Idaho Shakespeare Festival opened its musical production “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on Saturday to a packed house. It’s a fantastic show, from the top of the 20-foot-tall bell tower of Jeff Herrmann’s epic set to the subtle reverberating echo that sound designer David Gotwald adds to the voices when the performers are “inside” the cathedral. The entire cast is outstanding.
ISF newcomers Jaclyn Miller created choreography that is spot on and never overdone, and Martha Bromelmeier’s costumes hit the mark, with nods to the 15th-century styles of the setting, yet colorful and accessible. The orchestrations by the company’s superb music director, Joel Mercier, are brisk and the ISF orchestra never misses.
And here are the top five reasons not to miss this show.
No 1: Corey Mach: A New York actor with two Broadway credits, Mach plays Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer at the center of the story. He is definitely someone to watch. Mach inhabits his character with great physicality, giving the illusion of Quasimodo’s deformity by contorting his own body — and with a little help from Bromelmeier’s jacket with hump. He also fluctuates his voice to take you from Quasimodo’s external world where he is nearly deaf and at the mercy of his situation, to his hopeful internal world where he can imagine a better life. His timing is superlative in his scenes with Tom Ford, who is fantastic as Frollo, and with the dynamic Keri Rene Fuller’s Gypsy dancer Esmeralda. And his clear and powerful tenor sends chills though the audience whenever he sings, but especially in his first big number, “Out There.” But it’s his ability to tap into a real sense of humanity that makes his performance deeply touching.
No. 2. The voices: The vocal power on this show is off the charts. The company is a stellar and extremely powerful collection of triple threats who handle Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s difficult score expertly. The production also features a 16-member community choir that adds a layer of richness and cinematic depth. When the entire company sings together, it really is a wall of sound, highlighted by Jillian Kates’ and MacKenzie Wright’s crazy high sopranos.
No. 3. Saint Aphrodisius: In the second act Saint Aphrodisius, the French saint of sanctuary, makes an appearance. Played by company member Dan Hoy, who plays several characters in the show, it’s a moment of pure theatrical magic and fun.
No. 4. Victor Hugo was a poet, writer and social justice activist who wrote the original novel that has been turned into films — animated and otherwise — and this musical by Disney composer Alan Menken and “Wicked” lyricist Stephen Schwartz. The story is eerily relevant today, with themes of ostracizing and degrading people because of their race or physical disabilities, and fomenting hate and anger for personal or political gain by the powers that be. It was published in 1831, and like Hugo’s other famous work, “Les Miserables,” it beautifully captures the humanity of those who are condemned to marginality by society. The talk of locking the Paris city gates to keep the Gypsies out echoes today’s rhetoric about travel bans and border walls. Little has changed in 186 years.
No. 5. The ending: Director Victoria Bussert has a way of leaving a lasting impression with her productions. Here she changes the musical’s original ending and turns to the novel’s more poignant finale in a way that brings the moment back to our contemporary world. It’s sweet, sad and beautiful. Bring a tissue.
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, July 3 (Family Night, sold out); 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, Wednesday, July 5, Saturday, July 8; 7 p.m. Sunday, July 9; and dates through Friday, Sept. 1.
Where: ISF Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise.
Note: Tickets for some shows have limited availability in some ticket prices. The Greenshow mini-concert is at 7:20 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays.
Cost: $29-$50 adults, $13 children 6-17 on Family Night only. Students with valid ID are $20 any show.
More information: 336-9221, IdahoShakespeare.org.