Atmosphere will Play a Role in Playhouse’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – While the Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” will mark the show’s Mahoning Valley premiere, the musical should have an air of familiarity to theatergoers.

The stage version is similar in style and tone to “Les Miserables,” the landmark musical that, like “Hunchback,” is also based on a novel by Victor Hugo.

“Hunchback” will begin a two-weekend run at the Playhouse on Friday, May 27.

“[Hunchback] has that eerie feeling,” said Trevail Maurice, who is directing the Playhouse show. “It’s an opera almost, and similar to ‘Cats’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ It’s a tragedy but it’s a love tragedy.”

The musical offers many opportunities for stunning visuals, and the Playhouse crew is taking advantage of it.

Brian Palumbo has been working for months on creating costumes that match the early 1400s timeframe.

“What he has made is extremely [true to the period],” Maurice said.

The show also employs fog, pyrotechnics and elements of magic.

A hand-painted set has been built that brings the audience inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

“We were going to build [an exterior] cathedral set but decided to showcase the inside more than the outside,” the director said. “Everything happens inside more than outside, within the church and the bell tower.”

Maurice said audience members will “be consumed by the cathedral” as they walk in.

The set was built by Johnny Pecano, Maurice, Jack Hanna, Cindy Hanna and Leslie Brown.

“Hunchback” tells the story of Quasimodo, the deformed bellringer of the cathedral who loves the beautiful Esmeralda.

The cast includes Landon Talbert as Quasimodo, Kaleb McFarland, Desiree Hargrave, Nathaniel Ams and Ben Bogan.

But the main character might be the cathedral itself.

“Notre Dame is a central character of the book,” Maurice said. “It’s breathing, a living thing… It is a sanctuary, holy ground. If a criminal goes inside, he is no longer a criminal. That’s how powerful it is. The characters move in and out of it like supporting characters.”

Not surprisingly, the musical score is similar in power and grandeur to that of the Broadway production of “Les Miserables.”

“The musical requires a 30-person choir, which is hard to find,” Maurice said. “It is difficult to get a choir in the wake of the pandemic, so we went with a backing track. It’s one of the only modifications we had to make.”

The musical “Hunchback” is based on the 1995 animated Disney movie but with a different approach.

“The writers and composers [of the musical] told the story in a darker manner, and not for children,” Maurice said. “Many people die, but for a cause, for love, or for standing up for an outcast, and the audience will feel it – not just the happiness.”

One of the author’s original themes for the novel is “what makes a monster, and what makes a man?” the director said.

“Every audience member will have to ask themself that question after seeing this show,” he said. “Does having a deformity make you a monster? Or it could be being Black, being gay, being a Trump supporter or for abortion. Because people will vilify you. And what makes you a man? Is it compassion and empathy?”

Maurice said he wants audience members to ponder how the story relates to them as they leave the theater.

Performances of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” will take place at 7:30 p.m. May 27 and 28 and June 3 and 4; and 2:30 p.m. May 29 and June 5. For tickets, click HERE.

Pictured at top: Landon Talbert plays Quasimodo in Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

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