Music Circus ends its season on a glorious high note this weekend with the final performances of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The robustly creative production directed by the innovative hand of Glenn Casale scales back the emotional complexity of Victor Hugo’s 1831 source novel but not the spectacular grandeur.
At the center of Casale’s newly minted conception of the piece is actor John McGinty as the deaf bell ringer Quasimodo. McGinty himself is deaf and the authenticity he brings to the conflicted world of his character is alternately fascinating and heartbreaking. The top-shelf cast is led by radiant Lesli Margherita as the gypsy Esmerelda and brooding Mark Jacoby as the Archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo who becomes obsessed with her.
The lush songs and score by Alan Menken (music) and Stephen Schwartz (lyrics) first appeared in a1996 animated Disney film also based on Hugo’s novel. There is music here that doesn’t appear in the film plus the overall tone has a harder tragic edge more closely following the original French novel. With the help of an 18-person choir under the direction of Omari Tau, the production’s mostly sung-through score often reaches moments of ethereal majesty. The most powerful of those moments comes early in the production when McGinty’s Quasimodo is so emotionally bare and heartbreaking as we first meet him (the glorious “Out There”) he hardly has anywhere to go later in the story. The effectiveness of Quasimodo relies on the unique talents of McGinty, who offers up a sensitive soulful child-man desperate to experience the outside world forbidden him. The transcendent vocals of Jim Hogan provide the character’s singing voice.
Set among the bell tower, cloisters and streets around the Cathedral Notre Dame in 1482, Hugo’s story features Frollo as a most conflicted church official. He’s severely pious but is unsurprisingly heated up by the sensual Esmerelda. Margherita’s Esmerlada, Quaismodo and Eric Kunze’s Captain Phoebus de Martin, who also desires Esmerelda, are all on the righteous side of the ethical ledger. In the novel, Martin’s intentions toward Esmerelda are not nearly as heroic as they are here. Through a series of events, Esmerelda and Quasimodo become enmeshed as she tries to fight off Frollo and Martin makes his own play for her. Though Frollo is essentially the villain, he also drives the story, which chugs into a less satisfying, action-based second half.
Impressive singing was sustained throughout the cast and choir. Casale’s subtle touches highlight the story’s tugging sense of our shared humanity and leave a lasting impression.
three and half stars
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
What: A Music Circus production. With music by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, directed by Glenn Casale. With John McGinty as Quasimodo, Lesli Margherita as Esmerelda, Mark Jacoby as Dom Claude Frollo, Andrew Foote as Clopin, and Eric Kunze as Captain Phoebus de Martin.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27; 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28
Where: Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento