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Hunchback of Notre Dame Review

Address: 2961 16th Street, Victoria Theatre
San Francisco, CA 94103
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame — A Timless Tale

Quasimodo, played by Alex Rodriguez, rings the bells of Notre Dame.

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos: Ben Krantz

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A New Musical, is a dark tale. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, which was published in 1831, it reveals some ugly truths about human nature, and yet is it also encouraging in its portrayal of love, loyalty and strength of character in the face of adversity. A production of Bay Area Musicals, the show is currently running at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco’s Mission District, and strong performances in a well-honed production deliver a potent message, while songs from the Walt Disney Animation Studios film adaptation illuminate the story.

Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, the story is set in 1482, and at its center is Quasimodo, the deformed but gentle young man who rings the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He’s been a resident of Notre Dame since infancy, when he was orphaned and left in the care of his uncle, Frollo, the cathedral’s archdeacon. Frollo finds Quasimodo repulsive, partly because he’s a hunchback, but also because he cannot accept his parentage—his mother was a gypsy. Thus, he isolates him, cautioning him never to leave the cathedral, because the people outside won’t accept him, making it dangerous. Nonetheless, Quasimodo does eventually venture out onto the streets, unable to resist the lure of the Feast of the Fools and the sights and sounds of people having fun. The encounter is life-changing, as he feels the power of love for the first time and also sees and experiences the cruelty that’s possible. It’s a timely message, and in his program notes, artistic director and Bay Area Musicals founder Matthew McCoy, who wears several hats as director, choreographer and scenic designer, points out the parallels to the intolerance that exists in today’s society.

Quasimodo becomes the center of attention at the Feast of Fools.

While conflicts move the story forward, it’s the characters’ emotions that drive them, whether it’s love, lust or a desire for vengeance, and that shines through. Alex Rodriguez plays Quasimodo, who is watching the Feast of Fools from the bell tower, when the play opens. He longs to experience it firsthand, and with the encouragement of his friends, the Gargoyles, who come to life and prod him to do things he might not otherwise, he gathers the strength to leave Notre Dame and risk the unknown. Clay David plays Frollo (below, left), as a cold, manipulative man with a lustful, vindictive side, while Alysia Beltran (left) is the lovely Esmeralda, who treats Quasimodo kindly and has the strength of character to stand up to Frollo. Jack O’Reilly is Captain Phoebus, the Cathedral Guard who falls in love with Esmeralda and is willing to cast both prejudices and restraint aside and give up everything for her.

Jon Gallo is music director, and the songs with instrumental accompaniment are integral to the production. They’re crowd-pleasers, with a large complement of numbers, ranging from the signature The Bells of Notre Dame to The Rhythm of the Tambourine, which is pivotal to the plot, and Someday by a hopeful Esmeralda and Phoebus as they dream of a future together.

The stage is small, but McCoy’s scenic design works well, making easy transitions from the bell tower to the streets below with the use of ladders that move as required. The action also spills into the aisle in a climactic scene, when Quasimodo’s emotions erupt in response to the cruelty and injustice he sees.

This production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an inventive take on a classic that captures the mood of another time both visually and in its mood. It uses some, lines from the book, but takes some liberties with the plot in adapting it as musical. Nonetheless, it retains the novel’s spirit, as it demonstrates that dehumanizing others who differ in some way is a dangerous thing that can have disastrous results. And that message rings true and is as timely today as it was when Hugo’s novel was first published.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs through Sunday, August 6. For tickets and more information, go to www.bamsf.org/hunchback.

This is the Bay Area Musicals’ final production of the 2017-2018 season. The 2018-2019 season will open with the Tony Award-winning Crazy About You. Violet  and Hairspray are also part of the lineup. Season’s tickets are available at www.bamsf.org. Bay Area Musicals is a nonprofit theatre organization. For more information on how to give your support, go to www.bamsf.org