“Out There” is also probably a good descriptor for anyone who writes this much about some dumb musical, am I right?

Heeeeeeeeey I drove eight hours down to La Jolla last Sunday to see the American stage premiere of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a bunch of people have asked me about it so I wrote this here blog post at 4:00 AM hooray.

This isn’t exactly a review, per se; more some semi-organized, tenuously-coherent thoughts about the show and the changes that have been made in this version. I’m coming at this as a huge fan of Disney’s various incarnations of Hunchback (the amount of collectibles I bought when the movie came out, you guys; you don’t even know). I have been especially obsessed with the 1999 German production ever since it first premiered and I had the CD shipped overseas to me, which was still a moderately fancy and difficult thing to do back then in the early, Wild West days of the interwebs. Man, I remember tracking down a plain-text version of the James Lapine script on a Geocities site and feeling like some kind of ninja superhero. Anyway. Literally been waiting half my life for this show to come to the US (as I tearfully told head of Disney Theatrical Tom Schumacher after the show, like a crazy person). So let’s get to the dissection!

(Oh, like, big ol’ spoilers and stuff. Obviously.)

WHAT WORKS

Doing away with the idea of the gargoyles as specific characters. This is a dark adaptation — darker even, in some ways, than the German production — and very much grounded in reality. Three people bopping around in gargoyle costumes would have been seriously out of place. I about peed with glee when I opened my program to find that “A Guy Like You” had been cut. The ensemble standing in as the multitudinous voices of Quasi’s various stone and metal companions worked just as well as having Victor, Hugo, and Laverne (or Charles, Loni, and Antoine, depending on your version of choice) around.

“Hellfire” Minimal staging. No crazy effects. Nothing but Patrick Page’s tour-de-force Frollo, the orchestra, the massive freaking wall of sound provided by SACRA/PROFANA, and a big ol’ cross in the background. When the lights bumped to red while the last few bars blasted through the theatre, I legitimately almost passed out. Hands-down the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had watching a musical. And Lord knows I have watched A LOT of musicals.

The set. If I had to make one quibble — one solitary gripe — it’s that I wish it provided a wee bit more opportunity for Quasimodo to explore vertical space. Right now he can go up and down on the sides, but…I don’t know, I’m not a set designer, but something’s missing. It’s especially clear in “Out There” that Quasi needs more places to play; it would give the number the energy boost I think it’s currently lacking. But that’s a note for the next production, probably.

The thirty-two person on-stage choir. I honestly can’t even talk about it. So amazing. So rich. Everything this incredible score deserves.

The overall tone and emotional core of the show. This is such an affecting piece, and that all comes down to Disney giving it free-rein to be mature and adult and explore its characters and content in ways heretofore thought too risky. It’s a gamble that absolutely pays off, as I think that by the time this makes it to Broadway, it has the potential to be the first show with actual artistic integrity that Disney has produced in years. (No tea no shade, Disney, you know I love you.)

The ending. Thank you, production team. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping the German ending. And while I have some qualms with all the unnecessary extra stuff that’s been pulled in from the novel in other places in the script, the addition of “There lies all that I have ever loved” destroyed me. I’m getting weepy typing it. Ugh. All the feelings. I think response has been and will continue to be mixed in regards to the Quasi-ing of the cast at the end, but personally, I liked it. We are all both monsters and men.

WHAT KIND OF WORKS

Michael Arden’s vocal affectations as Quasi. So, background: In the novel, Quasimodo is deaf, and therefore has some trouble speaking. In the Disney movie, they did away with all that. In the German stage adaptation, however, they made a bit of a compromise: Quasi was on the monosyllabic side when conversing with real people, but expressed himself clearly and in the actor’s normal voice whenever talking to the gargoyles or singing. The La Jolla production has brought back the deafness (partially), and the speech impediments that come with it…however — and I don’t know if Arden was directed to do this, or chose to do it, or a combo of both — that affected character voice kind of sticks around when he’s singing. And it just…doesn’t really work. His spoken lines are stilted and simple, and therefore lend themselves to the lower, somewhat strained and eccentric sound Arden has created, but when he sings, the language is florid and the music calls for a brighter tone. I guess I’d like there to be a starker contrast between how he communicates in reality versus how he communicates to himself; right now it’s sort of muddy. But that’s honestly my only performance-related note. This cast is ON POINT. And Arden’s Quasimodo is heartbreaking. I can’t even discuss his public humiliation scene, unless I have a solid hour free after in which to look at kitten pictures to help me recover.

Esmeralda’s introduction. If I had my druthers, we’d still get a number introducing the gypsies and their plight before plunging into “Topsy Turvy”. Doesn’t necessarily have to be “Balancing Act” from the German production, but it would be nice to get a sense of Esmeralda as a person with her own wants and needs and problems for a second before relegating her to “the thing three of our four male leads simultaneously decide they either have to bang or die trying.” I do really like “Rhythm of the Tambourine”, though.

