Review: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at Bay Area Musicals

 Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez) and Esmerelda (Alysia Beltran) are on top of the world in the bell-tower of Notre Dame. Photo credits by Ben Krantz.

Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez) and Esmerelda (Alysia Beltran) are on top of the world in the bell-tower of Notre Dame. Photo credits by Ben Krantz.

Jordan Nickels

  • San Francisco Theatre Critic

A hit across the country, The Hunchback of Notre Dame makes its San Francisco premiere at the Victoria Theatre under Bay Area Musicals. This production ends their season with a bang, ringing all the right bells as the audience watched from the parapets.

The stage musical of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, as well as songs and plot points from the 1996 animated Disney film. The people of Paris go about their lives under the bells of Notre Dame, where the hunchback Quasimodo sits high above the city in his tower. Her meets Esmeralda, a gypsy girl, and follows in love with her. He vies for her affection, along with his caretaker Claude Frollo and the soldier Captain Phoebus. As Frollo’s anger towards the gypsies strengthens, it’s up to Quasimodo to save the day and free Esmeralda’s people.

Alex Rodriguez led the company as Quasimodo, with an impeccable singing voice and crafted characterization that made the hunchback his own. Alex brought a kindness and depth to Quasimodo, which led up to the beautiful songs “Out There” and “Heaven’s Light” that captivated the audience. Clay David played Claude Frollo, navigating what many refer to as a “Disney villain” and making Frollo a more complex human being. Alysia Beltran charmed us as the stunning Esmeralda, and Clopin, played by Branden Thomas, brought us cheerfulness as well as great singing chops. The outstanding ensemble must also be credited for bringing the choral music of the show to life, which was done by a much larger cast in the original production, but this company had the sound of thousands.

The cast played out the show within the church inside Notre Dame. The various pews and structures were moved around the show the various locations within the story. It was a beautiful set and cleverly constructed, topped off with the famous bells, designed by Matthew McCoy. The various period pieces and gypsy costumes were created by Brooke Jennings, and atmospheric lighting by Eric Johnson, which really set the dramatic tone for this production.

This adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame celebrates one of Disney’s darker movies, as well as paying tribute to Victor Hugo’s novel. This production blends Hugo’s love the Notre Dame with Disney’s theme of true monster hood within humanity. From Quasimodo’s outward appearance to Frollo’s internal wickedness, the chorus asks the audience, “who is the monster and who is the man?” The Hunchback of Notre Dame has evolved much over time, but has stood as a tale of social justice, human kindness, and acceptance throughout generations.

For a theatrical experience that will enchant you, as well as give you goosebumps from the powerful music, you must see Bay Area Musical’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame before that last bell tolls. Catch this production through August 5th at the Victoria Theatre.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.