Sunday, 24 May 2015

Aladdin Opens in Tokyo!


Today is a very special day for Disney Theatrical as Aladdin's first international production will premiere this afternoon at Japan's Dentsu Shiki Theatre Umi in Toyko!

This is the first of several planned international productions for Aladdin and I just want to take this opportunity to wish the cast, crew and creative team the very best of luck for today's opening performance!  Make some magic everyone!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The Bells of Notre Dame Sing Once More

Michael Arden and the Congregation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Broadway World exclusively revealed last night that the US Premiere Production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame that played at La Jolla Playhouse and the Paper Mill Playhouse is to receive an official cast recording!!!  There's no more details at the moment but given that several cast members have tweeted about it I think it's (hopefully) safe to say that pretty much all of the original cast will be returning for the recording, including stars Michael Arden (Quasimodo), Ciara Renee (Esmeralda), Patrick Page (Frollo), Andrew Samonsky (Phoebus) and Erik Liberman (Clopin).

I don't think I can put into words how happy I was to read this news on Twitter earlier today.  Sure, I'm a little sad as I think this is, for now, definitive confirmation that Disney Theatrical have no intention at all of bringing Hunchback to Broadway.  But, for Disney to take this decision, to produce a full cast recording without any Broadway show to support it, just shows their faith in this material and, I believe, in the fans who have been so passionate in their support of it.  Quasimodo may not get to Broadway, but his story will be heard.  Now, people all around the world will have the chance to hear this masterpiece of musical theatre.  I, for one, can't wait to hear it again!

And since this is an Aladdin blog I just want to give a quick shout out to Samantha Massell who's gone from making her Disney debut in The Muny's production Aladdin in 2012 to featuring on an original Disney Theatrical Cast Recording in 2015!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Broadway News Round Up 34

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Deen Van Meer

Hello again!  After last week's massive catch up this news round up feels pretty short and sweet.  But there's still lots going on with Aladdin's Broadway family.

Adam Jacobs and his sister Arielle took part in a sibling interview with Broadway WorldAladdin fans take note that it sounds like Adam's schedule will be changing in the Fall and he might not be performing Wednesday matinees.

Trevor Dion Nicholas recently took part in the Young At Arts 10th Anniversary Benefit.

Kylie Myers touched a lot of people in the Broadway community and perhaps none more so that the cast of Aladdin.  Last week a childhood cancer Public Service Announcement featuring Kylie premiered in Times Square, the heart of the theatre world that Kylie loved so much.  Broadway World has posted a touching piece on Kylie's story, remembering her as she keeps Broadway smiling.

Broadway World caught up with James Monroe Iglehart ahead of his upcoming 54 Below debut.  And yes, you can get that meal at his 54 Below show this weekend!

As part of Aladdin's 1st anniversary Disney On Broadway have posted a very elaborate celebration meal on Pin Interest.

If you like awesome show merchandise then Aladdin is definitely after your money with the latest arrival at the New Amsterdam Theatre - Genie Bear!!


You can get your very own Genie Bear at the show's official online store and follow his adventures on Aladdin's Instagram page.  No international shipping so I guess I'll just have to go back again... ;oD

And finally Alan Menken's long time collaborator Stephen Schwartz is to be honoured this year with the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award.  Congratulations Stephen!

Now for some light hearted fun!  Being the evil villain that he is, Don Darryl Rivera has declared a hide n seek scare war on James Monroe Iglehart.

First scare may have gone to Don but James wasted no time in striking back.
Can't wait for round 2!

Sorry if the videos aren't working properly for you (I was having some issues getting them to embed properly for some reason).  If you can't see them above then you can check them out on Twitter here and here.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Aladdin One Year On

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Last month Aladdin celebrated its first anniversary on Broadway and I was lucky enough to be able to return to New York and see the show again.

