The drawn, deep-red curtains and ethereal choir music set the tone as you find your seat for Blackout Theatre’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel and sharing songs with the 1996 Disney film of the same name. As the lights dim and curtains draw, a congregation of figures cloaked in grey emerge. Jonathan Holmes’ Clopin emerges from one of the cloaks – he sings: “Morning in Paris, the city awakes/To the bells of Notre Dame!”
What follows is a particularly strong rendition of ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’, a song and setpiece telling the story of how our titular hunchback Quasimodo came under the care of antagonist Dom Claude Frollo. This production of the musical by the Blackout Theare Company is the NSW premiere of the musical, located in Castle Hill’s Pioneer Theatre.
Directed by Luke Quinn and Cierwen Newell, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a serious achievement for community theatre in north-west Sydney, owing to its grand sense of scale and powerful, emotional performances. You need not travel into the city for theatre when this is the level of quality present close to home.
Set in pre-revolution France, the musical, tells the story of three men – the hunchback Quasimodo, the archdeacon Frollo and Captain Phoebus – who each begin to fall for the Romani girl Esmeralda. The tone of this production is much less jovial than the 1996 film, but that more serious take on the material allows Hunchback‘s themes of human corruption and predestination to resonate with the audience in a more impactful manner.
There’s an impressive amount of verticality to John Hanna’s set, with an upper walkway that emulates the tallness of a cathedral such as Notre Dame. The choir lies beneath this walkway, dressed in robes of worship that further replicates the churchly atmosphere of the iconic French structure.
The music sounds remarkable in this venue, thanks to the hard work of the two musical directors. Koren Beale has a done a stellar job ensuring the entire cast’s vocals are of a high quality, while Alvin Mak’s conduction of the band adds wonderful flavour to the narrative through their ability to tackle songs with a wide variety of tones.
The core cast are all phenomenally talented – each of them are highly experienced in musical theatre, as is evident by their terrific performances. Matthew Herne shines as the tragic Quasimodo, bringing vital physicality and emotion to the role. Herne embodies the essence of his character, portraying his journey from involuntary reclusiveness to bravery with a number of passionate performances, including ‘Out There’ and ‘Made of Stone’.
Esmeralda is a dream role for her actress Dylan Hayley Rosenthal, a fact that’s evident in her excellent and multi-faceted portrayal of the character. She expertly navigates Esmeralda’s wide suite of emotions across the musical’s runtime, lending the character both playfulness and sadness; each time a song puts her at its centre, it’s difficult to look anywhere else.
Another real standout is Joshua Rogers, who plays an exceptional Frollo in this production; his deep, operatic voice lending his character a suitable amount of forboding and villainy. Rogers’ performance of ‘Hellfire’ is one to look forward to in the production, displaying his singing voice at its most powerful as Frollo fully realises his obsession with Esmeralda that he sees as irresistbly sinful.
The leading roles are far from the only stars, though. There are 25 members of the cast in total, with many or all of them often onstage at one time; this showcases a staggering amount of coordination from the directors and choreographer Irene Toro. The presence of the ensemble cast is an instrumental aspect of how alive this production feels, either by filling the streets of Paris or portraying the gargoyles that adorn the cathedral’s facade.
Blackout Theatre Company’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a production well worth-seeing for fans of live theatre. Though it shares iconic songs with the 1996 film, there’s plenty of surprises in store for those familar with the story, making this a local night out you won’t want to miss.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs from the 19th to the 28th of May. Tickets are expected to sell quickly – don’t miss your chance to see this spectacular local musical!
Tickets available at https://www.blackouttheatre.com.au