Review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (musical) Nottingham Operatic Society. Nottingham Theatre Royal

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Nottingham Operatic Society

25th October to 29th October

This may be one of the extremely rare reviews where one wishes that six stars were available and that one may run out of superlatives. So, as the French say, allons y!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame par Nottingham Operatic Society. Qu’est-ce que ç’est? Ç’est formidable. Ç’est remarquable. Ç’est un grand spectacle théâtral, Ç’est enorm, Ç’est superlative! En effet, Oh ouais!

Translation: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Nottingham Operatic Society What is it? It’s formidable. It’s remarkable. It is a grand theatrical spectacle. It’s huge. It’s stonkingly good! Oh yeah! Indeedy.

That great? Yup – that great. In many musicals you would expect to find, see and hear an ensemble song here and there, sometimes they carry the story along to a further place or comment on current on-stage happenings. With some shows you wonder if their contributions are just filler material and do very little to enhance the audience experience.  I can unequivocally assure you that the chorus and ensemble, including sung narrators, in this production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, are mightily impressive, vocally producing the most sublime choral and musically dramatic sounds you ever heard in a musical. The show is worth going to experience just for them alone. Well, in fact, ‘alone’ doesn’t cover it as this ensemble is massive. Out of all the choral work the second act opening numbers the Entr’acte and Agnus Dei are the most breathtakingly beautiful. This is the sound I want to hear when I eventually pop my reviewer’s clogs and ascend to heaven’s upper circle eager for my eternal fill of St Paul’s minty choc ices.

A musical isn’t a musical without great musical direction (Morven Harrison- musical director) coupled with a very polished band or larger orchestra. The orchestra for Hunchback is supremely good in conveying all the dramas, bent religiosity and romanticism of Victor Hugo’s tale of Quasimodo (Zak Charlesworth), Esmeralda (Sarah Thompson), Dom Claude Frollo (Simon Theobold), Captain Phoebus De Martin (Richard Groves) and Clopin Trouillefou (Chris Grantham).

The ‘Hunchback’ music is by Alan Menken, lyrics courtesy of Stephen Schwartz and book by Peter Parnell. This production is directed and choreographed by the award-winning Andrew Miller. The all-important casting of the principals, Zak Charlesworth, Simon Theobold, Sara Thompson, Richard Groves and Chris Grantham is exactly right with each performer delivering their part vocally and theatrically to perfection throughout the, sometimes cruel, twists and turns of the story mostly set in the Parisian Cathedral of Notre Dame in the late 1400s. The grand and very solid, seemingly labyrinthian, set by Scenic Projects of Lowestoft, is  a jaw-dropping wonder to behold and both the Nottingham Operatic lighting (Tom Mowat) and sound (Mike Donaghue) are excellent. The costumes and puppetry are top quality visions of invention. I love the Kings and Queens in their stony grey refinement and the overall use of all the levels and nooks and crannies of the set.

Sometimes one has to pinch oneself (not too harshly as to disturb the live production) to remind oneself that this company is ostensibly an amateur company and no ‘Festival of Fools’. Huge amounts of hard work and dedication and dratted Covid delays have gone into bringing an artistically challenging musical like The Hunchback of Notre Dame to this Nottingham Theatre Royal stage and it is an honour and a privilege to experience the talents of all these amateur players. Like Christmas the Nottingham Operatic Society shows only appear once a year, but unlike a commercial Christmas their shows are a golden gift to theatre that keeps on giving and giving and giving in our live experience and our theatre memories.

Having read this review you may be now asking yourself if the actors who play the main roles; Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Dom Frollo, Phoebus de Martin and Clopin, are good. No – in fact, they are not good – non, en réalitié, ils sonts brillants – in fact, they are brilliant. Indeed, as the hunchback Quasimodo sings and Americans like to say, they are most assuredly, ‘Out There’.

Now get yourselves to the Theatre Royal box office and book your seats. You’ll ‘regret nothing’ as another French musical icon once sang.

If you need even more proof, mesdames et messieurs, consider that for the first showing on the Weds matinée and the evening performance both shows were rapturously received and given loud standing ovations.

PS: I would like to add that this The Hunchback of Notre Dame staged version with songs from the Disney Film is not suitable for little children. A personal suggestion would be age 10 plus.

Production photos credit: Gavin Mawditt.

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