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at the New Amsterdam Theatre is the new entrance way.  Gone is the show logo and in its place is the Cave of Wonders, complete with a magic lamp for guests to rub and make a wish.  It's a great touch and a big improvement that offers guests a little interactivity and a photo opportunity before they enter the theatre.

I'm not going to do a full review of the show itself (you can read my original review here) but I do want to talk about the cast.  Whilst Aladdin has been lucky enough to keep almost all of its principal cast, the last year has seen a few changes in the ensemble and, of course, the arrival of Steel Burkhardt as Kassim.  Steel has done a fantastic job of making the character his own whilst still remaining true to the character the Brandon O'Neill created.  It's a wonderful performance and he works perfectly with Brian Gonzales' Babkak and Jonathan Schwartz's Omar, the trio is as hilarious as ever.  And speaking of the trio, I love the "random high note" line that Brian Gonzales has added to "High Adventure"!

I was blessed to see Trevor Dion Nicholas' show (and Broadway!) debut as the Genie!  If I hadn't been told after that it was his first night I never would have guessed.  He gave a phenomenal performance and got a well earned standing ovation after "Friend Like Me".  He didn't have easy shoes to fill but he rose to the challenge and gave the audience everything they could wish for in a Genie.

I've been wanting to see Merwin Foard since I learned that he was Cassim's singing voice in Aladdin and the King of Thieves (and appeared in lots of other Disney features as well).  I got my wish this time and he did not disappoint.  Merwin's Sultan is a powerful figure with a commanding presence and a delight to watch.  I also got to see Dennis Stowe take on the role of the villainous Jafar and he did a great job.  What I loved most about seeing the standbys and understudies was that none of them simply copied the original performance, they all made the roles their own, adding their own take on the material and their own little embellishments to the parts. It's one of the joys of live theatre, no two performers or performances are completely alike, there's always something new to take in.

One of the most joyous things about seeing Aladdin one year later was just to see how much the cast are loving it.  It seemed that everyone was totally relaxed and comfortable with their characters and were just having fun playing with them every night.  Adam and Courtney remain absolutely perfect as Aladdin and Jasmine, bringing them to life with charm and ease and Don Darryl Rivera somehow manages to get even bigger laughs than I remember as he seemingly revels in Iago's villainly and crazy over the top evil laughs. Seriously, he's hilarious and always manages to get some of the biggest laughs of the night.  He also works so well with Jonathan Freeman's Jafar (Jonathan was back in the second time we saw the show), their stage chemistry is brilliant. The whole production just has an infectious joy to it and in some of the numbers, like the fantastic "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim", you just want to get up and dance (and this is coming from a guy with two left feet). You can't help but leave Aladdin feeling uplifted and that's the real magic and why it remains my favourite show.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Broadway News Round Up 33

Jonathan Freeman as Jafar, Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann or Deen Van Meer

A news round up?  What's one of those?!  Seriously though it feels like forever since I did one of these so there's like a month's worth of stuff to catch up with!  Because of that this post will be extremely link heavy so sorry for that in advance!

Ok, time to catch up with what the Aladdin family have been up to in the last month!

Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart and Jonathan Freeman all sat down with Broadway World to discuss Aladdin's first anniversary on Broadway.  Part 1 and Part 2And Playbill has some birthday pics!

The cast also got a little competitive as they took part in a hilarious Co-Star Challenge;



Aladdin has the best fans!  Including Maura Consedine who created this great video to celebrate the show's first year on Broadway!  Thanks Maura!!



On Aladdin's anniversary James Monroe Iglehart returned to The View to make morning television a little more tuneful!

And as it moved into its second year on Broadway, Aladdin celebrated with some very special Playbill covers.  Yes, they are awesome!!  The show also shows no signs of slowing down at the box office as it broke house records again taking over $2 million thanks to the extra show in Easter week!  Congratulations all!!

