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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."


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


REVIEW: Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Centenary Stage Presents "Apples In Winter" - a National New Play Rolling World Premiere
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Centenary Stage Company’s 2018 – 19 theatrical season continues with the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Jennifer Fawcett’s award winning Apples in Winter. Limited performances will run November 8 through November 18 at the Centenary Stage Company Lackland Performing Arts Center at 715 Grand Ave. Hackettstown, NJ.
Trojan Women: JCTC Reinvents Classic Tragedy for Today’s Times
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) presents Trojan Women, a multimedia and multilingual adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy reimagined for today’s turbulent times. Trojan Women  opens Friday November 2nd for an 11-show run that closes on Sunday November 18 at Merseles Studios, 339 Newark Avenue, Jersey City. Tickets are $25 ($15/ Student and Senior Discount – must show valid ID).
Douglas Taurel To Perform "An American Soldier's Journey Home" On Veteran's Day
(HOBOKEN, NJ) -- On November 11, 2018 (Veterans Day), Douglas Taurel, actor and creator of the acclaimed solo show The American Soldier, will perform his new play An American Soldier’s Journey Home at the Hoboken Museum in Hoboken, NJ at 4:00pm. The play was commissioned by the Library of Congress Veteran History Project. It was invited to performed at the Library of Congress both on Veterans Day and Memorial Day of 2017. The play will commemorate 100 years when the Great War ended and the last shot was fired.
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Menopause The Musical Comes To State Theatre
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Plant Yourself at Exit 82 Theatre Company’s Little Shop of Horrors!
Little Shop of Horrors is a smash Broadway and Hollywood sci-fi musical that has devoured the hearts of theatergoers for over 30 years. Now, Toms River, NJ’s Exit 82 Theatre Company has developed a unique rendition of the show created by Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin, which is currently running at their new Exit 82 Studio Theatre located on Main Street in downtown Toms River.
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Bram Stoker's Dracula
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House On Haunted Hill
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Event calendar
Sunday, Oct 21, 2018


DiTrani Bros: Folk, Swing, Jazz, Ragtime!! @ Roxy and Dukes Roadhouse, Dunellen - 7:00pm

Jazz Guitarist Abe Ovadia @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Gypsy Jazz Brunch with Pyrenesia and Max Hansen Buffet @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

Dryden Ensemble: Bach Cantata Fest @ Miller Chapel (Princeton), Princeton - 3:00pm

Suzzanne Douglas @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 7:30pm


The Ghost Princess @ Pax Amicus Castle Theatre, Budd Lake - 2:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm

CDC Theatre presents A Few Good Men @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 2:00pm

Wait Until Dark @ Somerset Valley Playhouse, Hillsborough - 8:00pm

World Premier of, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, A Horror of a Play @ Forum Theatre (Metuchen), Metuchen - 3:00pm

The Color Purple @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 7:00pm

Almost, Maine @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Black Tom Island @ The 1882 Carriage House, Liberty Hall Museum, Union - 3:00pm

*Uncle Vanya, Scenes from a Jersey Life in Four Acts @ Hudson Theatre Works, Weehawken - 7:00pm

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie @ Westfield Community Players, Westfield - 2:00pm


DRACULA - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 4:00pm


A conversation with John Cusack Following a screening of Say Anything @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:00pm


Summit Farmers Market Pumpkin Painting @ Summit Farmers Market, Summit - 10:00am


The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 9:00am


HAUNTED ILLUSIONS LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 3:00pm

THE MAGIC OF BILL BLAGG LIVE! @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 2:00pm

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