The practical, low-tech effects. I’m a sucker for tangibility. Projection screens and CGI leave me cold as can be. Give me things I know I can touch. That’s where the real magic lives. I put this in the “kind of works” category only because there are a couple of moments in the finale that don’t quite live up to the energy level the music has built. The molten lead, for example, needs to be punched up somehow; the first anemic bolt of cloth that emerged from the cauldron was kind of lame, and it was only when the huge sheet came down from the ceiling and covered the stage that I felt we were getting the payoff the moment deserved. Frollo’s death, too, needs to be more impressive somehow. Poor Patrick Page running backwards while screaming “damnation!!!” didn’t quite pack the wallop required.

The narration. I…am so on the fence about all this narration. Because there is A TON of it, most of which is nothing but superfluous descriptive details. Towards the end of the show, it starts to actively undermine dramatic moments by pulling the audience out of what’s happening. Just…show me, y’know? I’m sure you’re all lovely people, ensemble, but shut up for a minute and let the story happen. The leads have it foisted upon them a few times as well, and it often comes off as ridiculous. I mean, this is an actual thing that happens after Frollo loses his shit at Esmeralda in the cathedral and calls for Phoebus to remove her:

ESMERALDA: Esmeralda hastened down the tower steps as quickly as she could…

PHOEBUS: …and found the Captain climbing up for her.

ESMERALDA: The handsome captain led the gypsy girl back down…

PHOEBUS: …never once betraying the slight quickening of his heart, whose beat seemed to rise even with each descending step…

ESMERALDA: …matched by the gypsy’s own.

They say all this as they’re performing the actions, of course. And mind you, this is after Phoebus and Esmeralda have fought and then bonded a bit right after “God Help the Outcasts”. So do we really need twenty seconds of self-descriptive narration to make their growing mutual boners clear? I will argue that we do not.

The new “Bells of Notre Dame” First of all, I am all for giving Frollo some layers and shades of gray. I also could not be more stoked that they had the balls to make him a priest again (as he was in the novel; Disney made him a judge in the film because can you imagine the shit-storm from conservatives if they had made the morally-twisted villain in a “children’s” movie a religious leader? He then stayed a judge for Germany). But sweet baby Jesus, is this thing ever long, and it very much sets up Frollo as the main character. In fact, the whole script puts so much emphasis on Frollo that giving Quasimodo the final bow at the end of the night actually felt weird and incorrect. This isn’t an easy fix, though. Now that Frollo is archdeacon of Notre Dame, the whole “chasing down a gypsy woman” focus of the original prologue wouldn’t make any sense (pretty sure priests back then didn’t spend their evenings galloping around on horseback arresting people), but the original novel’s approach — Quasimodo is abandoned at the church anonymously, and Frollo takes him in ’cause, y’know, what else was there to do before TV? — isn’t exciting enough for an opening number. So. Not sure what to do here. All I know is that while sitting through the eight solid minutes before we find out what any of this backstory has to do with our titular character, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this show might be better off under the novel’s original title, Notre Dame de Paris. Or, like, maybe just Hello, Frollo!

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

Clopin. Not the actor, mind you, just the character as written. Now that the entire ensemble collectively shoulders the burden of narrating the piece, Clopin has been…kind of neutered. He’s not nearly as mercurial and mysterious as he was in the film, and that’s to the detriment of the piece overall. Since we no longer have the three specific gargoyles providing levity and a hint of (for lack of a better word) magic, I feel like the responsibility of those things should fall to Clopin. Give him the bulk of the narration, give him back his Paul Kandel-esque craziness, give him back his flamboyance, give him back his bonkers high note at the end of “The Bells of Notre Dame”, because as things stand right now, he is 100% negligible to the piece as a whole.

“Flight Into Egypt” Look, the visual gimmick of the song is fun, but this is such a weird way to start Act II. We’ve just come off of the Wagnerian bombast of “Esmeralda” at the end of Act I, followed by a big, gorgeous choral Entr’acte, and then we get a jokey fluff bit with a beheaded saint? Plus, it adds nothing new to the story. Quasi decides at the end that he’s going to go and help Esmeralda, but right when the song finishes, she comes to him instead. The music is very pretty, but I say snippety snip snip. We need something more bracing here, along the lines of “City Under Siege“, the Act II opener in Berlin.

