"THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME," through Aug. 8, Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 S. Main, Logan (435-750-0300 or utahfestival.org); running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes (one intermission)
LOGAN — Victor Hugo’s story of the half-formed man hidden away in the bell towers of Notre Dame has been put to art in many forms, from silent movie to the 1996 Disney animated feature. Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" takes the message and tone of the original story and mixes in the songs from the Disney film (along with some new ones), with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
One of the first notable positives of this production is the set, designed by Tim Case. The backdrop and scenic design of “Hunchback” is sumptuous and textured and utilizes the entire expanse of the huge Ellen Eccles Theatre stage. Chris Wood's lighting design also is a main player, and subtle changes of overall light, background light and use of spots adds much to “Hunchback.”
Throughout much of the play, a chorus of 20-plus fills the set, sometime in the form of the camp of gypsies, often the line of gargoyles that visit with and befriend the troubled Quasimodo. All chorus numbers are purposefully loud, rich and full-bodied and carry the experience from start to finish.
Ezekiel Andrew has the task of bringing the hunchback to life and making him the sympathetic hero that he is. Andrew was admirable in his presentation, never losing character and was penetrating with his solos, even when he might be climbing part of the set as the hunchback.
Antagonist in the story is Dom Claude Frollo, played by Kevin Nakatani. In a rare starring role, the durable Nakatani — in his 12th UFOMT season, but often as a supporting character — is a focal point and important cog in the entire story, start to finish. It should be noted that Nakatani also has critical moments in other productions this season, as the uncle of "Madama Butterfly" and two roles in both “The Pirates of Penzance” and "Rex."
Nakatani, with his full bass tones and mean look in his eyes, is convincing as he portrays the archdeacon who keeps Quasimodo away from the Paris populace below the towering Notre Dame, while secretly lusting after the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda.
Jessica Gruver, as Esmeralda, is perfectly enchanting and her voice has a pleasant, soft roundness to complete her gypsie-with-a-heart-of-gold personality. Stefan Espinosa is noteworthy as Clopin Trouillefou, the leader of the gypsies, displaying strong vocals and his typical enthusiasm for his role.
Edward Brennan is strong and rich of voice and carries every note asked of Phoebus, captain of the guards. Brennan is an asset for the UFOMT cast this summer.
While “Hunchback” is not pitch perfect with every note or movement, the few flaws are easily overlooked, and the message shines through to create spirit and a full-bodied musical theater experience not to be missed.
Content advisory: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" includes some mild and implied violence, depictions of death, and the only sexual content is one character who lusts from afar.
Jay Wamsley has been an observer of theater and the arts in Cache Valley for more than two decades.
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