“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was originally written by Victor Hugo and first published in 1831. It has undergone countless adaptations on both stage, screen, and radio. The cast of Amarillo Little Theater Academy went with the musical adaptation by Peter Parnell with music and lyrics provided by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.
I don’t usually attend plays, although I have aspirations of doing better with that. I reside in Amarillo, Texas which is actually home to a pretty impressive theater community. The production I saw last night featured the cast from the ALT Academy under the direction of Jason Crespin. It was a very young cast, but that’s no reason to underestimate the formidability of their commitment to their performance. Although there were a couple of moments where I was pulled out of setting of 15th Century Paris by some problematic choreography of the fight scenes, I was able to sit back and go with the flow. As far as the fight scenes go though, I get it. No one needs to see a high school kid get whacked accidentally even with a fake sword. I think one can chalk that up to just trying to find the right balance between safety and art as well. Even the most dedicated performer should balk at losing an eye over a community theater production.
A young actor named Bradley Hurt was cast as the deformed bell-ringer, Quasimodo, and I found myself really enjoying his take on it once I got used to how he shifted his performance from the moments when he was by himself and talking to the statues that kept him company in the bell tower of Notre Tower and to when he had to interact with the other characters. It’s a musical, so Hurt turned out to have a pretty solid singing voice, at least to my amateur estimation. When he was out of his own imagination and talking to those in the real world, he had a pretty effective rasp and cadence that was quite convincing. I also had little trouble understanding him, and I was sitting near the back. He had hair that kept flopping his face when he put on a more pronounced hunch and shuffle, so that was mildly distracting. Hurt still manages to be engaging in his performance in both his singing and acting.
Quasimodo’s guardian is Dom Claude Frollo, played by Kayden Burns. Frollo is the power-hungry Archdeacon of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and uses scripture and other people’s faith and desperation to his own advantages. A villain who is a bit cliche’ but that’s not the fault of the actor. Burns does give Frollo a pretty nasty edge that is convincing. Burns does appear to be one of the older cast members here. By older, I mean he is probably a bit further along in his twenties than the others. As mentioned, the other main actors were probably in high school. I hope I’m not wrong about my estimation of Burns’ more mature look. Anyway, he’s appropriately loathsome in his role which would probably earn him an appropriate “Great job!” from his director.
The spirited and gorgeous gypsy at the center of the discord with Quasimodo, Frollo, and a smitten guard captain played by Ethan Worsham, is Esmeralda, being performed by Alexis Bodkin. I could buy into Bodkin being an exotic gypsy, at least from my seat in the back of the venue. She also put forth a strong performance in both her acting and singing.
The costumes were quite good. I thought the gypsies, in particular looked great. Tre Butcher plays the gypsy leader, Clopin, and does quite well himself.
I have no real issue with the performances. The songs were quite well performed by the extras, but that is not surprising for ALT production. I have been to a few of their performances and have yet to catch anything that bothered me unforgivably.
I was more amused than really annoyed, but the a couple of more intimate or romantic moments did not quite look all that natural. I suspect that was because of the perfectly understandable reluctance to encourage overly amorous behavior among the cast members. It was one of those moments I noticed it, but I also got why it was there. Truth be told, I probably would have been blushing considerably if those moments looked more authentic since the players are so young.
Anyway, I wish I could encourage people to see this particular production, but there is only one more performance scheduled on the day I am writing this blog. What I can do though is encourage those in the Texas Panhandle to keep an eye on what ALT and the Academy are doing in the upcoming seasons and catch some shows. I was really glad I took the time to have a fairly unique evening out for me and support an important piece of local performing arts at the same time.