What a week it's been for the cast and creative team of The Hunchback of Notre Dame! Sitzprobe on Thursday, invited dress rehearsal last night and the US Premiere tonight as the show officially begins previews at the La Jolla Playhouse!!
This week Michael Arden (Quasimodo) spoke with Gay San Diego about Quasimodo, his path to theatre and about Hunchback in general, calling it "a lot sadder than the original Disney movie and much more of an adult treatment". He also touches upon Director Scott Schwartz's vision for the piece saying "it's set in 1483, and we're using a lot of techniques that would've been used theatrically in plays of the time ... we use our bodies and furniture to create these worlds". And I certainly agree with him when he calls Hunchback Alan Menken's greatest score.
The creative team of Alan Menken (composer), Stephen Schwartz (lyricist), Scott Schwartz (director) and Peter Parnell (writer), along with members of the cast, have been doing the rounds with the press this week. Discussing the show with La Jolla Light and with U-T San Diego.
For all the speculation over the years that Disney considered the Berlin production of Hunchback "too dark" to bring to US audiences, it sounds like this new production could potentially be even darker. And, if not darker, certainly more complex. Speaking with U-T San Diego Scott Schwartz says "Something I really believe about this story is, nobody is just one thing ... There are horrific actions in the show, particularly that Frollo takes. But you see moments of light within him ... there are moments of darkness in all the characters. Quasimodo, too - there's real violence in Quasimodo." Speaking with La Jolla Light, Alan Menken agreed, calling the piece "darker and more character-focused than the animated film."
What really excites me is that Scott Schwartz has called Hunchback's incredible score "the central focus and the essential means of the storytelling". This, combined the show's emphasis on the humanity of the four main characters leads to what Peter Parnell calls "a very nice dynamic ... the largeness and the smallness, that feels like a very interesting place that this musical can live."
I'll admit that after hearing the beautiful Berlin cast recording I was nervous when it was initially announced that this new production would be smaller and more intimate. I worried that it might not capture the grandness of the score and the beautiful music of the show. The confirmation that there would be a live choir on stage soon eliminated my fears and with each new article I've been convinced that this is the right direction for the show. It's new and exciting but at the same time very traditional. The choir will allow the majesty of the score to soar as it should but the renewed focus on the four principal characters will give the piece a greater intimacy as well. Personal stories told against an epic backdrop. Disney may be taking a risk by making the show darker and more intimate but it's one I'm very glad they're taking and one I believe will pay off.
To the cast and creative team and everyone at La Jolla Playhouse, I will you all the very best for tonight's opening. All your hard work over the last weeks and months (and even years in some cases) has led to this and you deserve every success. Enjoy it.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame begins tonight at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and runs through December 14th 2014. Tickets are available here. Tickets to D23's VIP Experience on November 11th 2014 are available here. Next year The Hunchback of Notre Dame will play at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey from March 4th through April 5th 2015. Tickets are available here.