Preview: Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre Presents The Hunchback Of Notre Dame A Differently Bilingual Musical Treat

The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre on equality365.com

When Victor Hugo penned The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, he never dreamed it would be turned into an animated film, let alone into a musical.

Walt Disney Theatricals did both. An extension of the animated film, the musical version runs June 1-24th at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Quasimodo is actually deaf in Hugo’s masterpiece. Directed by Glenn Casale, deaf actor Joshua Castille will star as Quasimodo in the production. In his 5th Avenue debut, Castille will use American Sign Language (ASL) throughout his performance. Castille was previously seen in Tribes at ACT Theatre in Seattle, and in Spring Awakening with Deaf West on Broadway.

E.J. Cardona makes his 5th Avenue debut as one of the cathedral’s gargoyles and as Quasimodo’s “voice” in song. Dan’yelle Williamson also makes her 5th Avenue Theatre debut as Esmeralda. Returning to the 5th, Allen Fitzpatrick portrays Dom Claude Frollo. Brandon O’Neill as Phoebus, and Dane Stokinger as Clopin.

With book by Peter Parnell, the music is by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Dana Solimando choreographs the production.

Deaf actor, Joshua Castille, stars as Quasimodo in "The Huncbhack of Notre Dame" (Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka) on equality365.com

Deaf actor, Joshua Castille, stars as Quasimodo in “The Huncbhack of Notre Dame” at the 5th Avenue Theatre (Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka)

The 5th is working closely with Deaf Spotlight, a Seattle-based organization that inspires, encourages and showcases creative works of, by and for deaf people in the Pacific Northwest. There will be eight ASL interpreted performances of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in addition to one open captioned performance and one audio-described performance. Accessible performance dates are listed below.

It features The Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) Choral Union, a 30-person choir at every performance. The score includes songs from the 1996 Disney animated feature, as well as new music from composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

The Hunchback’s musical journey was a rocky one. But Disney is a powerhouse. New York-based producers weren’t eager to welcome Disney. But after Broadway successes with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, they were on a roll. And after the success of the Tony-nominated animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, they decided to produce a musical theatre production of The Hunchback.

The musical premiered in 1999 in Berlin, Germany as Der Glöckner von Notre Dame (“The Bellringer of Notre Dame”). It was produced by Walt Disney Theatrical, the company’s first musical to premiere outside the U.S. It ran for three years, becoming one of Berlin’s longest-running musicals.

Disney felt confident about its reception in America. They were wrong.

The English-language musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame debuted at La Jolla Playhouse in San DiegoCalifornia on October 28, 2014 and ran until December 7, 2014. The reviews were mixed, but the show went on to open on March 4, 2015 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, only to close on April 5, 2015. Sorry, Disney. The New York Critics came. Again, the reviews were mixed.

But critics can be wrong. Disney wisely decided not to take the show to Broadway. Instead, it would license it to regional theaters, where audiences eagerly welcome musical theatre.

Hugo’s epic masterpiece, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a powerful tale of love, faith and prejudice. There is an important message in the book, and hopefully, the musical: Don’t judge by appearances.

Hugo worked on his novel for two years, in which he described the life of the hunchback Quasimodo, treated as a monster and feared by the locals. Quasimodo—his name means half-formed– finds sanctuary in the Notre Dame cathedral. The tortured bell-ringer been abandoned by his mother because he was born in an ugly twisted body – but that says nothing about his heart or his soul. In many ways he is like the character of the Beast in the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.

And just because a character appears in priestly garb, whether in reality or in disguise, does not mean they have a priestly or kind nature. We must weigh people carefully–by their words, deeds and attitudes towards others.

The musical doesn’t blanch from grownup themes. Set in 15th-century Paris, the plot concerns three men who desire one woman. Sexual obsession may seem dark stuff from the House of Mouse. But the company has history with darkness. Ask Bambi about his mother. So best not bring the little ones to this show.

The gypsy Esmeralda enters Paris for the annual Festival of Fools. She is kind to the now-adult hunchback, wary of the feverishly enraptured Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame Cathedral, and flirty with Phoebus, the handsome new Captain of the Guards.

