Review: Finding sanctuary in Tuacahn’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

Summer Naomi as Esmeralda, Nicole Pavone as Gypsy, Erica Bryce as Gypsy, Daniela Veliz as Gypsy in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at Tuacahn Amphitheatre, Ivins, Utah, summer 2016 | Photo by Daryl Getman, St. George News

OPINION — There are plenty of kudos to go around for the chills-provoking, tear-inducing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” which opened last week at Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins.

The set of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at Tuacahn Amphitheatre, Ivins, Utah,  summer of 2016 | Photo by Daryl Getman, St. George News
The set of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at Tuacahn Amphitheatre, Ivins, Utah, summer of 2016 | Photo by Daryl Getman, St. George News

Eschewing the easier path, Disney Theatrical Group allowed many of the elements from Disney’s successful 1996 movie of the same name to remain in the musical including several of the songs (with additional music added by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz). But, Disney allowed rewrites (book by Peter Parnell) in order to inject the darker and infinitely more poignant elements of Victor Hugo’s classic novel.

In other words, more “Les Miserables,” less “Little Mermaid.”

So much so that Disney even dropped their name from the title – a rare occurrence indeed.

But give Tuacahn some bravos, too. They could easily cruise along cranking out the sunny family-friendly Disney musicals that have produced sell-out crowds, justified capacity expansions and made the theater much, much more than the tour stop novelty of years past.

Lust, damnation and religious persecution are not exactly the themes parents yearn for but Tuacahn’s “Hunchback” presents them boldy and beautifully.

The central focus of Hugo’s novel was the cathedral itself and Tuacahn’s set features a stunningly re-created, towering French-gothic styled façade replica complete with a majestic rose window and four saintly statues serving as guardians.

Set in 15th century Paris, the story features Quasimodo (Julian Decker) the disfigured bell-ringer strictly confined by the Archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo (Aloysius Gigl) who has raised the boy from infancy. Disobeying his master, Quasimodo joins the feast of fools but finds himself mocked by the revelers yet pitied by the beautiful gypsy Esmerelda (Summer Naomi). Like Frollo, Handsome Captain Phoebus (David Sattler) is captivated by Esmeralda and also befriends the hunchback, but all will not end in a happily ever after.

The cast is strong with Sattler and Naomi displaying wonderful voices and earnest portrayals. Gigl and Decker in particular bring profound depth to their highly complex characters. Gigl’s Frollo is a multilayered self-righteous clergy – yet not without conflicting emotions – whose song “Hellfire” is that rare show-stopping number by a villain.

In every scene Decker’s brilliantly nuanced Quasimodo is heartbreakingly convincing in its physicality yet heroic in its optimistic, if cautious outlook. A multitude of larger-than-life gargoyles act as secret friends for Quasimodo – offering the boy collective advice.

Contributing to the production immensely is the wonderfully directed angelic choir (clothed in hooded tunics) that remains on the stage throughout along with similarly clad ensemble members who appear on stage intermittently to deliver impressive vocal solos.

The show is still fairly new – and could use some minor repairs – things lag a bit when Quasimodo is not on stage. “Out There,” arguably the show’s most breathtaking number, is wonderfully sung but the staging feels uninspired, while Esmeralda looks a bit too Disney pristine for being a sullied gypsy.

The theater should ignore any complaints about the show’s serious themes – Tuacahn has earned the right to take a risk and present its Disney with a side of pathos. That risk has paid off with a sobering yet soaring production worthy of its source material’s acclaim.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” performs throughout the week through Oct. 15 at Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins. Event details below.

Event details

  • What: Tuacahn’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame”
  • When: July 29-Oct. 15, in revolving repertory with other shows
  • Where: Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins
  • Tickets: $24-$91 | Prices are subject to change | Book early for the best possible price.
  • How to buy tickets: By telephone to  800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300 | online www.tuachan.org

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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