NYCastings interviewed Adam Jacobs;



This week Dancing with the Stars had a special Disney theme and since one of the couples was dancing to "A Whole New World" Aladdin and Jasmine themselves recorded a special message for them.

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed are to lead an audition technique workshop next week for A Class Act NY!  The workshop takes place on May 16th and is limited to just 18 places so if you want to take part make sure you sign up fast!

James Monroe Iglehart guest starred on the 4th episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which also features The Little Mermaid's Sebastian, Tituss Burgess).  I believe the series is on Netflix, which means that now I've binge watched Daredevil I might just have to check it out.

Due to popular demand James Monroe Iglehart has added a second date to his 54 Below debut.  You can now see James on 4th and 18th May but demand is high so make sure to get your tickets fast!!  If you want a sneak peak at his set list then make sure you check out Broadway Box as James answers their questions with songs from his upcoming show.  And you can see pictures from the press preview at TheaterMania and Playbill.

James Monroe Iglehart took part in Stephen Sondheim's 85th birthday celebrations.  And you can see some of his performance of "Agony" from Into the Woods at Playbill.

As we get nearer awards season The Hollywood Reporter has posted a piece looking at where last years winners (including Aladdin's own James Monroe Iglehart) are now.  Of course we already know the answer to that - he's still making wishes come true at the New Amsterdam  Theatre every night as he brings the Genie to magical life!!

Aladdin's new Kassim shares his favourite back stage things!

Steel Burkhardt, Brian Gonzales and Jonathan Schwartz share theatregoing experiences with Playbill.

Steel Burkhardt is also taking part in Broadway Sings Bruno Mars on May 17th.

Steel Burkhardt took part in Broadway World's Friday Six Q&A.

Broadway World reported that Alan Menken's new musical The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz will debut at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts in Montreal June 7th to June 28th.  For the complete cast and more information see here.  But that's not all!  Deadline is reporting that Alan Menken is teaming up with Stephen Schwartz once more for a new movie musical by Josh Gad and Jeremy Garelick.  I have no idea how Alan manages to balance so many projects at once but I can't wait to see (or at least hear) them all!

The LA Times has a great interview with Alan Menken, primarily about Newsies but it touches on a lot of his other works as well and is a really great read.

USA Today interviews Alan Menken about Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and more.

His Something Rotten! is still in previews on Broadway but Aladdin's Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw is reportedly already eyeing his next project as he is set to bring Dreamgirls to London's West End!

Tia Altinay took part in the Broadway Sings for Pride recording on March 15th.

Yurel Echezarreta returned to Harrison School for the Arts for a special fundraiser concert.

Yurel Echezarreta is taking part in Broadway Bares next month.

Khori Petinaud announced her first TV gig in The Knick!  Congratulations Khori!!

Lauryn Ciardullo returned to Byram Hills High School last week to take part in a special fund raiser performance of Next to Normal for the school's stage program.

Dennis Stowe took part in Take the Stage with Broadway Stars last night.

Kathryn Allison is taking part in a Ten Minute Musical.  And yes you can hear it online for free!

Seattle's original Omar, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, is returning to the Paper Mill Playhouse (where he appeared in the Pilot Production of Newsies) in Ever After.

Aladdin's original Kassim (and still the spooky voice!) Brandon O'Neill is now taking to the stage once more in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the ACT Contemporary Theatre in Seattle.  Tickets are available here.  And speaking of Brandon O'Neill you can look forward to hearing him again in the upcoming DLC expansion for Destiny.

That's all from the cast, now for something a little different as Disney On Broadway's YouTube channel shares a menu fit for royalty inspired by Aladdin;



On 8th March Aladdin had a very special performance for the Autism Theatre Initiative.  You can read about this incredible evening here and see what the cast had to say below;


Whilst I was away a little Disney film called Cinderella came out in cinemas and before that was an animated short.  You might have heard of it, it's called Frozen Fever.  Well the song from the short is available on iTunes and the ensemble for the short features some of Aladdin's cast including Merwin Foard and Marisha Wallace!  So make sure you check it out!!

