Next Generation Theatre Company is so excited to be bringing the Midwest Premiere of the new Disney musical, Hunchback of Notre Dame, to their stage in Florissant Civic Center Theatre. After issues developed around their originally planned production of Bonnie & Clyde, they were forced to change their plans. They moved up their production of Hunchback which makes it the first production not only in the St. Louis Area but also the entire Midwest Region of the country.
Change of Plans
While talking to Brian Ebbinghaus, Director of Technical Theatre, we learned that they planned to produce Bonnie & Clyde, a show known for it’s mature and violent themes. They never thought they would be faced with such opposition. In an effort to not make waves in the community, they decided to replace the popular action musical with Hunchback of Notre Dame, which has just recently been released for production. This change opened up a huge opportunity for the infant company. Now all eyes are on their upcoming production.
Next Generation Theatre Company started three years ago and they have been blessed with some amazing productions. They have staged some incredible shows like You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Wizard of Oz. Starting out at Pattonville High School, they have moved on to the Florissant Civic Center Theatre and have found it a great place to perform.
Meet the Cast and Crew
We took some time to sit down with the cast and crew of Hunchback and pick their brains a bit. Jayde Mitchell, who plays Captain Phoebus de Martin, has acted with the company a few times now but is finding this new role to be one of his most challenging yet. Coming all the way from Berkeley, where he performed with the Boston Conservatory, he has really been enjoying the St. Louis theater community. He loves that “everyone in St. Louis wants artists to succeed” and is so proud to be a member of such a diverse and talented city.
As Mitchell takes on the role of Phoebus, he finds it incredible that there’s such a relatable aspect to the show. He finds that the core of the show is love and if you look hard enough you will find it. He always wants everyone to appreciate the “big ensemble that really drives the show.”
The villain of the show is one that has a real inner battle. Scott Degitz-Fries takes on the role of Claude Frollo and loves the complexity that the role brings. With so many different dimensions, Frollo is a bad guy that’s torn between good and evil. This being Degitz-Fries first production with Next Gen, he hopes that he can convey the emotions of his character and that the audience can sympathize with the bad guy.
The heroine of the story is one my personal favorites. Esmeralda is played by Julia Gilbert. She has been acting for about 10 years and has taken on some incredible roles like Natalie in Next to Normal. While taking on the role of Esmeralda, she finds that she “pulls a lot from her own personality.” She loves the moments she shares with Quasimodo and thoroughly enjoys being able to perform “God Help The Outcast.”
Finally, we got to talk to Riley Dunn. He is so proud to be taking on the epic role of Quasimodo. Dunn is mesmerized by the different levels of love that encapsulates the show. This character that has spent most of his life in exile has such love in his heart, even for the villainous Frollo. He also really enjoys the physical aspect that the character has to take on. Parkouring around the set is fun and exciting.
This isn’t his first time taking on challenging roles. He has also played Tony in West Side Story, which he found incredibly challenging (vocally) and Joseph in Joseph and the Technicolored Dream Coat. When asked what he hopes the audience takes away from his performance, he answered, “Don’t take anything at face value. There are so many layers to people so learn about each other. Nothing is ever just black and white.”
Meredith Todd, Producer and Music Director for the show, has been involved in the St. Louis theater scene for over four years but this is her first time producing a show, which is a whole new monster for her. She has really enjoyed the process of putting the show together and finds it be an honor. As the Music Director, and the show being such an intense show, she was pleasantly surprised to find the cast come together so easily.
With many different levels involved in the show, the choreography is so important. Joe Alway-Baker is so proud of the work the cast has done to prepare. Originally hired for Bonnie & Clyde, he was happy to transition along with the company. He loves working with the company and totally supports their mission of being a “teaching theatre.” Auditions for the show were very competitive so he really pushed everyone to see what they were capable of. He feels that they have really found the cream of the crop with this uber-talented cast.
The pressure of presenting a big Regional Premiere requires a strong and able-bodied leader. They found that in Adam Grun, the proud Director of the production. Leading the cast with a style of directing that “puts character first”, he finds success in his shows by surrounding himself with experts in the fields that he lacks experience in, like choreography and music direction. Having been an actor for over 10 years, Grun found that he thoroughly enjoys leading the cast rather than being a part of the cast. “Seeing my vision of the show come to life is such an amazing feeling.”
Grun has really enjoyed leading the cast and preparing them for an audience. Speaking of audience, he wants to share this message with them.
“With the current state of the country, remember that love is love. There are so many different kinds. The underlying theme of the show is Frolo’s hatred for the Gypsies and to drive them out. This really fits today’s society. There is so much hatred out there and we have not shown any signs of that improving. We find ourselves saying someday… Please remember that love can overpower hate. Instead of saying ‘someday we will be better,’ lets say ‘today we will be better!'”- Adam Gunn, Director
Don’t Miss Out On This Show
Make your way out to the Florissant Civic Center Theatre for the Midwest Regional Premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame presented by Next Generation Theatre Company. Performances are August 25-26 and September 1-2 at 7:00 pm or August 26 and September 2 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available now and you can find them by clicking HERE.