Based on Victor Hugo’s acclaimed 1831 novel and songs from the 1996 Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a dramatic tale of heartache and pain.
We are in Paris on 6th January, 1482.
Two orphaned brothers – Jehan (Mack Williams) and Claude Frollo (Zak Brown) – are being looked after inside Notre Dame cathedral.
Photos by Ben Fon
The former rejects the church’s strict constraints, while the other sits comfortably within its strictures.
After Jehan tries to gift Claude Frollo a gypsy woman to celebrate the latter’s birthday, he is expelled.
Jehan goes on to live with the gypsy and father her child.
Years later, on his deathbed, he pleads with Claude Frollo to care for the boy, who is badly deformed.
Reluctant though he is to do so, Claude Frollo – who by then has risen to church archdeacon – does take him in and names him Quasimodo (meaning half formed).
Claude Frollo is a particularly strict task master.
Quasimodo is raised in the belltower of Notre Dame, forbidden to set foot outside the church walls.
He is tasked with ringing the bell, which leaves him partially deaf, and left to interact with his “friends” – the gargoyles and statues.
They urge him to take a risk and leave the church on the day set aside for the Feast of Fools.
It is when gypsies, including their leader Clopin (Pasquale Bartalotta), engage in revelry.
Among them is dancer Esmerelda, who entrances everyone, including the new head of the Notre Dame Cathedral Guard, Captain Phoebus (Tom Liszukiewicz).
He has just arrived after spending four years on the front line.
Also intrigued is Claude Frollo, who tells Phoebus they must rid the city of all gypsies.
Encouraged by Esmerelda, Quasimodo enters a contest to find the ugliest person in Paris and he is crowned the King of Fools.
Immediately set upon by the hostile crowd, Esmerelda uses magic to free him from their clutches.
Thereafter, the fortunes of Quasimodo, Esmerelda, Phoebus and Claude Frollo become inextricably linked, with the latter having impure thoughts.
With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Peter Parnell, The Hunchback of Notre Dame premiered in Berlin in 1999.
Its North American debut was in San Diego in 2014.
OSMaD’s (The Old Scotch Music and Drama Club) production, which marks the first time it has been seen in Victoria, is quite the spectacle.
I was taken by the lead performances, as well as the ensemble (numbering 30), along with the staging and production values.
A 15-piece orchestra beneath the stage is complimented by a 32-strong choir – dressed in maroon with red scarves – above it, as if appearing in a cathedral. They serve to enhance the chorus numbers.
As Esmerelda, Ninna Aguirre is a standout, with her rich, pure vocals and energy.
Zak Brown is positively menacing as Claude Frollo, the timbre in his voice commanding.
Matthew Tomlin excels as the hunchback, combining gravely speech with strong musicality.
Pasquale Bartalotta has a dynamic presence as the gypsy leader, while Tom Liszukiewicz asserts authority as Captain Phoebus.
Displaying strength and conviction, Mack Williams has immediate impact as recalcitrant brother Jehan.
Stylistically, the dynamic score includes chants, Broadway numbers, opera and contemporary pop. Music directors David Barrell and Ned Dixon have done a fine job.
I greatly appreciated the lighting design of Peter Verhagen. Among the features was his highlighting of stained-glass windows behind the choir.
That leads me to compliment the set design by Brenton Van Vliet, the large belltower wheeled in and out in two halves being his signature piece.
The song and dance numbers are buoyant, thanks to the efforts of choreographer Caitlin Lamont.
Sound design, which is so critical to this work, is also noteworthy, the endeavour of Marcello Lo Ricco and Steve Cooke.
Solid direction from Joel Batalha sees this Disney tale of prejudice, romance and acceptance pack power and punch.
OSMaD’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame played at Geoffrey McComas Theatre at Scotch College between 7th and 16th December, 2023.