Bob Harbin who has produced a string of hits including “Billy Elliot,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Hair,” and “Spamalot,” through his BOBDIREX production company, has scored another winner with his latest creation, “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” For the entire family, the musical, produced and directed by intrepid impresario Harbin, opened Friday and continues it run through July 9 at Marian University Theatre.
“Hunchback” tells the story of a kind and gentle hunchback who falls in love with a gypsy girl, both of them outcasts, a principled soldier who loves her too, and an evil clergyman who serves as the story’s ruthless antagonist. Exploring such topics as religious extremism, sexual repression, physical deformity, discrimination and even genocide, “Hunchback of Notre Dame” incorporates themes of love, tolerance and heroism.
Based on the 1831 Victor Hugo novel of the same title.and adapted from the 1991 Disney animated film, the musical’s book is by Peter Parnell and its soaring, epic score was composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
Never afraid of taking on ambitious projects or creative risks Harbin, who once worked in casting and talent development in L.A. for Fox Broadcasting and NBC, has once again cast very strong performers in leading roles. They include Bill Book as Frollo, Jacob Butler as Quasimodo, Shelbi Berry as Esmeralda, Keith Potts as Clopin, Logan Moore as Phoebus and Christian Condra as Frederic.
Book, a veteran community theatre actor, and one of Indy’s finest, was ideal as the unscrupulous, sexually conflicted and diabolical Archdeacon. Turning in a powerful vocal and dramatic performance, Book was riveting as the merciless Frollo, especially when he sang “Hellfire,” accompanied by a superb 22-member chorus, representing the Notre Dame Church choir.
Butler was absolutely compelling as the pitiful hunchback, yearning for love. I deeply connected with his vulnerable character during the actor/singer’s spellbinding solos of “Out There,” and “Heaven’s Light.” A remarkable performer, Butler eloquently captured his character’s loving humanity.
Berry, a relative newcomer to the stage, came off as a seasoned pro and gave a polished performance as feisty, fearless Esmeralda who befriends Quasimodo, seeing him as a man rather than the monster he’s viewed as. Berry’s solo performance of “God Help the Outcast” and her duet with gifted actor/singer Logan Moore as renegade soldier Phoebus, in “Someday,” proved to be among the highlights of the show for me.
Equity actor Keith Potts, showing charisma and and a potent stage presence, was pitch perfect as Clopin, the gypsy leader. Moving about the stage with effortless ease, Potts, while singing “Tavern Song” and “Court of Miracles,” demonstrated a rich vocal tone and an operatic-quality range.
Deserving of high praise is music/vocal director/conductor Trevor Fanning who led a 15-member orchestra that was one of the finest I have ever heard in a semi-professional production. It truly was Broadway quality.
Fans of choral music, as I am, indeed, will fully appreciate the first rate vocals of the show’s aforementioned choir and the ensemble. Partly responsible for their excellence is assistant music director, Jacob Stensburg, who is pursuing his master’s degree in choral conducting at Butler University. The heavenly sounds, especially the Gregorian chant, produced by the singers, enhanced by Zach Rosing’s flawless sound design, were absolutely exquisite.
DK dancer Stuart Coleman who contributed the show’s exuberant choreography also deserves plaudits for his creativity, particularly in regard to the high-spirited movement in “Topsy Turvy” during which the gypsies dance with wild abandon.
Given our country’s current volatile and toxic social/political climate, the topics and themes covered in “Hunchback,” unfortunately are still relevant in today’s often cruel world. At the same time, the show’s hopeful message of love and acceptance, shines through, thanks to the talent and artistry of Harbin, and his exceptional cast and crew.
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” performances are on June 24, 29, 30, July 1, 7, 8— all at 7:30 p.m, and July 2 & 9 at 3 p.m. with all seats reserved. Tickets are $25 with discounts available for seniors and students. For tickets call (317) 289-0825 or visit bobdirex.com. Marian University Theatre is located on the campus of Marian University Theatre at 3200 Cold Spring Road where there is free parking and which is wheelchair accessible.