Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Maggi's Review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, California Musical Theatre, Sacramento, August, 2016

                                   (Eric and Lesli Marguerita)

Of all the shows I've seen Eric do in the last eight years, this may have been the most profoundly moving. And that's saying something, considering I've seen him star in Jesus Christ Superstar, Miss Saigon and Whistle Down the Wind, all very emotional pieces. The reason this experience was so very special was the vision and the courage of its director, Glenn Casale. He had the courage to cast the leading role of Quasimodo (Latin for “half-formed”) with a deaf actor, John McGinty. Glenn's vision was to make us acutely feel his humanity.

He did so by giving Quasimodo a “shadow” (Jim Hogan) who brilliantly sang the heart-rending songs written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, while John signed and acted the lyrics. Gargoyles came to life as Quasimodo's only friends, giving admonishment, encouragement and advice and turning to stone when someone else entered the scene. The only visitor had been his guardian, Dom Claude Frollo (Mark Jacoby) until his curiosity and awakening love for the beautiful and fiery gypsy, Esmeralda, played by Lesli Marguerita, gives him the courage to leave his bell tower prison for the first time, resulting in tragic circumstances.

(John McGinty and Lesli Marguerita)

Captain Phoebus de Martin (Eric Kunze) is the dashing soldier who also falls in love with Esmeralda and he is a reluctant partner with Quasimodo who insists on rescuing her from the wrath of Frollo. It was so much fun seeing Eric in this role, skillfully brandishing a sword and singing sweet love to Esmeralda in the duet, “In a Place of Miracles”. Eric has a talent for instantly switching from humor, to bravado, to ardor and he wears his heart on his sleeve.

                                                    (John McGinty and Jim Hogan)

Unlike many other musicals, this is a group effort and every single cast member is instrumental, most wearing different hats throughout, such as the brilliant Keith Beardon as King Louis XI, as well as a monk, a gypsy, and who knows how many other parts as well. Each person is perfectly cast and they work together as a finely tuned machine, each important in their own way.

For me, the most brilliant touch was at the beginning and the end. (For those of you who haven't seen the show and are planning to see it in La Mirada, this is a SPOILER alert!) Glenn has John walk onto the stage as himself. He is a good looking man and it is hard to imagine him as the ugly monster Quasimodo is supposed to be. As he is helped into a makeshift vest which contains the hump and ties it around his waist, he bends down, musses his hair, assumes a bent posture and distorts one side of his face to complete the transformation. At the end of the show, the hump vest is removed and he is John again. The best part for me was at the end of the bows, to thunderous applause, when John opens his arms to Jim Hogan and they have a joyous embrace. It was truly a magical moment, one which I had the privilege to enjoy for five performances last week.

                                                             (Eric, Lesli and John)

                                                         (Maggi and Eric)

Sending my sincere thanks to the entire cast and crew for one of the most memorable theater experiences of my life. There have been many professional rave reviews online and in the media, which I shall be posting in the days to come.

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