Looking Glass Playhouse is opening its 45th season with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and what a great show to start on!
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, and taking songs from the Disney movie, this production is a beautiful and heart-pricking adventure from start to finish.
Having never seen either the stage production or the Disney film, I had only the basic understandings of the plot line: Quasimodo, the hunckback, lives in a bell tower at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Esmeralda is a beautiful gypsy that he falls in love with. And there are some gargoyles. Oh, and Quasimodo yells, “Sanctuary!” frequently. That was it. Now, being a gothic setting, and what I assume is a gothic novel, I certainly didn’t expect sunshine and rainbows. Even IF there was music taken from a Disney film.
I did not, in fact get sunshine and rainbows. If you go to a play for a strictly sunshine and rainbows experience…well…that is not what you will get at this production.
If, however; you go to a play to see a myriad of emotions and possibly shed a tear or two or twenty, then this show will not disappoint.
Having never attended a previous production at Looking Glass Playhouse, I cannot comment on anything other than this show, but I am going to venture a guess–and sincere hope– that all of their productions are done with as much grace and passion. The set is beautiful: Lots of purple and blue lighting, gothic statues set at either side of the stage. The cathedral window is done beautifully, and nothing is too distracting or seems under-executed.
The cast is made up of a variety of ages. The nice part, to me, is that even the youngest of actors in this show carry themselves with great energy and professionalism.
Mark Conrad plays Dom Claude Frollo, the assumed villain of the show. But what is evident about his performance is that there is not total evil in Frollo, he simply does not know how to deal with the human side of himself. Conrad carries the burden of the villain quite successfully. At times you will want to punch him; other times you may want to give him a hug.
The role of Quasimodo is taken on by Dylan Comer. Truthfully, I cannot find one critical thing to say about his performance. I was impressed. He seems, to me, to have one of the strongest voices in the show. (I must also give due credit to the ensemble of singers that remain a fixture onstage, sitting as a choir in the background. They help tremendously with backing vocals. There were often times that I had trouble hearing many of the actors when in the middle of a song. Could have been a microphone issue, or just a projection issue.)
Comer is nothing but an utter professional. He gives such a tender and innocent side to Quasimodo. He also created an impressive voice for the character. When singing, his voice is booming and clear, nearly knocking you over with emotion. But when speaking, his Quasimodo is gritty and shy, at times making you question the depth of his true intelligence, which Frollo has disregarded his whole life. Perhaps this monster is no more or less a man than anyone else.
Phoebus, played by Kellen Green, and Esmeralda, played by Delaney Holliday, are both charming and bright. Kellen is a lovable un-hero; and Delaney is everything you would expect from the famous Esmeralda: Strong, mysterious, and hypnotizing.
Most of the ensemble does double-duty in this performance, playing the gargoyles that are in Quasimodo’s psyche, along with gypsy people who roam the streets of Paris. Some even play Frollo’s Church henchmen. This requires frequent costume changes. The running of the show is mostly seamless, with a few distracting hands poking out of a curtain here or there.
Overall, this show is a wonderful portal to a time and place where religion and humanity clash, and good and evil are not so accurately recognized. Whether you enter into the doors with love for the Disney movie, the Hugo novel, a previous production, or just a hope for a beautiful story, I do not think you’ll be disappointed. Don’t expect to leave with a dry eye, either.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame has final shows running Thursday the 28th through Saturday the 30th at 7:30 PM, and a Sunday matinee on October 1st at 2 PM at Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon, Illinois.