster and also what makes a man?”


While not quite corresponding the quality and scope the Hugo’s other an excellent work of literary works converted to the stage—“Les Miserables”—Menken and also Schwartz’s “Hunchback” explores comparable themes, trembling the viewer with a powerful score and facility ideas, performed by a talented actors in Riverside’s great production.


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