By Erika Brown Thomas
A lush orchestral score accompanied a full blown choir and an ensemble of fantastic singers punctuates Evanston’s Music Theater Works production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Cahn Auditorium.
With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the show is the work of two musical masters at their best.
The well-known story originally penned by Victor Hugo in 1831 as, Notre-Dame de Paris, referring to Notre Dame Cathedral, on which the story is centered. Frederic Shoberl‘s 1833 English translation was published as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which became the generally used title in English), which refers to Quasimodo, Notre Dame’s disadvantaged bellringer, around whom the tale revolves, along with the lovely and kind gypsy, Esmerelda. Musically brought to contemporary, animated life by Disney on screen in 1996 and on stage in 2014, a complete synopsis production history of The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical may be read here.
In the Music Theater Works production, Billy Dawson plays the “half-formed” and unlikely hero, Quasimodo. With his uncompromising tenor range, Dawson is a vocal talent that is hard to match on stage. His characterization elicits empathy and compassion for the life of this ill abused and enslaved man. Anna Marie Abbate holds her own as the high spirited and surprisingly softhearted Romani woman, Esmeralda. Abbate portrays this character with a sensitivity and passion that captivates. Her voice is as gorgeous as she is, and her performance sets the bar high for the rest of the enormous cast,
The pious and reprehensible priest, Frollo, is played by Kent Joseph. Joseph turns the usual dull and predictably villainous moments between Quasimodo and his guardian into surprising ones tinged with seeming kindnesses. It is truly a unique twist of depth to the traditionally righteous and grotesque character.
Erik Dohner plays the captain of the Cathedral guard turned outlaw and lover to Esmeralda. Dohner impresses with his voice and towering physique.
With a cast of more than 40, the ensemble and resident cathedral choir pack a powerful vocal punch. These complex choral harmonies are not often heard on the musical theatre stage and these singers are incredible. The core of tone and great balance of harmonies, send musical thrills over and over.
While this show runs for a short time, be sure to check out Music Theater Works and their remaining productions of 2019, Lerner & Loewe’s Greatest Hits (October 4-13) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (December 21-31).
Music Theater Works Presents “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” through August 25 at at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St, Evanston. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Brett Beiner.