By Mary Boyle
The Hunchback of Notre Dame began as a Gothic novel written by Victor Hugo, published in 1831. Interestingly, the main purpose of the story was to encourage the preservation of the Medieval cathedral (a cause that Hugo was quite passionate about), and the novel, which was immensely popular, actually served that purpose. While Hugo's detailed descriptions of the cathedral's architecture inspired a generation to save old buildings, the rest of the story continues to endure and inspire today, with the most popular version being the 1996 Disney film.
Arguably one of the darkest of the animated collection (although it still managed a G rating), Disney's Academy Award-winning Hunchback was a significantly happier story than Hugo's novel, and featured powerful music by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Then, in 1999, playwrights James Lapine and Peter Parnell created a musical that borrowed the music of the Disney film, along with some new additions, and more of Hugo's original story. The result is a much darker, more powerful production, better suited for mature audiences. This is the version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame the Waukesha Civic Theatre has chosen to kick off it's 61st Season.
Directed by Mark E. Schuster, WCT's Hunchback of Notre Dame asks the same question as its predecessors: "What makes a monster, and what makes a man?" The pious archdeacon, Dom Claude Frollo (Brant Allen), is the seemingly benevolent caretaker of Quasimodo (Ryan Peter Dziuba), the deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame, who has never been allowed to leave the cathedral. Phoebus De Martin (Kevin J. Gadzalinski) is a handsome, pompous, womanizer, and a recent arrival in Paris, having accepted a position as Captain of the Cathedral guards. All three fall like rocks for the beautiful, kind-hearted gypsy, Esmeralda (Andrea Ehlinger), whom they encounter at the Feast of Fools, but which of them is truly worthy enough to win the girl?
The powerful music is what makes this production, and a full Cathedral Choir, an on-stage Orchestra, Directed by Josh Parman, and a Congregation and Cast of talented singers, all under the Direction of Yeng Thao, does it justice. Brant Allen, who returns to WCT after playing Javert in Les Misérables, positively embodies Frollo; Ryan Peter Dziuba is a brave and remarkable Quasimodo, and Andrea Ehlinger is well-cast as Esmeralda. All in all, Hunchback is an excellent way to kick off both the WCT Season and the Holiday Season.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs through November 12th at the Margaret Brate Bryant Civic Theatre Building, an intimate, wonderfully retro space located in historic downtown Waukesha. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 262.547.0708, by
Fax at 262.547.8454, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at http://www.waukeshacivictheatre.org/.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre, Inc. is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide quality live theatre performances and educational opportunities that will enrich, challenge and entertain both participants and audience members. In July of 2006, the Waukesha Civic Theatre began its 50th season. With that historic season, WCT joined an elite group: according to the American Association of Community Theatres, of the roughly 7,000 community theatres in the United States, only about 100 can claim 50 years of continuous operation. It has undergone many positive changes from its beginnings in 1957 with productions at Waukesha High School. In 1999, WCT moved from a former church to a beautiful new facility in the heart of historic downtown Waukesha. The building, a former historic PIX movie house, was donated to WCT by Bryce Styza, a prominent local developer who saw the power that the theatre could exert in revitalizing downtown. Since the theatre opened in 1957 to the start of its 51st season in September of 2007, over 10,000 people have volunteered and 200,000 audience members have been entertained.