Review: The Rev’s ‘Hunchback’ an almost religious experience | Entertainment

Like the bells of the cathedral itself, the songs of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse will send shivers down your spine.

The Rev Theater Company’s production of the musical based on the classic story boasts one of the greatest ensembles to ever take the Owasco stage, and you can hear it as much as you can see it. When their 31 voices combine over the booming choral motifs from the musical — many of which come from the 1996 animated film — it feels as much like a religious experience as it does a theatrical experience.

Not only does “Hunchback” have some of the best singing in theater in recent memory, but also some of the best acting. With a degree of naturalism more common on screen than on stage, the cast narrates a deeply moving take on the tale from Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel. As always, he sees Quasimodo (Alex Prakken) inspired to escape his life. of isolation by his encounters with “Gypsies” in the streets of Paris, in particular the new Esmeralda (Jisel Soleil Ayon). But doing that means challenging her guardian, Archdeacon Frollo (Randall Dodge), who covets Esmeralda while seeking to hunt her kind.

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As the disabled ringer of the titular cathedral bells, Prakken is a revelation. You can feel his Quasimodo’s emotional pain in his sunken posture, fear in his evasive facial expressions.

Some may be uncomfortable with Prakken’s exaggerated way of talking, which is understandable. The Reverend’s hands are somewhat bound by the centuries-old source material – his occasional use of binding “Gypsy” being another example. However, mimicking the vocalizations of a disabled person just doesn’t sound very good these days. The extent of these vocalizations becomes even clearer when Prakken sings in his natural voice, which he also does surprisingly well, to his credit. He concludes songs like “Out There” with superhuman held notes, perhaps the most talented voice of a multitude of them.

As Esmeralda, Ayon is perhaps the most talented actor on the scene. Under the direction of Brett Smock of The Rev, all members of the ensemble perform with an almost cinematic authenticity. But it’s Ayon who does it to the greatest effect, directing Esmeralda’s mercy, fear, and other emotions at her fellow performers more than the audience, and trusting her charisma to compensate.

Other star cast members include Dodge as Frollo, whose glimpses of vulnerability prevent his villain from becoming a caricature, and Sean Thompson as the equally conflicted Captain of the Guard Phoebus.

The ensemble is as much the star of “Hunchback” as any lead performer. In addition to delivering many of the musical’s vocal highlights, they put on a diverse and refreshing show, much like the women portraying soldiers. The size of the set seemed to have a downside though. The microphones were sometimes cluttered, such as when Esmeralda accidentally scared Quasimodo into the derogatory view of “Gypsies”.

The Rev’s latest production is, for good reason, light on some things. There is little humor in the solemn musical apart from Quasimodo’s imaginary conversations with the cathedral’s gargoyles, whose stone wings are one of the many impressive achievements of the costume department. Esmeralda’s intro is one of the only real dances, with the rest best described as pure, frantic movement.

There are also few landscapes. The set consists of the space under the bells of Notre-Dame, their ropes draped in symmetrical arches, and sometimes lanterns of varying colors. But this minimalism perfectly serves what is otherwise a maximalist production. Framed by those wooden beams, illuminated by vivid imitations of sun and moonlight, the entire Rev looks like nothing less than paintings.

Lake Life editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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