You wouldn’t call someone a “hunchback” these days, much less the “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” But Victor Hugo’s story is set in a dark period in history–Paris of 1482, to be exact. Now Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA) will showcase this romantic, doomed love story starting this Friday the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. It stars David Tuttle as the deformed Quasimodo and Danielle Delauney as the vivacious Esmeralda.
Much of the play is told through the beautiful Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz score from the Disney movie that was nominated for an Oscar in 1997. That places a great deal of responsibility on Gary Leavitt, the show’s music director.
“The music in the show is wonderful in that it carries the story along on its back in the most delightful way,” says Leavitt. “In some ways the music is almost Wagnerian, in that all of the main characters have their own theme music if you will, so it helps you identify when you hear certain themes in the music something is happening with this character or that character. The music is still light and nimble, so it helps keep the story moving along without weighing it down, it never really gets in the way it only enhances the experience. It’s also extremely fortunate that the music for the show was written by the same folks who wrote the music for the Disney film so people who have seen the film will recognize all of their favorite songs and then notice all the music is still cohesive because it was written by the same people, so there’s just an extension of the beautiful music that was already in place.”
The choir that looms on stage and accompanies the scenes, is something new we will see from Director David Johnston.
“It’s an unusual feature of this show to have an on stage Chorus separate from the ensemble,” says Leavitt. “They’re installed as part of the set almost as if they were a living part of the set. They function in many ways like a traditional Greek chorus in that they help propel the story along and not only act as narrators but as judgmental angels if you will or societies judgment on the events happening on stage. They are also like another instrument of the orchestra in that musically, they provide a great deal of the depth and texture of this wonderful music.”
The live orchestra in the show is another element that propels the music in the storyline.
“Another facet of my role as music director is the development of the orchestra which provides all of the texture and underpinning that moves the story along and helps express all of the living textures and emotions through background and supporting music that is played by this wonderful 18-piece orchestra,” says Leavitt. “My personal musical style is a collaborative one. I really enjoy the give-and-take between myself and the orchestra or myself and the performers as we explore and interpret music in new ways until we find something that is authentic, natural and organic for all of us and then I try to support that and be the facilitator. Ultimately, once the show is ready to launch I become in many ways the de facto life line between the show happening on stage and the orchestra–since, by this point, the directors have done all they can do. So during the performance, I’m really the only connection that the performers have to what’s going on. Therefore, it’s my responsibility to give them all the support they need in order to help them maintain their level of excellence and to help them move the show along.”
Part of Leavitt’s style is to develop the main characters’ emotional connection to their songs.
“When I work with the principal characters I try to spend a lot of time with them initially exploring the emotional connection and the emotional intention they have with each song that they’re going to present,” he says. “Then we sing through the music just so they learn the notes and once they are comfortable with that then we begin to explore how to layer those emotions and intentions that they’ve discovered in their personal work using their unique musical abilities. That, I believe, is my greatest contribution to the principals in developing their characters is to give them the tools musically that they need to carry out the intentions and emotions are trying to express through their song.”
Gothic architecture was important to the theme of Victor Hugo’s book. Hugo made long descriptions of the gargoyles, stained glass and beautiful buildings in Paris. I asked Set Designer James Tait how this played out in what we’ll see on stage.
“While Victor Hugo’s book is very focused on the Old World architecture of Notre Dame, I wanted to break the audience’s’ expectations of what they were coming to see,” says Tait. “We focused on the building and its architecture, not as the finished icon we all recognize, but as a work in progress–in growth; being built, repaired and supported by our moving set elements. It was important to create a world for Quasimodo where his physical deformities were actually an advantage, whereas everyone else were limited just as he was in their world. This led to a sort of jungle-gym-meets-construction-site look with a number of ropes, beams, handholds, moving platforms and levels for the actors to play on.”
Tuttle’s athletic and energetic Quasimodo will be a highlight in the production. Tait also assures me that we will see plenty of bells and gargoyles. Will Kimball, who played Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in last year’s production, comes back as the complicated villain Claude Frollo.
“He feels he is righteous and justified in his crusade to rid Paris of the Gypsies,” says Kimball. “Creating this character has been a challenge in balancing the elements of Frollo’s duality. His love of the church and his obsession with Esmerelda. Frollo is fraught with contradictions. He is ruthless yet he truly cares and loves Quasimodo. He is lustful, yet he has potential for tenderness. He is a complex and a layered villain. Frollo judges everything through the lens of his position in the church. His mission of holiness and salvation. He shows complete judgement and criticism of everyone and everything. He’s ensconced in a world of blind ambition and misconception.”
The underlying themes and meanings from this play will be interpreted by each individual’s experience, but Leavitt believes the music will have the power inspire the audience.
“I find that the biggest thing I get from the music and the show is this undercurrent of hope and love and this feeling that no matter where we are in the world, things will get better,” says Leavitt. “I hope that’s what people will take away from this amazing experience.”
To buy tickets call 808-242-7469 or go to Mauiarts.org/mapa.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Maui Arts and Cultural Center
Opening Night: Friday, Aug. 25, 7:30pm
Shows Saturday, Aug. 26, 7:30pm; Sunday, Aug. 27, 3pm; Friday, Sept. 1, 7:30pm; Saturday, Sept. 2, 7:30pm; Sunday, Sept. 3, 3pm.
Tickets: $20, $30, $40, $50, $60 (plus applicable fees); 25 percent discount for students 18 and under on all prices
For more behind the scenes info check out Mauiacademy.org/hunchback.