Let’s Review! Sound the bells for La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’!


The enchanting tale of Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” with inspiration from the Disney film, is now a magnificent musical production at the La Jolla Playhouse.

The creative team assembled to produce the work delivered a rare bag of diamonds that when opened sparkle and shine amazingly.

Scott Schwartz brings his talents from many Broadway and Playhouse to direct. Peter Parnell wrote the book. Stephen Schwartz wrote the lyrics.

But before becoming totally engrossed in the woeful story of Quasimodo, the audience gets the chance to study the stage design. Imagination can only go so far, but with this set, audiences will see the Notre Dame Cathedral of 15th century Paris come to life in the footlights. Scott Schwartz and scenic designer Alexander Dodge traveled to Paris for inspiration. They turned specific assets of the Cathedral — its stained-glass windows, stonewalls, marble floors, wooden beams, four pockets for singers, and of course, the huge majestic bells — into a set anxious to reveal a story.

Patrick Page (Broadway’s “A Time to Kill,” “A Man For Seasons”) takes on the role of Dom Claude Frollo; the powerful Archdeacon of Notre Dame. When his dying brother plunges his infant baby into his arms, Frollo faces a dilemma. It’s not only a gypsy baby, but also one that, at first glance, is so grotesque Frollo must cover its head and look away from it.

Yet somewhere in Frollo’s dark soul is a smidgeon of decorum. So he decides to hide the infant Quasimodo in the cathedral’s bell tower. Quasimodo grows up with his friends – the gargoyles — that in this production are artfully fulfilled by actual characters, who sing to him and offer solidarity.

The spine-tingling music is by Alan Menken, who has delighted thousands with his music in Disney films, stage musicals and classic productions. Additional songs have been added that really bring the story to life, especially through the character, Esmeralda.

Portrayed by Ciara Renée (Broadway’s “Pippin”), Esmeralda is a beautiful gypsy with the voice of an angel who bewitches Quasimodo, Frollo and Captain Phoebus (Andrew Samonsky “Little Miss Sunshine”).

Renée delights throughout as Esmeralda, who must resist Frollo’s advances, decide if she can trust the Captain, and be a true and sympathetic friend to Quasimodo. Her lead in the song “God Help the Outcasts,” matched with the beautiful voices of the choral group SACRA/PROFANA, fortifies her concerns about humanity.

Naturally, Esmeralda’s affection constantly has Quasimodo (Michael Arden) in a quandary. Arden uses his vocal gifts to instill Quasimodo with goodwill, acceptance and a kindness the outcast rarely receives in return.

Much of the production requires the cast to dance, and choreographer Chase Brock orchestrates their movements superbly.

The music, lyrics, performances, direction, set design and costumes assemble into a majestic production of a classic story and bring it to life. The Playhouse and all its contributors can be proud of their “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a stage show that audience members will yearn to see again.

• IF YOU GO: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is on stage through Dec. 14, 2014 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive on the UCSD campus. (858) 550-1010.