Now for something a little special.  Do YOU want to join the cast of AladdinPlaybill have posted an Equity casting call for the show so if you want to join the Aladdin family this is your chance!  Good luck!!

And finally - make sure you start following @squeegool on Instagram for some incredible pieces of art like this beautiful rendition of Aladdin and Jasmine's duet, "A Million Miles Away".

That's everything from Aladdin!  Now for the last time...


Ok, this is really late but I really wanted to get my review of the show up before it closed so that was my priority over the news round up when we first got home earlier this month.  So now, better late than never, is the final news round up for the Paper Mill Playhouse's production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  This is going to be big so take it as a celebration of all that Hunchback was and hopefully will be again.



The cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame performed at Broadway Sessions ahead of their Paper Mill run and you can now see them online!

Michael Arden spends a 2 show day with Playbill.

Michael Arden talks with NBC New York.

Ciara Renee is coming to 54 Below in her own solo concert on 15th May so if you're in New York make sure you go and see this incredible leading lady at Broadway's favourite supper club.  Some more details can be found here.

Ciara Renee talks with Playbill about finding Esmeralda.

Ciara Renee takes part in Playbill's Cue & A.

Watch Ciara Renee transform into Esmeralda with Playbill.

This news was actually the first thing I read when I landed back in the UK - Ciara Renee has joined the cast of the currently untitled Arrow and The Flash spin-off as Hawkgirl!  I'm a huge comics fan so I love this news!! It also continues a fun streak of musical stars joining the DCU and long may it continue!

Ciara Renee took part in a benefit concert for the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital on 6th April.

Patrick Page talks with Playbill about finding the good in Frollo.

Patrick Page took part in the 100 Musicals in Mufti benefit on 30th March.

Andrew Samonsky is returns to his home town to take part in a one night only cabaret concert Andrew Samonsky: Coming Home at Ventura County's Rubicon Theatre.  The concert is on May 3rd and you can find more information, including ticket details, at Broadway World.

Playbill interviews Andrew Samonsky.

Entertainment Weekly talks with the creative team.

Stephen Schwartz talks with Playbill.

Buzzfeed talks with the creative team about taking Hunchback back to its darker roots.

app.com talks with the creative team.

Broadway.com talks with the cast and creative team;



NJTV News talks with the creative team about bringing Hunchback to stage with a live choir;



Huffington Post talks with Director Scott Schwartz.

Jersey Arts TV talks with the creative team;



Associate Director Jeremy Scott Lapp speaks with the Tiara Talk Show.

Samantha Massell has updated her website.  She's played Jasmine and Esmeralda so make sure you check it out to see where Sam goes next!  And she also has links to the cast of Hunchback singing at Broadway Sessions so check that out!!

The Belles of Notre Dame have a dance party with Playbill!

One fan's reasons why you'll cry at The Hunchback of Notre Dame (not ashamed to admit I did).

Obviously whilst I was away The Hunchback of Notre Dame had it's Opening Night and TheaterMania was there to capture the cast taking their well deserved bows.  And so was Broadway World (along with even more photos from the cast party afterwards!) in fact they even have video!!

And here are the reviews;

NY Daily News
Huffington Post
The Hollywood Reporter
NY Times
AM NY
Broadway World
Tiara Talk Show
Daily Record

Sadly we now know that The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn't coming to Broadway (at least not yet) so we'll have to wait a little longer to hear those glorious bells ring again.  Fans are trying to change that (you can sign the petition to Disney Theatrical here) and there's already rumours of further regional productions to come (remember this article which said that the Tuacahn Amphitheatre was being considered by Disney Theatrical to produce their own staging of the show, now that would be a sight to behold!) but until then I want to leave you with this;


 
 
Oh, and I just want to say that it was really incredible to see #PMPHunchback trending on Twitter for the show's final day.  This show really touched a lot of people.  Broadway may not be in the show's immediate future but it does have a future.  It's too powerful, too meaningful and too relevant for it not to be brought to life again someday soon.
 