“Rest and Recreation (Reprise)” A lot of my qualms with the songs in Act II come from stuff being fixed when it wasn’t broken in the first place. “Out of Love” was a gorgeous piece with a lush melody and a few harmonic moments that still take my breath away, all while providing some growth for Quasimodo as he battles between his desire to help Esmeralda, his dislike of Phoebus, and his fear of disobeying Frollo again. This reprise, which has taken its place, is hokey, a bit clunky, and full of that aforementioned superfluously-descriptive narration. I can understand that with the addition of “In a Place of Miracles“, they were probably trying to avoid loading this act with ballads (while also hunting for some humor), but I would take “Out of Love” over the newly added “In a Place of Miracles” any day.

“The Court of Miracles” The tweaked melody was baffling. If it needs to be in, keep the brisk march version from the film, and find a way to up the energy. Also, remember in the song “Esmeralda” when Clopin pops in and rescues Esmeralda and Phoebus via smoke-bomb? Soooo…is he face-blind? Because that’s the only reason I can imagine for him trying to hang Phoebus now and being all “whaaaa?” when Esmeralda steps in to stop him. I’m just sayin’.

“In a Place of Miracles” So many Hunchback-lovers losing their collective minds over this song being put back in (it was proposed for the film, but didn’t make the cut). I wasn’t a fan. It’s pretty enough, but it’s too overtly pop in a score that had, up until this point, avoided that particular kind of sound. And the more I think about it, the more I’m realizing it’s kind of just “A Million Miles Away” from Aladdin‘s Broadway outing. In the continuing theme of this section, they should have stuck with what they had in Germany and kept the beautiful reprise of “Out of Love” interwoven with the reprise of “Heaven’s Light”.

STUFF I JUST MISS FROM THE GERMAN PRODUCTION BECAUSE I AM A PEDANT

Quasimodo joining in for a tiny bit of “God Help the Outcasts”. It was so pretty!

Drew Sarich. Even though I loved Michael Arden. I can’t choose! Like, can they just both play the role simultaneously? Thaaaaaanks.

Overall, this was an incredible, satisfying night of theatre, I wish I could drive down and see it every damn week, and I cannot wait to hear about how it evolves between now, opening at Paper Mill, and its eventual, inevitable Broadway production. It’s already in fantastic shape, but make a few more tweaks and it could be the best thing Disney’s ever done.

If I missed something you’re curious about, or you’d like me to elaborate on something, just drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer with all due speed.

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23 thoughts on ““Out There” is also probably a good descriptor for anyone who writes this much about some dumb musical, am I right?

  1. “Quasi-ing of the cast at the end”… I don’t know the show at all. Did they go all Billy Elliot with this at the end? Because that seem derivative, no mater how appropriate it is to the message. Maybe they did it first, in the German production, or something. But as a newbie to the show, that’s how I’d see it

    • SPOILERS! So, in line with the whole “practical effects” thing, when Quasi comes out at the end of the opening number, he’s a regular-looking dude, and as he sings “what makes a monster and what makes a man?” he pulls his hand across his face, leaving streaks of brown paint, then contorts over into a hunch while a fabric hump is strapped to his back by cast members and then covered with a tunic, thus becoming the hunchback in front of us. At the very end of the show, after he carries Esmeralda’s body down from the cathedral and lays it before the crowd of people outside, the townspeople at first recoil from him. Then one girl steps forward. Now, at the end of the movie (in which Esmeralda lives and gets to be with Phoebus with Quasi’s blessing), it’s a little girl who first comes up to Quasi and tentatively touches his face before embracing him, and then all the people of Paris sweep him up onto their shoulders and carry him off in triumph as a hero. In this, the girl is a grown woman, and she steps out of the crowd, and after considering Quasi for a moment, pulls her hand across her face, leaving the same streaks of brown on her face as his. One by one, the rest of the ensemble follows suit, and they all contort their bodies in some fashion. I found it moving. Another review I read thought it was weird.

      • Well, that’s theatrical for sure. Boy, now I wish I could see it. I know the PSM on the show. Well, not “know” know. But he got his MFA at UCSD and we’ve run into each other on stage management web site (yes there is such a thing) for years. He also knows Matt Mattei, which just about blew my mind at the time. Small world.

  2. Thanks for giving some insight on the new stage musical of Hunchback, as I’ve been anticipating this for years ever since I discovered the German Der Glockner production. I have a few general questions:

    1) Are there any brief reprises that aren’t listed in the playbill? For example, Der Glockner had several reprises of “Bells of Notre Dame” throughout the show, and Frollo had a few reprises of “Sanctuary.” Also, Quasi had a reprise of “Out There” during Topsy Turvy, and of course there’s the “Heaven’s Light” reprise. Are any of these retained?
    2) It is to my understanding that “Rest and Recreation” now takes place as a part of “Topsy Turvy.” How is this handled? Is it the same English lyrics as was written for the German production, if you happen to be familiar with those lyrics? Official English lyrics for the added Der Glockner songs have been circulating the web for quite some time. The original song of course revolved around Phoebus hitting on a young woman.
    3) Is “Rhythm of the Tambourine” sung during Esmeralda’s dance sequence as opposed to the “Balancing Act” instrumental used in the German production?
    4) Are the lyrics to “Court of Miracles” heavily modified to be less campy, or are they pretty much the same as in the movie?
    5) What the heck is the Tavern song? Just any information about the song would be nice. Especially just knowing the context of it.

