As published in the November issue of the KM Perform Express Newsletter.
At the strike of 7:30 PM, the city of Waukesha sings the tune of 15th century France to the familiar bells of Notre Dame. Waukesha Civic Theatre, from October 27th through November 12th, takes a small venue and transforms it into the streets of Paris for the 2014 stage adaptation of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, initially based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel. This production melds the movies’ classic showstopping numbers (such as “Out There” and “Hellfire”) with a dark new reality for mature audiences.
The stage adaptation of the classic follows Quasimodo, the hunchback under the protection of his uncle Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Then, a gypsy girl Esmeralda comes and befriends Quasimodo, charms Phoebus, the Captain of the Guard, and drives Frollo to mad lust. The tension between all these elements builds until a dramatic climax leaves audiences in shivers.
All Photos by Carroll Studios of Photography
Ryan Peter Dziuba, as Quasimodo, handles the complicated score and the layered character masterfully. His clear tenor voice reflects the fragility of the character, but as the show progresses, his sound hardens (as does Quasimodo). He plays the mental state of the unlikely hero as one may play a person on the autistic spectrum, which adds to the power of the unjust suffering he endures at the hands of his uncle.
Brant Allen, in the role of Frollo, reinvents the villain by bringing out his humanizing qualities. Instead of being a manifestation of pure evil, Allen is the image of self hatred, and his struggle is evident as he navigates through a world of right and wrong, temptation and redemption.
In the show, Captain Phoebus (Kevin J. Gadzalinski) is described as a man with a “dashing manner and bold swagger”. Gadzalinski’s interpretation is not as imposing as one may imagine for the role, but his chemistry with Andrea Ehlinger’s Esmeralda is undeniable. Her mature, headstrong gypsy brings out the endearing side of Phoebus, and together they are one, as in numbers “In a Place of Miracles” and “Someday”.
The set, courtesy of scenic designer Michael Talaska, resembles that of the current Broadway hit Hamilton. Wooded levels and stairs frame the space that represents anything from the bell tower to the gypsy lair. This set is grander than what many Waukesha Civic Theatre patrons may expect. It is built over where the curtains, or wings, usually hang, accommodating an astonishing orchestra of 14 and a cast/cathedral choir of nearly 40 onstage at once.
Sharp lighting emphasizes key moments throughout the show, from beautiful rosy washes to harsh beams. Lighting designer Chris Meissner’s work, however, does not always hit its targets squarely, as many actors struggled to center themselves in their light. Some minor adjustments in execution would go a long way.
Director Mark Schuester makes many heavier choices than families would expect from the Disney version of this tale, making it more of a ‘PG-13’ show. While some songs carry the cartoons’ heartwarming magic, Schuester’s Hunchback also carries themes of assault, self loathing, and discrimination. Each choice, however, suits this classic and leaves audiences truly contemplating “what makes a monster and what makes a man”.
To see other performances or get involved in one yourself, visit Waukesha Civic Theatre's website at www.waukeshacivictheatre.org . Other mainstage productions this season include The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), My Funny Valentine, Clue: The Musical, Wait Until Dark, and Father Knows Best.