The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Peter Parnell. Based on the Victor Hugo Novel and songs from the Disney film. BATS Theatre Company (Vic). Tony Sheumack Performing Arts Centre. July 5 – 7, 2024

BATS Theatre’s season of Disney’s The Hunchback Of Notre Dame at the Tony Sheumack Performing Arts Centre has closed to thunderous applause. I was lucky enough to see their final performance on Sunday the 8th. To the entire company, made up of cast, crew and orchestra, this show was truly a treat. I personally have never seen a BATS show before, but I was aware of the company and what they had produced over the years, so I was very excited to see what they had cooked up.

The cast was truly loving every minute whilst up on the stage. Even though certain lines where lost or not even heard, those who had them made sure to command the attention they desired, even if it was for only 5 seconds. The standout performances where definitely Jarod Rhine-Davis as Quasimodo and Chloe Harbour as Clopin. Rhine-Davis’ voice was truly something. His characterisations made you feel for him whilst also rooting for him in the second act. Of course his stand out song was the iconic ‘Out There’, which was performed with such passion and emotion, that it made you want to hear it again and again. What an amazing performance. Definitely the comedic part of the show, Harbour’s Clopin was a sight for all. Her performance was memorable and a highlight of the evening. Traditionally played by a man, Harbour made the role her own, with the music suiting her vocal range and her use of voice and comedic timing allowed for her song ‘Topsy Turvey’ to be an enjoyable and uplifting one.

Of course this cast was accompanied by a 14-piece orchestra, which sounded absolutely beautiful. The lush strings and triumphant brass truly invoked the overall feel and atmosphere of the story being told. Musical Director Kent Ross was unable to conduct the final performance, so his Assistant Musical Director Hannah Hunt stepped in, and, it being her second time conducting a show, she did extremely well.

Whilst I am not a fan of the book, nor many of the songs, the show was still very enjoyable, and engaging. The occasional use of sign language was good to see, however a bit distracting at some points. If it was used throughout the entirety of the show, it would’ve been more impactful and would not have taken away from the performance.

Overall, Hunchback is a beautiful show, with sets and costumes to die for, and a cast, crew and orchestra that make you feel like you are watching the highest quality of what community theatre has to offer in the City of Casey.

Tim Bland

Barbara Hill – The Dom. New Zealand also attended the BATS production

The original production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a musical based on the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo, with music Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz,  premiered in 1999 in Berlin as Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, with a book by James Lapine. It ran for three years, becoming one of Berlin's longest-running musicals.

The English-language version, with a revised book by Peter Parnell, had its debut at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California on October 28, 2014. Subsequently, the show went on to open on March 4, 2015 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, with more changes in the libretto. The show closed on April 5, 2015, after it was announced that it would not move to Broadway.

The musical is notably darker and thematically closer to the source material than the animated film, with composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz repurposing and rewriting several songs to match the original tone of the Hugo novel.

I was intrigued to see how a small community theatre company such as BATS Theatre Co. would handle such an epic scale musical. I was well surprised. On arriving at the Tony Sheumack Centre of Performing Arts Theatre there was no hint of what the audience were about to see. As the doors to the theatre opened you were welcomed to Notre Dame herself. An open stage showcasing the set with a beautiful Rose Window taking pride of place at the top of the double-story set. A lone candle placed in the centre of the stage like a ‘Ghost Light’ was a simple but an affective idea as if you were waiting for a church mass to begin.

Bridie Clark a seasoned choreographer, commanded a 40 strong cast, including 8 Choir and 8 Youth Ensemble. It was hard to believe this was Clark’s first time directing, alongside Tim Blencowe as Assistant Director, it was obvious that the cast had worked hard on their ‘characterization’ to understand the complexities of them. Along with Clark and Blencowe’s direction and choreography, it was clear that a choreographer was at the helm of this show (and in a positive way) the intricate dance movements and partnering of “The Tavern” to the fun, whimsical and bouncy steps of “Topsy Turvy” was enjoyable and well thought out choreography and staging it was like watching a professional production. The use of movement was apparent with an almost Hamilton inspired set of balustrades moving to create force prospectives while having a static set, I found this creative, clever and next level for a community theatre company. Blencowe’s fight and combat choreography felt realistic and authentic and by the trust the performers had with there swords and various fight scenes was credit to a well-choreographed routine.

Musical Director Kent Ross (who I now understand was unwell) handed the rains of conductor over to the young and talented Assistant Musical Director Hannah Hunt, making her conducting debut at Sunday’s matinee performance. Hunt handled the strong 14-piece orchestra like a seasoned professional at Sunday’s Closing Night. Not one note was missed, and Hunt was in full control of the cast and choir as well. Lighting design by Daniel Bowen & Jaydan Harvey was clever, with some stand out moments such as “Hellfire” where the entire orchestra pit glowed red, the “Prison Scene” was visually captivating with a halo of light on the stage and the final scene creating this idea of force perspective of Frollo (played by Tim Blencowe) being thrown off the top of Notre Dame, Clark, Blencowe, Bowen and Harvey created a showstopper moment that held the audience at full attention as to what would happened. It did not disappoint.

Audio design by Daniel Bowen maintained a good balance between the sometime softly spoken lines of the young ensemble to the powerful voices of the leading cast and orchestra. Debbie Jenkins’ costuming transported me to medieval France; the research and authenticity of each unique costume captured the personality of each performer. A surprise to see was that the costume of the Hunchback (played by Jarod Rhine-Davis) was brought out from the Tuachan Amphitheatre, Utah, USA. It was amazing watching the “Man become the Monster” before your eyes.

The 40 strong cast lead by 5 very strong leads brought the story of this great musical to life. Chloe Harbour who played Clopin, the narrator and King of the Gypsies, brought laughter through brilliant comedic timing and humour to a show that follows a dim tale. Zac Ryder’s debut performance as Captain Phoebus de Martin was strong and full of character, from the playboy arrogance of his character in the beginning to the love-struck hero, Ryder held attention and his vocals were crisp and pleasant to hear. Rebekah Bennetts portrayal of the elegant but fiery Esmeralda brought strength and courage to her role. Bennetts was commanding, vulnerable and uplifting with the use of Auslan mixed in made it a diverse open experience for all. Jarod Rhine-Davis stellar performance of ‘Heaven’s Light’ brought a tear to my eye. The innocence of having the youth ensemble onstage with Rhine-Davis made you care for his character Quasimodo even more. Finally Tim Blencowe who played the powerful role of the Archdeacon, Claude Frollo, held my attention from the very beginning of the show, his presence on stage was felt throughout the audience. ‘Hellfire’ was definitely a showstopper, Blencowe’s vocals where powerful and commanding, the clever twist of watching “What makes a monster and what makes a man” playing out from the start of Blencowe’s performance all the way through to Frollo’s demise was spellbinding and an honour to witness.

Other Standout performers: Jessica Masalski (Florika) incorporating Auslan into her character was clever and well suited, Nic Corcoran (Jehan), Sarah Wallis (The Madame), Ben Howell (Frederic), Matthew Pines (St. Aphrodisius), Bailey Ogden (King Louis XI).

This production was in a calibre well above your average community theatre production and I was thrilled to have witnessed BATS Theatre Co. reach a Broadway level. Congratulations to the creative team, cast and crew on a spectacular production.

Barbara Hill – The Dom. New Zealand  



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