No other Broadway-style musical that I know of is set in a French cathedral during the late 15th Century. And yet “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is quite a departure from most musicals. It opens with vocal music hinting at Gregorian chant. But soon we are transported to a lushly imagined live-action vision of the streets of Paris during the Middle Ages.
This staging features a rich vocal texture – it includes a 19-voice chorus that gives the singing in “Hunchback” a sonic depth that at times is more like an opera than a Broadway show.
Another unusual aspect -- there’s a scene involving a fairly suggestive dance by a gypsy girl, who teases the crowd with two scarves, a tambourine, and sings lyrics like “come feel the heat, come taste the desire.” The number is less racy than a Broadway show like “Chicago,” but it’s still a bit of a departure for a Disney show.
The breakthrough is the innovative way the way the show pairs deaf actor John McGinty, playing the hunchback Quasimodo, with vocalist Jim Hogan, who sings while McGinty communicates through sign language. They perform together like a pair of ballet dancers – I’ve never encountered anything quite like it, and it’s pretty exciting.
This musical offers a somewhat prettified pastel vision of somber life during the Middle Ages, though it does include references to people dying of the pox. And the gypsy dancer turns out to be a strong, resourceful woman in a rather modern mode. But these are minor reservations – all in all, this is a new musical that’s a lot of fun to watch, and it’s got several catchy tunes you’re likely to hum for days. Check it out during this brief Music Circus run – and don’t be surprised if you see “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” return as a touring show someday.
The Music Circus production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” continues through Sunday, August 28th at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento.