THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAMEMusic by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Peter Parnell
Originally developed by Disney Theatrical Productions
Plaza Theatre Company
Directors - Aaron and Milette Siler*
Music Director - Meredith Browning
Stage Manager - Lindsay Batt*
Choreographer - Tabitha Ibarra*
Fight Choreographer - Kirk Crowley
Sound Design - G. Aaron Siler*
Lighting Design - Cameron Barrus*
Set Design - Wendy Searcy-Woode
Costume Design - Tina Barrus*
Quasimodo - Brad Justice
Dom Claude Frollo - Kevin Poole
Esmerelda - Michelle Stahlecker
Capt. Phoebus de Martin - Robert Tidwell
Clopin Trouillefou - Brian Lawson
Florika - Megan A. Liles
Lt. Fredric Charlus - Kevin Belt
Jehan Frollo - Nolan Moralez
Father Dupin - Jay Lewis
King Louis XI - Freddy Martinez
Official - Nate Milson
St. Aphrodisius - Bradley McKinney
Madam - Kathy Lemons
Congregants - Nathan Salter, Sam Tarron, Kirk Corley, Tiffany Hyatt, Emily Warwick, Haley Nettleton, Hannah Stewart, Bentleigh Nesbit
Townspeople - Aria Leblo, Scarlett Sikorah
* Member of PTC 20 Club
Reviewed Performance: 2/17/2018
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Some fifteen years ago or so, G. Aaron Siler and JaceSon Barrus entered an empty video arcade at an abandoned Putt-Putt in Cleburne and produced a show. It was good so they produced a few more and people took note. So many people took note that they outgrew the arcade and moved to a 168 seat house downtown and became part of the revitalization of historic Cleburne. Fast forward a decade and they once again are selling out their space pretty much every performance. And people took notice. So this year they have moved into their new 280+ seat theatre at the Dudley Hall in Cleburne and I have to say, wow.
Never have I ever been in a community theatre that is so pristine, so comfortable, and as advanced as the Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall. I'm a large guy and my companion with me Friday night is not a small person either. We were able to sit side by side without ever having the feeling of being crushed nor were we sitting on top of each other. The lobby is spacious enough to accommodate the preshow crowd and the intermission as well. The lighting on stage and opportunities for special effects are tremendous. The sound was crisp and clean except for once or twice when the feedback overtook the board.
This truly is a major upgrade for Plaza, Downtown Cleburne and the entire Arts scene in Johnson County.
So what show to open this grand space with? "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Disney has taken a lot of their classic movies and put them on a Broadway stage. You can't look up and down Broadway or 42nd Street in New York City without seeing something by the mouse on a marque. Most of them are simply the movie redone live on stage however, "Hunchback" is not. The songs are the same songs from Menken and Schwartz but the stage show is much darker. There are not many outright laughs in this show. There are no wisecracking gargoyles that come to life and joke about spitting on mimes. The gargoyles and statues in this production are more manifestations of Quasimodo's deluded mind and offer as much mental anguish as support. Even the big production number of "Topsy Turvey" is more subdued than the movie version. I do not say this to dissuade anybody from bringing their children, rather to inform that this is a bit of a different take on the story.
The show actually opens with brothers Claude and Jehan arguing over the virtues of church life. When Jehan leaves with a gypsy woman, Claude is fearful for his brother's soul. He learns that Jehan and his wife have died and left a baby now entrusted to his care. The baby is malformed and mentally challenged so Claude lovingly gives him the name, Quasimodo, meaning "half-made."
Brad Justice as Quasimodo is an absolute joy to experience. His stunted speech and hunkered frame fit perfectly into what this character is. His display of raw emotion during his reprise of "Esmerelda" at the end of the show is so touching, it's as if he has just brought the entire audience into the depths of his grief. You immediately feel for this humble man-child forced to be a prisoner of the Arch-Deacon, Dom Claude Frollo perfectly played by Kevin Poole in the oiliest sense of the word. So pious yet so evil at the same time, Poole immediately makes Claude into one of those characters that you just want to throw something at every time he appears on stage. Couple that with a marvelous voice and the powerful song, "Hellfire" becomes a true sacrilegious journey through the messed up brain that Claude possesses.