    Overall, I am still excited to see this production, as I’m planning to see it when it starts performing at the Papermill Playhouse. I really want to hear how all of the songs sound in particular. What I would personally change are the following 1) 100% agree on bringing back Clopin’s role as the main narrator. 2) Re-instate “Balancing Act” as a proper introduction for Esmeralda and the gypsies. 3) Replace “Rest and Recreation (Reprise)” and “In A Place of Miracles” with both renditions of “Out of Love.” Part of me thinks maybe “Court of Miracles” should be axed as it was in the German production too, though I’d have to see how it’s handled first hand to have a fair opinion. 4) Bring back the ensemble for “Someday.” As you can see, I clearly would have been content with them just keeping the same James Lapine book and song list as in the German production, though I am open to fresh ideas. I think the show just needs to have a better balance of using more of what already worked in that particular production.

    • 1) There are! There are still a few “Bells of Notre Dame” and “Sanctuary” reprises. Quasi’s “Out There” reprise in the midst of “Topsy Turvy” is gone, and “Heaven’s Light” is now woven into “A Place of Miracles” (unsuccessfully, in my opinion).

      2) It sure does. The lyrics are almost identical, but he’s singing to and interacting with a crowd of people rather than just the two girls. It works. “Topsy Turvy” is now kind of bifurcated; we get the first verse and a wee dance break, and then there’s some underscoring as Phoebus enters and has dialogue, then he sings “Rest and Recreation”, after which there’s another little scene of him stopping a gypsy who has been accused of stealing a purse and Frollo showing up and having him arrest said gypsy even though no purse is found on him, then he and Frollo sing the little “Rest and Recreation” reprise that preceded “Topsy Turvy” in the James Lapine script, and then Clopin sings his introduction of Esmeralda.

      3) Yes it is. The “Balancing Act” theme has been removed entirely since the song isn’t in the production, and now she sings “Rhythm of the Tamborine” instead. It’s a super fun little mini-song, and perfect for her. I loved it.

      4) They’re more or less the same as the film, although the melody has been altered slightly. They’ve eliminated the middle section of the song though (from “where the lame can walk” to “so you won’t be around to reveal what you’ve found”), and replaced it with some more spoken I’m-narrating-what-I’m-doing nonsense from the ensemble.

      5) It kiiiiiiind of takes the place of “Balancing Act”? So there’s a new scene after “Top of the World” between Esmeralda and Frollo (rather than the one between Esmeralda and Quasi from the James Lapine script), after which Frollo talks to Quasi about purging Esmeralda from their minds. But after that scene, the chorus tells us that Frollo couldn’t stop thinking about her, and took to roaming the streets at night, until one night he came upon a tavern with loud music playing and people dancing. It turns out that it’s the gypsies and Esmeralda, and they sing “The Tavern Song” which is just rowdy and fun and an excuse for dancing. During the song, as Frollo watches from a balcony, Phoebus enters, and he and Esmeralda banter and then share their first kiss. Once the number ends, we transition back to the bell tower where Quasimodo is doing his best not to think about Esmeralda, and then we go into “Heaven’s Light”.

      I know a lot of people are bummed that the chorus was taken out of “Someday”, and yes, it was a stunning musical moment in the German production, but it’s my feeling that they made the right choice here. “Someday” is now placed before “Made of Stone”, and having the chorus involved would turn “Someday” into a big, let’s-stampede-to-the-finale kind of number, when now it’s “Made of Stone” that’s supposed to serve that purpose. I promise you it works.

      • Thanks for the response! A few more follow ups:

        1) How was the staging for the end of the song “Esmeralda?” What amazed me in the German production was how they staged Phoebus’ fall into the river while running from Frollo’s soldiers. I’m curious to know what they did this time around.

        2) Concerning the “Rest and Recreation” reprise, I actually recall that a short reprise of it actually is in the beginning of “Out of Love”. It went like this:

        PHOEBUS:
        Look, I don’t pretend
        To be your dearest friend
        And I don’t like asking anyone for a favor
        But Esmeralda’s in a trap
        And only you can read her map
        Don’t you think you owe it to her, to save her?
        Scared or not
        We have got
        To try and save her

        So is the “Rest and Recreation” reprise an expansion of that?