As Frollo becomes more and more obsessed with the gypsy, he’s determined somehow to have her carnally, ostensibly to save her soul. When he fails, he turns on her, damns Esmeralda as a witch, and rouses the guards to hunt her down and burn her at the stake.

Paging Quasimodo to rescue the beautiful and sweet woman. He takes her to his home in the belfry, holding off seemingly all of Paris.

Each of the central characters has a theme (“Out There” for Quasimodo, “God Help the Outcasts” for Esmeralda, “Hellfire” for Frollo, and “Rest and Recreation” for Phoebus). “The Bells of Notre Dame” acts as a narrative device to tell parts of the story.

Quasimodo is, in fact, a symbol for the forgotten Gothic architecture of Paris, and the book is Hugo’s way of alerting the citizens of the City of Light to preserve the beautiful buildings of the city. At the dawn of the 19th century, many Gothic buildings were demolished and new modern constructions were built in their place. The Gothic architecture became undervalued, and the writer became disturbed because of this.

Through the years, some of Hollywood’s most revered actors have played the Hunchback. Charles Laughton took on the role, with Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda. In 1956, Anthony Quinn played Quasimodo, with Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda. In 1982, Anthony Hopkins portrayed the Hunchback with Lesley-Anne Down as Esmeralda. The 1996 animated film featured the voices of Tom HulceDemi MooreTony JayKevin KlinePaul KandelJason AlexanderCharles KimbroughDavid Ogden Stiers, and Mary Wickes in her final film role.

Currently in our country, those who are different are being mocked and abused on a daily basis. We must remember what Hugo wrote in his tome, “The saints were his friends, and blessed him; the monsters were his friends, and guarded him.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs June 1-24 at 5th Avenue Theatre. ASL performances are scheduled for Saturday, June 2 at 8pm, Saturday, June 9 at 2pm, Saturday, June 9 at 8pm, Friday, June 15 at 8pm. Sunday, June 17 at 7pm, Friday, June 22 at 8pm, and Saturday, June 23 at 8pm. An open-captioned performance is schedule for Thursday, June 21 at 7:30pm, and an audio-described performance on Saturday, June 23, at 2pm; Tickets start at $29. And are available at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206-625-1900 or at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue in Downtown Seattle.

About the Cast
Quasimodo – Joshua Castille
Voice of Quasimodo – E.J. Cardona, 5th Avenue Theatre debut
Esmeralda – Dan’yelle Williamson, 5th Avenue Theatre debut
Dom Claude Frollo – Allen Fitzpatrick
Phoebus – Brandon O’Neill
Clopin – Dane Stokinger

The Ensemble
Eric Ankrim
Kody Bringman
Kristin Burch
Jade Solomon Curtis
Candice Donehoo
Davione Gordon
Corinna Lapid Munter
Taylor Niemeyer
Richard Peacock
Zoe Raphael
Aaron Shanks
Greg Stone
Jordan Iosua Taylor
Carolyn Willems Van Dijk
Matt Wolfe

The Creative Team
Book – Peter Parnell
Music — Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Director – Glenn Casale
Choreographer – Dana Solimando, 5th Avenue Theatre debut
Music Director – Dennis Castellano 5th Avenue Theatre
ASL Master – Ryan Schlect, 5th Avenue Theatre debut

More about the creative team

Alan Menken (Music) has written the stage musicals God Bless You Mr. RosewaterAttina: Evil Queen of the GalaxyReal Life FunniesLittle Shop of HorrorsKicksThe Dream on Royal StreetBeauty and the BeastA Christmas CarolWeird RomanceKing DavidThe Little MermaidSister ActLeap of FaithNewsiesAladdinThe Hunchback of Notre DameThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and A Bronx Tale. His film work includes The Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast (animated), NewsiesAladdinPocahontasThe Hunchback of Notre DameHerculesThe Shaggy DogHome on the RangeEnchantedTangled,Mirror Mirror and Beauty and the Beast (live action). His television credits include Sesame StreetLincolnThe NeighborsGalavant and Tangled: The Series. He has received many awards including the 2012 Tony®, Drama Desk, 8 Oscars®, 11 Grammy® Awards, 7 Golden Globes®, London’s Evening Standard and the Olivier and Outer Critics Circle. Other credits include Songwriters Hall of Fame, Billboard’s #1 single and album, Disney Legend and a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. Menken holds Doctorates from NYU and the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Stephen Schwartz (Lyrics) wrote the music and lyrics for the current Broadway hit Wicked and has also contributed music and/or lyrics to GodspellPippinThe Magic ShowThe Baker’s WifeWorking (which he also adapted and directed), Rags and Children of Eden. He collaborated with Leonard Bernstein on the English texts for Bernstein’s Mass and wrote the title song for the play and movie Butterflies Are Free. For children, he has written songs for two musicals, Captain Louie and My Son Pinocchio. He has also worked in film, collaborating with Alan Menken on the songs for Disney’s Enchanted as well as the animated features Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and writing the songs for the DreamWorks animated feature The Prince of Egypt. His first opera, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, was produced at Opera Santa Barbara and New York City Opera. A book about his career, Defying Gravity, has been released by Applause Books. Schwartz has been inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has been given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Awards include three Academy Awards, four Grammy Awards and a tiny handful of tennis trophies.

