The Hunchback of Notre Dame seeks sanctuary in the saccharine | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame seeks sanctuary in the saccharine

A large cast and full orchestra can't breathe life into the Disney musical at Music Theater Works.


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Music Theater Works presents a stage musical adaptation of the Disney cartoon of Victor Hugo's 19th-century parable about inner beauty and outer ugliness. Director Rudy Hogenmiller, a perfectly competent cast of 40, and a large and capable technical crew do all they can to breathe life into this saccharine monstrosity, but they don't stand a chance.

Hugo's story (adapted here by book writer Peter Parnell) depends on Quasimodo's physical hideousness to sell the idea of his hidden inner goodness. But here we're presented with a perfectly average young man (played by Billy Dawson) wearing a bag on his back to stand in for a hump. I kept thinking of Charles Laughton's film portrayal. That was a monster; this is just a guy playing make-believe. None of the other characters are distinguishable in any way either.

The selling point of this kind of thing, of course, is the score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, fabricated at the same light opera mill that gifted the world with Wicked and Aladdin. I forgot each number before it ended. I kept wondering what the point of making a live-action show of a cartoon could be, aside from creating another revenue stream for a ravenous multinational entertainment entity. The crowd I survived this production with averaged around 70. They dutifully clapped after each faux-dramatic musical peak, but I kept thinking that the intended audience is likely children. This Disneyfied morality tale can't possibly be of any interest to anyone with a modicum of intelligence. But even a smart kid would save their allowance and just watch the original cartoon if there was nothing else on.   v

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