Dennis DeYoung – yes, the singer/songwriter/keyboardist for Styx – brought his musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Milwaukee with the help of Michael Unger, the artistic director at Skylight Music Theatre.
The show runs through June 12. For tickets and more information, go to the Skylight’s website.
We checked it out, and here’s a few reasons why we think you should too:
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When I spoke to DeYoung prior to the premier of this musical, he told me “I think this is the greatest collection of songs I’ve ever written in my whole life.” And he’s not wrong. The songs in this show have sweeping notes, emotional lyrics and chilling harmonies (that is, the kind that gives you goosebumps). And they’re catchy, too. I was humming “With Every Heartbeat” my whole way home from the Third Ward. If you’re a fan of DeYoung or Styx – or even if you’re not – you will get more than your money’s worth from the music alone.
You can’t talk about this musical without bringing up the tremendous wealth of talent on the stage, most notably the three leads played by Alanis Sophia (Esmerelda), Ben Gulley (Quasimodo) and Kevin Anderson (Frollo). Gulley is a name you won’t soon forget after this one, his operatic voice and touching take on the character will move you to tears. Sophia, brings a sweetness to Esmerelda’s character that isn’t seen in other iterations of the story. Anderson portrays Frollo, not as a straight-forward villain, but as a man with a lot of complexities. You watch his hair get more and more wild as his character spirals down hill. The rare moments when these three sing together are the most touching in the whole production. And that’s just a few members of what what was a very robust and skilled collection of local performers.
They’re massive! And that’s just one of the ways the production team made the stage feeling like a genuine cathedral. The lighting effects used to make it look like the sun was shining in through a stained glass window was astounding. All of the set pieces – while minimal – were used effectively. There were stairs to make it feel like Quasimodo was climbing up to the bells of Notre Dame. When he was excited, he would ring them to make them sing. And yes, it did look like they were actually ringing.
What drives this story is the characters, and each one of them shows tremendous growth – or decline – throughout the show. You watch as the little things – like offering someone water in their time of need – can change someone’s life. How powerful physical touch, or even just looking someone in the eyes can be for a person. Even the minor characters shine and show progression throughout the plot. You’ll have strong feelings about them all, love or hate, and those feelings will likely flip flop all throughout the show. That’s what makes this production so engaging.
A Fresh Take on an Old Story
Perhaps you’ve read the book or seen the movies, so you’re worried this show is just more of the same. But DeYoung – who said himself he was not a fan of the original writing – takes this story in a new direction than past interpretations. If you’re only familiar with the Disney version, the ending here will surprise you (and I won’t spoil it).