Peter Parnell (Book) most recently wrote the new book for the Broadway revival of Lerner and Lane’s On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, starring Harry Connick Jr. and Jessie Mueller. His plays includeTrumpery (Atlantic Theatre Company); QED starring Alan Alda (Mark Taper Forum, Vivian Beaumont, LCT); a two-part stage adaptation of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules (Seattle Rep, Taper, Atlantic, American Theatre Critics Association Award). His other plays, Sorrows of StephenThe Rise and Rise of Daniel RocketRomance LanguageHyde in HollywoodFlaubert’s Latest and An Imaginary Life, were first produced by the Public Theater and at Playwrights Horizons. For television, Parnell was a co-producer for The West Wing (two Emmy Award citations) and a producer for The GuardianInconceivable and Six Degrees. His children’s book And Tango Makes Three, co-authored with Justin Richardson, was an American Library Association Notable Book, a Henry Bergh Award winner and has either headed or been on the ALA’s Top Ten List of Most Banned Books from 2006-2012. Parnell has served on the Literary Award Committee of PEN, and has taught writing at Dartmouth, the New School, Columbia, the Yale School of Drama and currently at NYU. He proudly serves as Vice President of The Dramatists Guild.

Glenn Casale returns to The 5th Avenue Theatre to direct The Hunchback of Notre Dame after previously directing the smash, sold out hit Disney’s The Little Mermaid in 2016. He directed the Broadway production of Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby (Tony Award nomination for Best Revival) which was filmed by A&E and garnered two Emmy Awards. He directed the Off-Broadway production of The Property Known as Garland starring Adrienne Barbeau and Dragapella at Studio 54 (Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award nominations for Best Production). Internationally, he directed Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast (Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and Russia) and The Wiz. Regional credits include The Hunchback of Notre DameThe Little Mermaid, Ballroom and Camelot with Rachel York and Lou Diamond Phillips, Wrestlers starring Mark Harmon and George Clooney, Bingo!From the Top starring Carol Burnett, the Los Angeles Ovation Award-winning Best Musical Anything Goes starring Rachel York, Brent Barrett, Sally Struthers and Fred Willard, Camelot starring Michael York and The Prisoner of Second Avenue with Jason Alexander. His television credits include ABC’s The Faculty starring Meredith Baxter and The Wayans Brothers. Casale served as the Artistic Director for the California Musical Theater in Sacramento.

The Production Team
Scenic design by Stephen Gifford
Costumes based on the designs of Marcy Froehlich and coordinated by Cathy Hunt
Lighting design by Jared Sayeg
Sound design by Kevin Heard
Hair and makeup design by Mary Pyanowski Jones
Fight direction by Cathan Bordyn.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs June 1-24 at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. ASL performances are scheduled for Saturday, June 2 at 8pm, Saturday, June 9 at 2pm, Saturday, June 9 at 8pm, Friday, June 15 at 8pm. Sunday, June 17 at 7pm, Friday, June 22 at 8pm, and Saturday, June 23 at 8pm. An open-captioned performance is schedule for Thursday, June 21 at 7:30pm, and an audio-described performance on Saturday, June 23, at 2pm; Tickets start at $29. And are available at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206-625-1900 or at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue in Downtown Seattle.

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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