Sunday, October 23, 2016

Slow Burn Theatre Hits a Peak With "Hunchback of Notre Dame"


A “Hunchback” for The Ages at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre Company has reached a new peak with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” onstage through Nov. 6 in the Amaturo Theatre of Broward Center for the Arts.
This complicated Swiss watch of a production has Slow Burn’s largest cast, most beautiful voices, best orchestra intricate set and amazing lighting. Even a major sound glitch in the middle of the aptly-named “Topsy Turvy” failed to derail the show’s power.
Director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater simply came onstage and said “We need to reboot.”
In today’s computer-controlled shows, when a crash occurs it is best to stop, fix the problem and continue where you left off.
“Hunchback” is based upon the 1996 Disney animated musical movie, which in turn was based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel. This new version (only one of five in the USA) features new songs by Alan Menkin (“The Little Mermaid”) and Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell”).
The year is 1482, but there are eerie parallels to our current political and sociological climate. Instead of Muslims, the accursed people are Gypsies. One of them, the elderly Clopin (Trey Whittaker) sets the tale of two brothers; one wild and one pious. The pious brother grows up to be Frollo (Matthew Korinko), the head priest of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Frollo is rigid and authoritarian. When he learns his wayward brother had a deformed son, he grudgingly accepts the boy as his charge and names him Quasimodo (Bobby Cassell).
Quasimodo is a virtual prisoner in the bell tower of Notre Dame, but he will have one chance to romp on the “Feast of Fools,” when even Gypsies are allowed to come out and dance. It does not turn out well for Quasimodo, but he does meet enchanting Esmeralda (Shenise Nunez), whose allure also enchants stalwart Capt. Phoebus (Landon Summers) and unfortunately stirs forbidden thoughts in pious Frollo.
This version hews more closely to the original Victor Hugo story, so it is much darker (and more realistic) than the sanitized Disney cartoon. The score is quite sumptuous, combining churchly Latin masses with pop songs to advance the story. The already rich onstage singing is enhanced by a choir, housed in boxes stage right and left. The orchestra, led by Caryl Fantel, is unseen in a pit, hence the emergency when the actors could no longer hear the music. Shenise Nunez must have had the music in her head, because she kept on dancing “The Rhythm of the Tambourine” as if nothing were wrong.
Bobby Cassell is the all-around utility player, playing Quasimodo with a disconcertingly beautiful voice and even serving as fight choreographer with Landon Summers. One could go on for several more pages lauding the various players, but my advice is to see it for yourself. This is regional theater at its very best.
Tickets are $47, $52.50 and $60. Call 954-462-0222 or 800-745-3000 or go to

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