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REVIEW: Hunchback of Notre Dame

By Adam F. Cohen

originally published: 03/17/2015

(MILLBURN, NJ) -- Papermill Playhouse launched their newest musical "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" Sunday, March 15th.  The production is backed by Broadway legends Alan Menkin (Music) and Stephen Schwartz (Lyrics).  The two teamed previously on the Disney animated movie of "Hunchback" and "Pochohantas." Yet this is the first on stage collaboration between the two.  And they offer a lush, emotionally rich score and searing songs which veer from liturgical, ballads, to dramatic.   

Alexander Dodge foreboding set places us squarely in the cathedral.  Framed on both sides of the stage, we see scaffolding, above are the famed bells, behind the famed stained glass windows.  A chessboard floor hints at the characters strategic survival moves.  On the scaffolding is the impressive Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus whose 32 voices rouse the audience with a master class of oratorio in Latin and successfully - if a bit over-used - they sets the proceedings, comments, and cement the atmosphere.  Visually, the show is stunning, and Howell Binkley's lights against Dodge's set works powerfully and reflect the gothic mode of Victor Hugo's original novel.

Director Scott Schwartz's de-emphasizes the special effects and focuses on the performers. There are puffs of smoke and trap door exits but the most powerful theatrical moment is Quasimodo becoming a Hunchback by donning his hump and scars. Arden's physicality and delicateness marks a delightful turn as the lead. While thespians change roles before our eyes and narrate the action in third-person direct address, forming a Greek chorus that largely only Quasimodo and the audience can hear.

 

REVIEW: Hunchback of Notre Dame



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There's little in the way of Peter Parnell's book, save for some exposition, he leaves the heavy lifting to the songs.  And there are some beautifully sung moments - though not enough for Arden who shines in "Top of the World" and leads with detailed, nuanced delivery, and outstanding vocal in "Made of Stone" While Page brings down the house with his wickedness-justifying anthem "Hellfire."

Minister Claude Frollo (Patrick Page - icy perfection) watches his beloved brother dies and is left with a baby who he raises in the bell tower of the cathedral.  The baby grows up to be the famed Hunchback (Michael Arden).  Frollo is on a mission to cleanse Paris of lechery and foreigners - especially the gypsies who may have seduced his brother.  Quasimodo develops into a kind, yet isolated young man who yearns for a life outside the bell tower, but accepts Frollo's perception that he is a "half-formed" monster who would be rejected by the outside world.  Esmeralda (Ciara Renée), the gypsy enchantress, emerges as the center of a love square which includes Quasimodo, Frollo, and the noble Captain Phoebus de Martin (Andrew Samonsky).  

There's not much in the way of chemistry or for Samonsky and Renee to do.  She dances well in "Rhythm of the Tambourine." Samonsky gets a few one liners but these characters are as static as the sculptures that adorn the cathedral. 

"Hunchback" deals with the complex shadings and backgrounds that shape who we are and who we should strive to be.  Quasimodo learns to embrace himself and grow into himself as a man, as he stands up to Frollo. And although Quasimodo may not be able to share his life with someone, as he deserves, the show ends with a hope that maybe the world will be better "one day, someday soon."

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs now through April 5 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ.  For more information visit papermill.org

 

REVIEW: Hunchback of Notre Dame






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Centenary Stage Presents Henrik Ibsen's "Enemy Of The People"
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Randall Duk Kim and Anne Occhiogrosso headline Centenary Stage Company’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, February 15 through March 3 in the Sitnik Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center, Hackettstown, New Jersey. Adapted by John Alan Wyatt and directed by Anne Occhiogrosso, the production will feature Randall Duk Kim as Doctor Thomas Stockmann supported by an acting company of professional and local talent from the tri-state area and Centenary University. The full-scale production marks the culmination of the 2018 Gates Ferry Lecture Series: “What is Truth?”
South Street Players Presents "Sylvia"
(SPRING LAKE,NJ) -- The South Street Players presents A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia" on two weekends - February 1-3 and February 8-10. The place is New York City, the time is the present.  Middle-aged, upper-middle class Greg finds Sylvia, a dog (played by a human), in the park and takes a liking to her. He brings her back to the empty nest he shares with Kate.  
American Girl Live: An Interview With Laila E. Drew and Shelby Miguel
Please note: Due to the potential of a major winter storm on Saturday, both performances of American Girl Live at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown have been postponed and rescheduled for President’s Day, Monday, February 18 at 2 pm and 5:30 pm. All tickets will be honored on that date. If you cannot attend the new date, please contact the box office at 973-539-8008.
"Kinky Boots" Comes To Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
(ATLANTIC CITY, NJ) -- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in conjunction with TROIKA Entertainment is will present KINKY BOOTS, the smash-hit musical that brings together four-time Tony® Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (Book) and Grammy® Award-winning rock icon Cyndi Lauper (Tony Award-winner for Best Score for KINKY BOOTS), at Sound Waves in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City from April 30 until May 5 with two performances on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets starting at $35.00.
The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
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Laiona Michelle Talks About "Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical"
This might be the right time for Nina Simone—15 years after her death. That’s what Laiona Michelle thinks, and, in a way, Michelle will be testing that idea by bringing the singer-activist to life in a world-premiere musical show at George Street Playhouse. Michelle wrote the show—“Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical”—and she will appear in the title role at the New Brunswick theater from January 29 through February 24.
It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 
REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

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An Actor's Carol

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There’s something absolutely wonderful about A Christmas Carol, the holiday classic penned by Charles Dickens in 1843.  The story has been told in countless films, plays, and cartoons.  It is performed on stages around the world towards the end of every season and is universally loved.  But imagine being one of the many actors of a certain age who get typecast as Scrooge and are forced to relive that nightmarish night over and over again each year.


"The Spitfire Grill" and Caitlin Geisser Return To Their Roots

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​​​​​​​The political climate in the United States—with its right and left, red and blue, conservative and liberal—prompts this question: Is reconciliation possible?








Event calendar
Sunday, Jan 20, 2019


MUSIC

The Brook Orchestra presents Fire & Ice @ Brook Arts Center, Bound Brook - 3:00pm

Bay Atlantic Symphony: Mozart & Verdi @ Stockton Performing Arts Center (StocktonPAC) in Galloway, Galloway - 2:00pm

Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes @ Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme, Succasunna - 4:00pm


THEATRE

"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 2:00pm

Annie Jr. @ The Oakes Center, Summit - 2:00pm

Auditions: Born Yesterday @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 6:30pm







KIDS

American Girl Live @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 1:00pm


MISC

WWE Superstar Braun Strowman @ iPlay America, Freehold - 11:00am

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