        Thanks again for taking the time to answer questions!

        • 1) Other than sharing some of the same songs and some residual book scenes, this production of the show has nothing to do with the German production. The German show was a massive, huge-budget affair, which is in keeping with the whole aesthetic of their musical theatre scene overall (I like to say that Germany is where the 80s mega-musical never died). This is done on a static set, and the only effects they use are stage tricks that have been around since the 1400s, which was a directorial choice; Scott Schwartz has said in interviews that he wanted this to seem like a passion play a church would have put on in the 15th century. Therefore, the “Esmeralda” scene and staging have been dramatically altered. Frollo, Phoebus and the guards track Esmeralda down to a brothel that has been known to hide gypsies, Frollo has the guards bar the doors and instructs Phoebus to burn it to the ground, Phoebus refuses, Frollo orders his arrest, Esmeralda bursts out of the crowd (presumably having snuck out of the brothel), a fight ensues, and Frollo ends up stabbing Phoebus and then blaming it on Esmeralda. There is a burst of smoke and Phoebus and Esmeralda disappear, while Clopin appears in their place, then another burst of smoke and Clopin is gone.

          2) No, it has nothing to do with the mini-reprise/intro that was in “Out of Love”. After Quasi and Phoebus argue over what to do and what the woven band Esmeralda gave Quasi means, Phoebus decides he should go alone to save her, while Quasi insists he should go with him. Then Phoebus sings the following:

          PHOEBUS
          Something must be done
          Surely you can see
          Realistically
          Who’s got the knack here
          Clearly I’m the one
          Who can save the day
          You’d be in the way
          So…hey, come back here!

          At which point Quasi takes the map and runs off. Then there’s a sequence where the ensemble narrates Quasi and Phoebus’s trek through the city. During that, Quasi has a mini “Out There” reprise:

          QUASIMODO
          Out here once again beyond my parapet of stone
          Wishing I were feeling so much braver
          Stealing through the twisted streets of night toward the unknown
          Still, I must do anything to save her

          More narration, then some soldiers pass and sing a bit of “Esmeralda”:

          SOLDIERS
          Hunt down the gypsy Esmeralda
          Let every man relentlessly pursue
          The witch and gypsy Esmeralda
          PHOEBUS (spoken)
          You almost got us caught
          QUASIMODO
          It was you!
          PHOEBUS & QUASIMODO
          It was you!

          And then we immediately finish up with more “Rest and Recreation”:

          PHOEBUS
          Before you kill us both
          Please do as I say
          Don’t be such a pest
          Do what you do best
          Go home and get some rest
          And recrea–
          QUASIMODO
          Shh!

          Then they’re in the graveyard and get caught by Clopin and we go into “The Court of Miracles”.

  3. Regarding the things you just miss from the German production because you are a pedant: YES TO ALL. Any time Quasimodo does some falsetto harmonies is magical (so gorgeous in God Help the Outcasts I CANNOT), and Drew Sarich is, straight up, the king of the tenors. I want him to sing the soundtrack of my life. HIS HIGH NOTES MELT MY BRAIN.

    Related to the other sections: that Clopin high note at the end of Bells of Notre Dame gives me SO MUCH LIFE. Why would anyone ever get rid of that?

    Also, I really loved the sharp distinction between Quasimodo’s speaking and singing voices (or external/internal voices, to be more accurate) in the German production. This is partly, again, due to my adoration of Drew Sarich, since his super-clear, bright vocal quality is just DAZZLING and is so markedly different from how Quasimodo actually speaks because of Quasi’s deafness. I think it makes everything about Quasi so much more evocative and clear if there isn’t any muddiness in the distinction between his two voices.

    I’m also obsessed with all the “Out of Love” material, which is gorgeous (tenor harmonies at the end DREW SARICH HITTING THAT HIGH C, OH MY GOD SOMEONE HOLD ME; and that Heaven’s Light reprise just destroys me). Based on the little that I know about the plot structure of this new Parnell book, it seems like these songs would make as much sense narratively in this production as they did in the German one. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    And for two actual questions: some people have posted the song list for this production, as taken from the La Jolla program/playbill/thing, and it says that only Esmeralda and Phoebus sing Somewhere. Going back to the German production (again, because OF COURSE), one of my absolute favorite parts of that song is when the ensemble/chorus slowly starts to join in, and then it gets to that high point where the orchestra drops out and you’re left with this MAGIC GORGEOUS WALL OF A CAPPELLA HARMONIES FLYING AT YOUR FACE. The first time I listened to it, I had to pause my iPod immediately after that moment and take a minute to recoup because my brain was struggling to process the beauty it had just heard. I still get goosebumps just THINKING about that moment. Basically, I was wondering if there were any remnants of that choral harmony stuff to be found in this production’s version of Somewhere (and it would be a real shame if there weren’t, especially since they have AN ACTUAL EFFING CHOIR ON STAGE STRATEGICALLY PLACED FOR EXACTLY THIS KIND OF MOMENT).