Michelle Stahlecker is new to the area and to Plaza. Just a year out of the University Of North Dakota, I am predicting that she will quickly become a force in the local theatre scene. She is a beautiful young lady with fierce acting chops and crystal clear soprano voice that resonated through Dudley Hall. She held her own and commanded the stage every time she stepped foot on to it. I can think of at least 20 roles I wanted to see her in.
When you have such stellar talent in the main roles, it might be easy to overlook the supporting roles and ensemble in a show. You might be able to forgive the fact that the ensemble wasn't always together or that the supporting actors were not contributing to the overall performance. However, in this show I just can't forgive any of this.
Mainly because it didn't exist.
Robert Twaddell as the love interest, Capt. Phoebus and Brian Lawson as Clopin, the king of the gypsies were more than superb in their respective portrayals. Lawson had a jovial jaunty voice during "Topsy Turvey" and an exquisite turn during "Court of Miracles."
Those Congregants that had featured roles slipped in and out of them without anything lost from the ensemble. I must say the choreography for the congregants, although not ever complicated, was performed with exacting precision which added to every scene. When they were the statues and gargoyles of Quasimodo's mind I actually sometimes thought I saw real emotion coming from the paper-Mache heads created by Wendy Searcy-Woode.
There is not a lot to call for in a set for a musical this big. Being a theatre-in-the-round, the set must be minimalized for the sightlines. A few benches used in different directions and pieces of railing make up most of what we see of the cathedral and double as part of the square in front of Notre Dame. The focal point of the entire set is the circular stained glass window that makes up most of the floor and all of the turntable. PTC has a permanent turntable in their floor now. While it is dramatic when used in scenes with the congregants, I am wondering how long it will be dramatic. By that I mean, if it gets used four or five times in every production, how much of a dramatic effect will it remain and how much will it just become oh-that-again. But as my daughter says, that is a question for future me to ponder.
The congregants were all dressed in grey/silver robes resembling a stereotypical monk's habit. This made them easily changeable for the featured actors to do their parts and it transitioned well from fervent believers to the statues and gargoyles of the bell tower. I must say here that Tina Barrus designed and constructed all the costumes used in this show. In speaking with her after the show, she told me that some of the costumes were re-used from previous shows and that some, like the congregant's robes, were created for this production. I was amazed that a) they were all created in house and not rented and b) together they made a very homogeneous look for the entire production. That is not easy to do with a non-equity theatre. So many times I see shows where the costumes are a mix of what is available and sometimes they just don't fit the actors nor the scene. Major kudos to Tina and her crew; Soni, Hope, Sarah, Marilyn and Rachael for an outstanding job well done.
The lights and sound are so good in the theatre at Dudley Hall there is very little to say about it. I was actually hoping for more lighting effects from the conglomeration of lighting instruments available and I think that will definitely happen as more and more shows get produced and they learn everything that is possible with what they have. A few times the mic cues were a bit late for solos but honestly, the talent on stage could be heard without being miked for the most part.
I am supposed to tell you about things I liked with a show as much as I am to tell you about what was wrong. I am finding that very hard to do here because there was so little that was wrong with the show. At our after show dinner (which is kind of hard to find in Cleburne so eat first) my companion asked me what was the first thing that popped to mind about what was wrong with the show. My immediate reply was, "The bald spot on Quasimodo's head. He's not supposed to be that old. He needed a wig." We both chuckled and then he asked what my second was. I sat there and had to think of something else. I couldn't immediately come up with anything.
So to sum up, Plaza Theatre Company has opened an exquisite performance space in the Dudley Hall that rivals and surpasses most professional houses in DFW with an impressive show full of immense talent that simply is some of the best theatre I have seen in years. I told Co-Artistic Director JaceSon Barrus after the show that I think he might have set the bar a little high on this first production. Tina replied, "We like a challenge."
Well now I challenge you to make the trip down 67 or the Chisolm Trail Parkway to Cleburne and experience first rate theatre. It is well worth the time and effort.
Thur/Fri/Sat Evening Curtain 7:30
Saturday Matinee 3:00
Tickets $15 - $25
To purchase tickets go to www.plaza-theatre.com or call the box office at 817-202-0600.