 
Ok that's everything for this news round up but before I go I just want to say happy anniversary to Beauty and the Beast!  Disney's first Broadway show celebrated it's 21st birthday yesterday and looking at Disney Theatrical today that show has left an incredible legacy.  Playbill has posted a nice article looking at the original cast of the show and what they're doing today.  And speaking of Beauty and the Beast Tim Rice this week confirmed that he and Alan Menken are doing new songs for the upcoming live action adaptation so that's something to really look forward to!  And if you want to hear more about the film make sure you check out this post that Ian Mckellen made on Facebook, I don't know much about table reads but this one sounds incredible with the cast already dancing and singing and a 30 strong choir.  Sounds like this one is going to be something very special.
 
I'd hoped to have it ready for today but this news round up took a lot longer than I expected (and if I'm being honest I'm shattered from staying up till almost 5am watching Mark Hamill on the Star Wars Celebration live stream last night) so my 1 year review of Aladdin will now be up in a few days time.  I'm really sorry for the delay, please watch out for that this week and I'll be back next weekend as the news round up returns to its regular weekly updates.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ending the Tale of Your Poor Balladeer

Michael Arden and Ciara Renee as Quasimodo and Esmeralda, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Tonight the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame will take their final bow as the Paper Mill Playhouse's production reaches the end of its run.

Since I posted my review the other day it has sadly been confirmed that this production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame will not be transferring to Broadway.  That doesn't mean it won't come to Broadway someday (Aladdin had it's Pilot Production in 2011 and didn't come to Broadway until 2014 following several additional, non-Disney, regional and international productions) but it won't be making a fast transfer like many, including myself, hoped for.  So this is it.  Two more chances to see this glorious production.  If you can, go.  You'll be glad that you did.

For myself I'm so glad I had the opportunity to see this show.  Michael Arden, Patrick Page, Ciara Renee, Andrew Samonsky, Erik Liberman, everyone in the incredible ensemble and choir, the creative team and everyone who helps bring this show to life, thank you so much for this moving and inspirational piece of theatre.  It's an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  Thank you, and all the best for the future, whatever it may hold.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Review - The Hunchback of Notre Dame is Disney's Latest Masterpiece

Michael Arden as Quasimodo with the Congregation in the La Jolla Playhouse production, Photo by Kevin Berne
 
 
I'm going to start this review at the end. If you haven't seen this show and you have the ability to get to the Paper Mill Playhouse before it closes on April 5th then don't bother reading this, just get to their website (or call them) and get any seats they have left right now!  Need to drive across the country, or even fly around the world? If you can afford it, do it!  It's been almost ten years since I walked out of a theatre and went straight back to the box office to buy more tickets and I have NEVER seen the same show twice in one day before.

On leaving the matinee my wife and I literally walked back to the station to make sure the trains ran late enough then went straight back to the theatre to get tickets for the evening performance.  Yes, there's been a lot of talk of The Hunchback of Notre Dame going to Broadway, and I wish with all my heart for that to happen, but there's no guarantees.  We'd both waited years to see this and knew that, even if it does go to Broadway, it could be years before we see it again and we weren't ready to let it go after just one performance.  It's also a show that demands a second viewing.  After an extremely insightful talkback session with the cast after the matinee I found myself taking in small details and nuances that I'd missed the first time.

The first thing that strikes you on entering the theatre is Alexander Dodge's magnificent set.  As there is no stage curtain the majesty of Notre Dame greets you the moment you step into the auditorium.  This is not your standard Disney set, it's a black and white checkered floor with wooden beams and walkways adorned by stone gargoyles, the only colour coming from the magnificently recreated stained glass window that looks down on congregation from above.  And the bells, when they come down and are rang by Quasimodo, are simply breath taking.  The realism of the set is a reflection of the real, human focus of the production.  Whilst you can recognise the structure of the Disney film in this new musical, this is a more mature telling of Victor Hugo's classic story and much stronger for it as the focus is placed almost entirely on the four leads and their interlocking story and relationships.

