By Lauren Jurgemeyer
Under the direction of Kaitlin Hopkins, Texas State is set to open the Hunchback of Notre Dame on April 23 and will run through April 28, in the Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre.
Based on Victor Hugo’s novel under the same name, the Hunchback of Notre Dame poses the ever-existing question of ‘what makes a monster, and what makes a man?’
As the bell-ringer for Notre Dame, Quasimodo, played by Daniel Miller, has spent the majority of his life in the bell tower. Archdeacon Claude Frollo, played by Ron Ulen, his uncle, has taken Quasimodo under his care acting as his guardian. Frollo has repeatedly told Quasimodo of the unaccepting society, and why he must never leave the cathedral.
Miller said as he approached the role he researched questions that played into the social nature of his character. He explained that Quasimodo has virtually no interactions with anyone besides Frollo, causing him to be sheltered and curious.
“As he comes of age and gets older, Quasimodo begins to have a burning desire to know what life is like outside of his tower,” Miller said. “Regardless of the dark pictures that Frollo has painted for him.”
In addition to new musical numbers, songs from the Disney movie are featured. Miller said his favorite part of the show is when Esmeralda sings “God Help the Outcasts” a song that was originally in the 1996 film.
“Ana Puig, who plays Esmeralda, does such incredible work in telling the story of a person from a group that’s looked down upon in society, and her honest work in that song gives me goosebumps every time,” Miller said.
Esmeralda is a young gypsy woman who performs at the Feast of Fools in act one of the show. Puig said that her character is unapologetic and brave. She took inspiration from the script, the novel and the time period itself discovering that Esmeralda was taken by gypsies at a young age and eventually made her way into Clopin’s (played by Ian Deane) show.
“I tried to work very hard to motivate all of her actions from the means of surviving, and simultaneously being kind to all who meet her,” Puig said. She believes the real lesson that should be taken away from the show should be that a person is made a monster through actions and not appearance.
Esmeralda’s love interest, Phoebus de Martin, is played by Chris Clark. Phoebus is a soldier who has recently returned from war. Clark said he studied the script the most because Phoebus in the novel and the movie are vastly different from the character in the musical. Phoebus is a man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from a bloody war. After ascending to the high ranks of the French army, Phoebus returns to Paris where he meets Esmeralda.
“My favorite thing is being on stage with Ana and Daniel,” Clark said. “They’re such wonderful actors, and it’s so much fun to get to act with them each night.”
The cast as a whole offers a heart-wrenching performance that will bring the audience to their knees. All the characters have dynamic arcs that add to the humanity of the show. Not one person is good and not one person is evil in this production. Even characters like Frollo show kindness even if it is only for a fraction of a second.
The vocals, like the acting in this production, are incomparable. With beautiful chemistry and harmonies, Puig, Clark and Miller floor the audience with the conglomeration of their shared talent. The ensemble is strong as well and moves effortlessly across the stage with choreography by Cassie Abate. In addition to the full musical ensemble, the show also features an 18-person choir and aerial acrobatics.
The set had to accommodate the choir as well as create an environment that was conducive to acting and dance. Scenic designer Court Watson said that quoting gothic architecture was not his main goal, he wanted to create a sense of authoritarian power. The space has to act as numerous settings like Notre Dame and different locations around Paris.
“Hunchback really is two brilliantly entwined scores,” Watson said. “One very pop-centric and one feeling like a gothic chanted Catholic mass.”
After meeting last fall, Watson worked closely with Hopkins and Abate to hone his focus and direction. Watson said Andrew McIntyre, the lighting designer, shared his research of light and shadow play in architectural spaces.
“That helped me develop a skewed two-level set that functions as a jungle gym in which the story can unfold,” Watson said. “The floor is painted as crumbling pavement with cracks recalling the medieval plan of the city of Paris as if this pristine nearly-fascist structure is built upon a crumbling foundation.”
With a minor in art history, Watson said he has always been a fan of gothic architecture. He enjoys the heightened sense of spirituality that stained-glass environments offer. This is what ultimately inspired Hugo to write the novel and Watson to design this set.
Costume designer Brandon McWilliams said his designs were inspired by runway collections influenced by religious iconography, and installations based on similar iconography that are reimagined with contemporary mediums.
“We always find windows into the truth of each character when creating what clothing they would wear,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams amassed research and worked closely with the directors throughout his process. He said he begins his designs with the text and the director’s vision. Centering around the themes of the show, McWilliams worked to create costumes that would enable or restrict certain movements represented in the class structure of the show.
The set and costume designs all center around the color scheme of black, white and gray tones. Every once in a while there is a touch of red that appears, mostly surrounding the character of Esmeralda. The set is versatile, acting as the cathedral as well as the multitude of other locations that appear throughout the show. With the costuming, the audience can clearly see the gothic influence as well as the contemporary.
The show overall is a masterpiece. The Hunchback of Notre Dame touches upon sensitive issues that will leave an impression and teach the audience important lessons of compassion and humanity.
“I hope they leave wanting to treat others how they wish to be treated,” Puig said. “Always leading with love, tolerance, and kindness.”
This run of the Hunchback of Notre Dame is sold out, but that does not mean that tickets may not become available. For updates regarding seating follow @txstmt on Instagram and Facebook. The box office will open an hour prior to the show–this would allow you to be put on the standby list, but it does not guarantee you a ticket.
Photos by Lauren Jurgemeyer. Video by Lauren Jurgemeyer and Raven Correa.