“Hunchback” is best when it’s magnificent

“Some of us are less human than others… in a moral sense.”

It’s obvious why “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” would appeal to a church theatre. As you first gaze at the cathedral, towering some 30 feet onstage, and the choir unleashes “Kyrie Eleison,” the majesty of the moment stirs the soul.

The musical’s best songs—“God Help the Outcasts,” “Heaven’s Light,” even “The Bells of Notre Dame”—center around faith, and the story exemplifies 1 Samuel 16:7.

Unfortunately, in order to license the Disney songs, you have to perform the stage version, a messy mash-up of Hugo’s novel and the animated movie. Claude Frollo gets stripped of his black-hearted villainy, replaced by a tragic backstory and moments of sincere piety. The ending juggles Gothic imagery, heartbreak and cold-blooded murder, then tosses in the movie’s triumphant reprise. The actors do what they can to make it work.

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AJ Lira brings a soulful gravitas to Frollo, plus a terrific voice. His performance of “Hellfire” deserved to close Act 1. Meanwhile, Brad Tyra gives Quasimodo a childlike enthusiasm. His ability to dance along railings and swing effortlessly between ropes makes the hunchback seem truly at home in his bell tower.

As Esmerelda and Phoebus, Felicia Skrzypek and Joseph Hurford-Reynolds are both strong singers. It’s tough to sell attraction in a church-friendly production, but their chemistry showed glimmers when they got to “Someday.”

That’s the best way to appreciate “Hunchback,” as little glimmers of brilliance. When the choir gets going and the themes turn heavenward, they really shine.

Additional Notes:
For the three people who enjoy “A Guy Like You,” we regret to announce that song does not appear in this show. The gargoyles function more like a Greek chorus than kooky sidekicks.

While the additional songs are mostly duds, the gypsy tavern song (“Come keep me warm until morning”) at least gives Esmerelda and Phoebus a nice moment.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” features dark temptation, a few kisses and violence. Sunrise Players label it PG-13, but they’re being respectfully cautious.

Sunrise Players
Sunrise Church
2655 Briargate Blvd

Playing November 9 – 12, 2017
Admission: $15 general, $8 students—$2 extra at the door
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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