The second thing that strikes you is the sound.  The choir take their places and the familiar choral opening of "The Bells of Notre Dame" begins, growing stronger as the congregation (ensemble) and cast, led by Erik Liberman's Clopin, all enter cloaked in hooded robes.  The onstage choir (Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus for this production) is used to fabulous effect throughout the entire production, including a wonderful Entr'acte in Latin, and just brings a added richness to what is already Alan Menken's best score.  In contrast to the choir the ensemble is relatively small, made up of just 14 people who seamlessly transition from Parisians to Romani to Gargoyles to Cathedral Guards, as well as portraying several secondary characters throughout the piece, sometimes even within the same scene.  Everyone sounds fantastic.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame contains some of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's best work, it's rich, powerful and beautiful, and it's brought to life effortlessly by this incredibly talented cast.  Put bluntly, this show sounds gorgeous.  It needs to go to Broadway for that alone, the world deserves a cast album of this show.

And what a cast it is!  The first character we're introduced to is Erik Liberman's Clopin Trouillefou.  Clopin's role seems both smaller and larger than it was in the film.  He is no longer the main narrator of the piece as that role is now filled by the ensemble, but he feels like a fuller character with real relationships with both Esmeralda and, surprisingly, with Phoebus.  I love his character arc with Phoebus, it's small and only in a few scenes but I think it works extremely well.  Erik Liberman has added greater depth to Clopin. Whilst he's still the theatrical King of the Gypsies we now get to see the truth behind the facade of a man who cares deeply for his people.  He doesn't even display anger at the prejudices that his people are subjected to, instead Liberman's Clopin has a weary, reluctant, acceptance of the world he must live in.  It's a role that allows Liberman to be both theatrically over the top and subtle and nuanced and he embraces it.

One of the greatest changes for the stage adaptation is the fleshing out of Frollo.  Instead of the outright villain of the animated classic, Frollo here is introduced as a good man and Patrick Page plays his tragic downfall masterfully.  I've wanted to see Patrick since seeing a video of him singing "Be Prepared", there's a reason he's considered one of Broadway's greatest villain actors and he does not disappoint.  His "Hellfire" is one of the highlights of the show, staged simply but incredibly effectively with Page visibly shaking as he kneels praying at the start.  His Frollo is a lesson in how fanaticism is self defeating as Frollo is ultimately corrupted not by Esmeralda but by his own self righteousness.  It's an incredibly complex performance that has you both loathing Frollo and his actions but also sympathising with him and wanting to see him redeem himself because you know he has it within him to be a good man.
 
Michael Arden as Quasimodo and the Congregation, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Where do I even start with Michael Arden?  I think the greatest compliment I can pay him is to simply say he IS Quasimodo.  From the moment he enters in "The Bells of Notre Dame", asking the audience "what makes a monster and what makes a man" as he transforms into the titular Hunchback before our eyes he is magnificent in both voice and physicality, embodying the role in a way I've never seen before and giving spine tingling renditions of "Out There" and "Made of Stone" (the latter of which moved me to tears in a way it never has before).  It was fascinating to listen to him speak on how he created the role during the cast talkback, where he spoke of how he tied a belt around his knees and examined how that affected his movement and posture.  Watching the show a second time with that knowledge you could see it in his movement.  His performance was a master class in character creation and if/when this show does go to Broadway I'm certain there's a Tony Award in his future.