    Second question: you didn’t mention Made Of Stone in the information above, and it’s one of my favorite songs they added to the German production, so I’d love to hear what it was like at La Jolla. Specifically, how much rejiggering did they have to do lyrically to make it work, since they’ve completely changed the way the gargoyles work in this production? Also, Stephen Schwartz did an interview for the La Jolla program where he seemed to indicate that the line “You’re right, Quasimodo, we’re only made of stone; we just thought that you were made of something stronger” (or something to that effect, I’m not sure that’s the exact wording) is still in the show, and it’s probably my favorite line in that entire song, so I was just wondering how that line plays since they don’t have the Laverne/Loni/individuated gargoyle characters to sing it anymore.

    Finally, thank you SO SO MUCH for taking the time to put all this information up. I live on the East Coast, so I’m almost certainly not going to get out to the La Jolla production, so I’ll have to wait until it gets to Paper Mill next year to have even a GHOST of a chance of seeing it. I would also like to apologize for my effusive use of caps-lock. I just care so much about this material. Hunchback was my favorite Disney movie growing up, (I had an Esmeralda backpack in kindergarten and everything). I found out about the German production when I was in high school, which in turn introduced me to Drew Sarich, who in turn introduced me to Les Mis (it turns out that I am a sucker for a good Victor-Hugo-based-musical, which is an oddly specific category of thing for which to be a sucker), which IN TURN allowed me to get bit by the theater bug, which is how I got involved in my university’s theater community, which gave me a huge new group of crazy-talented, super-loving friends. So… Hunchback kind of made me who I am today. The fact that it’s getting a US stage premiere is a dream come true, so any little bit of information I can get about this production is so wonderful. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

    • Um, are you me? Because seriously, every last word of this comment could have been written by me. ARE YOU MY CLONE?? If so, neat! And also gah! But mostly neat.

      Drew Sarich is my everything and I got to meet him once after a performance of “Lestat” here in San Francisco and I basically died. That man. That voice. Permanent swoon.

      The loss of “Out of Love” was the biggest bummer for me, musically, especially since it’s just been replaced by a reprise of the completely negligible “Rest and Recreation”. Act I is in pretty good shape, but I spent most of Act II just baffled by the musical changes, even though I came in with a very open mind and the foreknowledge that this was going to be a significantly different take on things than what was done in Germany.

      I feel you on “Someday”, but! Even though I loved that gorgeous wall of sound that came blasting at my face from the Berlin cast recording, I think the production team made the right choice here to keep it between Phoebus and Esmeralda. In Germany, “Someday” came after “Made of Stone”, so it was placed to be the big, let’s-stampede-to-the-finale number and making it this massive group thing made sense. But now it’s “Made of Stone” that’s in the eleven o’clock spot, which necessitates “Someday” being a little more intimate. The choir gets to take a stab at a smaller portion of it in the finale before “The Bells of Notre Dame” starts back up, though, and it’s lovely.

      “Made of Stone” is more or less identical to its German incarnation. The “gargoyles” all still talk to Quasi, it’s just they don’t have such specific, individualized personalities anymore; they’re more all the various facets of his psyche, which is just taking what was already implied in James Lapine’s script and making it even more abstract. They’re played by the 12 members of the non-choral ensemble, and generally they all stand in the two levels of pews on either side of the stage (have you seen pictures of the set yet? It’s lovely) and speak to him from there. They all each have some kind of different, individual bell-adjacent instrument that they hold when they’re a “gargoyle” and use to make a little bit of noise whenever they speak, just to really drive home the point that these aren’t real voices, but things Quasi is “hearing” in the ambient noises of his environment. I liked it a lot, and didn’t miss the specific gargoyles. Anyway, the point is, “Made of Stone” is structurally intact, and the lines from the gargoyles are more or less the same. (It is just now occurring to me that maybe all this talk from the production team about the gargoyles not being “individualized” anymore has led people to assume that they are now portrayed by the ensemble speaking in unison? But that’s not the case. Their lines are spoken by random, individual ensemble members.)

      I’m jealous you’ll get to see it at Paper Mill! I’m so, so eager to see this piece evolve; honestly, even though I’ll be in a show myself for the rest of the La Jolla run, I’m entertaining the idea of driving down on their last Tuesday, seeing the show that night, finding a SoCal couch to crash on, and then driving back up to the Bay Area at the ass-crack of dawn Wednesday in order to make my 5:30 call. Like I said, I’ve been waiting to see this musical live for literally half my dang life. Also, even though I was 12 when the movie came out, I still would have been hella jealous of your Esmeralda backpack, f’reals.

