‘Hunchback’ rings soundly
Impressive MAPA Live! production ends this Sunday
Since the Maui Academy of Performing Arts began presenting annual large-scale dramatic musicals at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater in Kahului five years ago with its exemplary production of “Les Miserables,” it has unwittingly inherited the burden to equal or surpass that monumental achievement. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is not without flaws, but it is, in my opinion, MAPA’s finest offering since “Les Miserables.”
Reminiscent of director David C. Johnston’s Steppingstone Theater production of “Man of La Mancha” in 2013, “Notre Dame” begins as the audience enters before the music commences. Two dozen choir members are seated to the left and right of the Castle Theater stage dressed as monks. Eight large bells, helmed by stage hands also dressed as monks, hang directly above the choir in the mezzanine and balcony opera boxes.
The curtain rises to reveal 18-foot-tall scaffolding units on wheels as actors playing stonemasons, monks and parishioners roam the interior of a Notre-Dame in a state of rebuilding. The full company and the 37-member choir then open “Notre Dame” with the daunting “Olim,” sung in Latin, which evolves directly into “The Bells of Notre Dame.”
This MAPA production’s greatest triumph is the impeccable presentation of Alan Menken’s moving music, conducted by Gary W. Leavitt and performed by an 18-piece orchestra. Enhancing that beauty are the imaginative and authentic costumes by Dagmara Czarnecka, a staggering and invetive set by Jamie Devereux Tait, and sumptuous lighting by Mark Astrella and Matthew Moreau.
Though visually epic, Victor Hugo’s story and Peter Parnell’s adaptation is fairly simple and can be summarized as a love quadrangle, or three men in love with one woman. The religious leader of Notre-Dame is Dom Claude Frollo (Will Kimball). Frollo is piously restrained in contrast to his rebellious brother Jehan (Orion Milligan). Jehan falls in love with Florika (Courtney Holland), a gypsy girl, and is banished from his home in Notre-Dame after sneaking her into his bedroom. Jehan returns one year later, as a widower infected with smallpox. In death he leaves their deformed child in the care of his brother, who names him Quasimodo.
Kimball, last seen in “Jekyll & Hyde,” is magnificent in the role, surpassing his previous performance. As the object of desire, Danielle Mealani Delaunay makes an impactful and memorable entry as the bewitching gypsy girl Esmeralda on “Rhythm of the Tambourine.” Esmeralda is kind to the now-grown Quasimodo (David Tuttle), leery of the enigmatic Frollo and playful with the striking Captain Phoebus de Martin (Calvin Orlando Smith).
Tuttle as Quasimodo exceeds all of his previous performances, combining dramatic skill last seen in “A Few Good Men,” with supreme tenor vocals and an endearing pathos never before explored in his previous leading roles.
In “Sanctuary” Kimball’s rich voice perfectly matches Tuttle’s, followed by the outstanding Quasimodo solo ballad “Out There.”
Sequestered in the Notre-Dame belfry for his entire life, Quasimodo longs to escape and walk the streets of Paris if only for one day. At the annual Feast of Fools, the lower classes rule the city as gypsy King Clopin Trouillefou (Barron Burton) leads the lively and comical number “Topsy Turvy.” It is here that Quasimodo, Phoebus and Frollo all become entranced with the gentleness, beauty and allure of Esmeralda, respectively.
After Quasimodo is publically ridiculed, Frollo’s manipulative nature emerges more clearly. He scolds Quasimodo, in an “I told you so” fatherly way, and deviously implies he is the only one that truly cares for Quasimodo in a sinister interpretation by Kimball.
When Esmeralda arrives to look into Quasimodo’s well-being, Frollo’s outward offer to save her soul is masked in domineering lasciviousness. In a stirring number fraught with special effects, Kimball’s carefully presented arc of character crescendos with “Hellfire” and he is revealed as the unequivocal villain of “Notre Dame.”
Maui newcomer and Equity actor, Smith injects a professional stage presence to the production, though possibly constrained within a stereotypical Disney hero role.
Taking the Disney out of a much more operatic staged production intended for an entirely different audience is a harrowing task, and despite the noble efforts of Parnell, lyricist Stephen Schwartz and Johnston, “Notre Dame” rings a little childlike.
What does resonate is Delaunay and Smith’s “Someday,” the most memorable song from the musical. Delaunay’s performance as the much more complex Esmeralda is overflowing with grit, spunk, sparkling vocals and most importantly, believability. It’s award-worthy and will be difficult to surpass in future musicals this season.
Libretto obstacles aside, it was pleasing to me that a great many of Hugo’s plot points, removed from the 1996 Disney film version, have been restored in the 2015 stage version, attributed to the persistence of Parnell, Schwartz and his son Scot Schwartz, who directed the American premier production at the Paper Mill Playhouse.
Repelled by Frollo’s sexual advances, Esmeralda is condemned to be burned at the stake. In a remarkable scene aided by special effects, we see the glow of fire through her white gown just before Quasimodo rescues her to “Sanctuary” within the belfry. Tuttle’s athleticism did not go unnoticed. He climbs the towering scaffolds with ease, occasionally carrying Delaunay and frequently while singing in a high tenor register.
MAPA’s Castle Theater shows are near opera and these productions may not fall exactly into the category of what mainstream Maui audiences want. They are, however, immense undertakings that always impress. Were Johnston and the talented team of MAPA contributors not to embark on such vast ventures each year, Maui would be unable to experience such elevated production values, which in my opinion are comparable to a Broadway tour.
* MAPA Live! “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, based on the Victor Hugo novel, directed by David C. Johnston, choreographed by Andre Morissette and under the musical direction of Gary W. Leavitt. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Castle Theater at the MACC. Due to mature language and themes, this show is recommended for ages 12 and older. Tickets range from $20 to $60 with a 25 percent discount for students 18 and under (plus applicable fees). For more information or to purchase tickets, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
“Tony Valentine’s Girls Night Out” tour featuring Chippendale dancers returns to Maui.
* This one-night-only performance is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets range from $25 to $50. Must be 18 and older to attend. For more information, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.
Cabaret & Cocktails and the sixth annual Hawaii Burlesque Festival & Revue present “The Maui Sexy Sideshows,” a big-top, high-flying burlesque extravaganza hosted by Madame Munchausen and featuring Mainland burlesque star Redbone “The Cyclone of Burlesque,” “Hawaii’s Burlesque Sweetheart” Violetta Beretta, Maui’s own Cabaret & Cocktails, Kit Kat Club Cabaret and many more.
* Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9. Tickets range from $25 to $45. Must be 18 and older to attend. For more information, call 242-6969 or order tickets online at www.mauionstage. com.
Primo Beer and Island Air present comedian Augie T’s statewide tour “Laugh Da Island Way.” Augie T’s Maui appearance is a benefit for Maui OnStage Youth Theater.
* Performance is at 8 p.m. Sept. 15. General admission tickets are $20 with limited $25 VIP tickets, which include a complimentary Augie T DVD. For more information, call 242-6969 or order tickets online at www.mauionstage.com.
The Maui Fringe Theater Festival 2018 is now accepting submissions through Oct. 13. Fringe productions should be simplistic short plays with minimal set and technical needs. If accepted, the entry fee for three performances is $500. The eighth annual Maui Fringe Theater Festival will take place from Jan. 19 to 21 at the Historic Iao Theater. To be considered, email your sixty-minutes-or-less original one-act play to firstname.lastname@example.org. For complete rules, additional guidelines and an application visit www.mauionstage.com.