Andrew Samonsky's Phoebus de Martin is another character who benefits greatly from the musical's more mature tone and increased character depth.  No longer the shining knight of the film, Phoebus is now flawed and haunted by his time at the front.  His introduction in "Rest and Recreation" now includes a beautifully haunting moment as Phoebus recalls his "four years at the front" and vows never to return to that life.  Andrew Samonsky perfectly portrays Phoebus' transformation from haunted soldier to man reborn through his love for Esmeralda, and their relationship is arguably the most realistic and heart breaking that Disney have ever put on stage, venturing into dark places that challenge the audience as well as the characters.


Ciara Renee as Esmeralda with the Congregation, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Whilst Arden's Quasimodo is clearly the lead, it's Ciara Renee's Esmeralda who is the thread that binds all the other characters together and her actions that drive the story forward.  Renee brings Esmeralda to life with a perfect balance of compassion, determination and fragility.  It's easy to see why Quasimodo, Frollo and Phoebus all become obsessed with her as it's a mesmerising performance that will literally move you to tears in parts of the show.  Her duet with Andrew Samonsky's Phoebus is one of those moments.  Cut from the film (ultimately replaced by "God Help the Outcasts") but restored here, "Someday" is at once grand in its message but intimate in its telling, and sung beautifully by Renee and Samonsky.
One of director Scott Schwartz's aims with this piece was to make this a more intimate telling of Quasimodo's story and to bring it to life using classic theatrical techniques that would have been around in the period during which the story is set.  Now, if you've ever heard the cast recording for the Berlin production of Der Glockner Von Notre Dame you'll know that intimate probably isn't the first word that comes to mind.  That was an epic, large scale telling of the story and the cast recording (even when you barely know a word of German) sounds glorious!  I don't mind admitting that when I heard this new production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was going to be a more intimate production I was worried that some of that would be lost.  It's not.  The music is as rich as ever thanks to an incredible cast and on stage choir.  The intimacy comes from a greater focus on character and story over technical special effects.  There's no jaw dropping special effects like Aladdin's flying carpet in this production, but the staging, whilst simple, is incredibly effective with pews and balustrade doubling as doorways and prison cells.  There's a moment in "Out There" where members of the congregation lift a bench that Quasimodo is standing on and he slides down it, instantly calling to mind the waterway he slid down in the film.  There's never any confusion with what's going on or what is being represented and it keeps your focus squarely on the actors and the story being told.

The choreography, by Chase Brock, is likewise simple but effective with Esmeralda's dance in "Rhythm of the Tambourine" being as seductive and enchanting as it needs to be.  The lighting by Howell Binkley is equally superb but perhaps best viewed from a slight distance.  We were sat in the un-tiered front rows the first time we saw the show and I missed some of the effects (like when the sunlight shines on Quasimodo during "Out There"), viewed further back the second time I was able to take in the full stage and the full effect of the set, choreography and lighting.

Patrick Page as Frollo with the congregation in the La Jolla Playhouse production, Photo by Kevin Berne
It took The Hunchback of Notre Dame almost 15 years to make it from Berlin to America and I can safely say that it was more worth the wait.  In fact the only criticism I could possibly give is that the narration (which I thought worked extremely well) slightly slows the climatic build up of the music in "Esmeralda" and "Finale Ultimo" BUT that's only in comparison to the Berlin cast album which I've got so used to listening to, without that to compare it to I wouldn't have even thought of it and there's an extremely successful bit of narration from Quasimodo that's been added right at the end that I thought was extremely touching.  The show is, quite simply, a masterpiece and Disney Theatrical needs to bring it to Broadway as soon as they possibly can.  But, being an incredible piece of theatre isn't enough for this show, it's also contains an extremely powerful message that is as relevant today as it ever was.  We all have good and evil, monster and man, within us, we all have differences, "flaws" that we'd like to keep hidden from the rest of the world if we could.  The world would truly be a better place if we could all accept, as Esmeralda does, to not turn the other way, that "it has to be somebody's business" and accept each other for who we are.  This is a show that needs to be seen.