      • Okay, so we might be the same person. (What are your feelings on Les Misérables? Because mine are deep and obsessive and ALL-CONSUMING.)

        I saw Drew in Les Mis on Broadway back in 2008. It was my first time seeing Les Mis, he was my first Valjean ever (and still is, and forever will be, my favorite), and his “Bring Him Home” made me weep openly in public for the first time (that I can remember. I assume I cried quite often in public when I was a little ‘un). It was also the first show I ever stage-doored, so I talked to him (and asked him for a hug, which I have since learned you are not supposed to do, but I was young and naive and OVERCOME WITH EMOTION). I’ve tried to keep up with what he’s been doing since then, but we appear to have lost him to the German-speaking theater world forever (or at least for a good long while. It’s so devastating).

        I’m still mourning Out of Love for now, but hoping beyond hope that they decide to put it back in somewhere down the road. Anything is possible! And the changes to Someday make sense, considering how they shifted the song order around. I’m happy that the choir still gets a bit of a go at it at some point, because those harmonies are so lovely. And yay! So happy that Made of Stone is still pretty similar to the German version. You have to love a song that manages to be incredibly badass and completely heartbreaking at the same time.

        One thing that really excites me about the La Jolla production specifically (and I’m not sure if they’ll do this at Paper Mill as well, but it would be awesome if they did) is the amount of feedback they encourage from the audience about the production. It’s a bit of a high-stakes workshop kind of atmosphere. There are a couple of formal Talkback events (after the November 4th and November 11th shows, both Tuesday evenings, in case you’re wondering) where theatergoers can actually put their questions and comments directly to actors and artistic staff, but there are also more informal post-show reaction events throughout the run where audience members are given a forum to meet up and talk about what they thought of the show (presumably discussing specific elements of the material and the design as well as more general themes and stuff).

        Disney produced Peter and the Starcatcher at La Jolla before it went to the New York Theater Workshop and then to Broadway, and based on the stuff I’ve read about that experience online and in the annotated script (which I own because I am obsessed with Peter and the Starcatcher), the creative minds behind that show took the audience feedback they got from La Jolla very seriously and used it to guide some of the changes they made to the production moving forward. Hunchback is in a similar kind of situation (where Disney is involved in the project but very much in the background and seem to be giving a lot of creative freedom to the people who are actually working on the show, probably more so than with their earlier adaptations of more brand-appropriate work), so hopefully the powers that be will take audience feedback into account the same way here! (So basically I think people should just keep telling them to put Out of Love back in, LOL.)

        • Oh my god, all of you, love your comments (this thread). Loved reading every bit of them. Like all of you guys, I love the Berlin production dearly so nothing can compare to that.

          This show needs a lot of changes with the first act, and I think that comes with the narration of the chorus – all the lines that used to be Clopin’s have been given to them. I want them to be given back to Clopin. The actor that plays him has such an awesome voice that it reminds me a bit of Chris Murray. He needs more than a song and a half.

          I know everyone is starting to accept the way that Someday is now. Honestly, I don’t like Someday how it is used in here. It becomes a love song/duet between Phoebus and her and that’s not what the song is about? (Also, they already had a damn love song.) It’s about a hope for the future, that we can overcome the prejudices, the hate, the suffering and wish for that one day… not just for the both of them, which is what the song seems to imply without the use of the chorus. I really hope they change it back. I think of the video of the Berlin production where they hardly got through the song and it got a standing ovation that lasted a minute or more makes me feel that if the song was brought back the way it was, it could get that standing ovation again.

          Eh, maybe I’m being too picky. I just think my biggest issues are the chorus narrating everything, Clopin’s role getting chopped, and the lyric missing in Someday. I can accept everything else, I really can, but those issues are the ones I have with the show.

  4. I’ve noticed several sites use the correct term “Romani” over “gypsy” in reference to Esmeralda, Clopin etc. Do they actually say “Romani” in the script? I did a college presentation on Der Glockner recently and my professor asked me about this, so I was wondering if the new script addresses this.

  5. Loved reading all your comments. My husband and I sing in the choir and it’s been the most incredible experience already. Just wanted to say that we have a really comfy couch and you’d be welcome to crash on it if you end up coming back down for another show. 🙂

    • Oh my gosh, what a completely lovely and generous offer! I’m still wrestling with whether or not it’s feasible for me to head down there for the final Tuesday night, but as soon as I figure it out conclusively I’ll let you know!

      You all sounded amazeballs, by the by. One of the definite highlights of the show, and so, so important to why it’s as moving a piece as it is.

      (Any significant changes that you’ve noticed since the first preview? Or have things remained more or less the same?)

      • I would really encourage you to come back down and see the final version – we’re still in previews, but honestly, they have made quite a few changes. Some of which made me wonder if the creative team was reading this specific blog post.

        Michael Arden’s vocal stylings have gotten quite a bit crisper and more defined, so there is a more distinct difference between his interactions with other characters vs. his internal monologue. Frollo’s death has changed – although I haven’t seen it from the audience perspective, it seems to go much faster and the lighting has become FAR more dramatic. We are singing full-tilt when the death happens, so I can’t really focus on what’s going on, but my impression is that the running backwards is no longer happening – the ensemble members who are holding set pieces to mimic a ledge all lift the pieces as the lights flash and Frollo “disappears” – there is a moment of blackout and then you see the bodybag fall in the back of the set. It seems more effective from the choir loft, at least!

        The SPECIFIC BIT OF NARRATION that you called out with Esmeralda and Phoebus? Gone. (That happened right after I read this too, so it really was like they were reading your post and going yep, she’s right, let’s get rid of that bit)

        Bells of Notre Dame is slightly shorter, though not by a lot. A lot of the Rest and Recreation reprise has also been cut. And the beginning of “In a Place of Miracles” is cut, which makes it a bit more of a power ballad and moves the scene along much faster. “Court of Miracles” has gone back to including “where the lame can walk” etc, and has cut the unnecessary self-narration.

        Also – reading through other comments, just a few things. The term “gypsy” is the main word used, but Clopin does have a line in the song “In a Place of Miracles” where he refers to them as Romanis. Which I appreciated. Also, they seem to have scrapped the overt mention of Quasi’s deafness, which I do not appreciate as much because I thought it was a really great aspect of the show. But I understand why they cut it, because as you said, it only semi-works throughout the duration of the show.

        I got to attend the talk back last night, and it was really wonderful to hear the cast and Scott speak about the various questions they got. Michael Arden is just a dear. He seemed to be pretty emotional about Quasi’s character arc, and the themes of the show. Hearing him get all choked up made me tear up as well. God, this cast. Flawless. Completely flawless.

        • First of all, I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate you sharing these changes. I have a friend in the cast (Lucas, the guy who plays Jehan; we spent several months holed up together in a tiny NorCal town doing productions of “Gypsy” and “Cinderella” at a regional theatre back in 2012), but I don’t want to scare him off with my intense love for/curiosity about this piece, so I’ve refrained from bugging him for updates. 🙂

          I’m glad they’re paring down the narration; again, it works some of the time (and I wish they’d give what DOES work back to Clopin), but there was waaaaaay too much of it. Very happy Arden’s made more of a distinction between the two different sides of Quasimodo as well. He’s giving such a beautiful performance, and that was my sole qualm.

          I’m still on the fence about coming down again, only because 1) it’s such a bonkers drive from the Bay Area, and 2) tickets are so dang expensive. Lucas offered to put me on the standby list for my night of choice, but if they sell out, then I wouldn’t get in, and it sure would suck the very most to drive eight hours only to have to spend the performance with my nose pressed up against the lobby doors, weeping dramatically. Though hey, maybe you could convince one of your altos to be sick the night of December 9th? I sight-read like a boss. 😉

  6. Sorry if this was already mention, but is Quasimodo deaf in this version?

    Also, how did they handle Frollo’s confession scene? Is the same as the German version?

  7. Just a theater goer who saw the production Wednesday night. Didn’t see the Disney movie, or even recall reading the story growing up.

    Bottom line, enjoyed it immensely. Easily the best production of the year (we’ve been subscribers for the last three or four years.

    We have excellent sixth row seats slightly left of center. Due to some unfortunate issues getting out of our house on time, we arrived slightly after the start, and were seated in the second to the last row on the aisle. Very interesting seeing the first half at the back, and then the second half from row six. Bottom line, I don’t think there is a bad seat anywhere in the theater.

    Highly recommend anyone who can attend to do so.

  8. I saw it last night. I loved the libretto, the writing was splendid and the acting was beautiful. The scenery was gorgeous and all the songs in Act I were to die for. The orchestra was so tiny though (only one violin!), songs like Made of Stone really suffered for it. Michael Arden’s speaking/singing voices were intermittently mixed as others here have pointed out, which I didn’t enjoy. Also I have to say, if the face paint streaks it would look better if they were brown rather than jet black. He looked like a kid who’s a tiger for Halloween.
    All the action in the finale was abstracted beyond recognition. Lacking prior knowledge of the story, one couldn’t tell who was inside or outside the cathedral, who was on top of the roof or down on the streets, who was getting lead poured on the them and who wasn’t, etc. Frollo’s death was also bizarre and silly looking.

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