The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Downtown Cabaret (Bridgeport)

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

What if I told you there is a musical based on a classic story with music by multiple award-winners Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Sister Act, Aladdin- you get the idea. He’s really big. ) and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell, to name a few)- and Disney Theatricals produced it but said they will not bring it to Broadway- but you have the chance to see it- at Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport?

You might ask, “What happened?” “Why didn’t it transfer to Broadway?” And those are fair questions which only Disney can answer. But I can guess. This show is closer to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ than to ‘Beauty and the Beast’- so it isn’t really a typical Disney musical. It’s darker. Nothing wrong with that- but it might not be in accordance with what Disney wants for their Broadway brand. Well, that’s my marketing side talking.

I won’t give spoilers as to what happens if you aren’t familiar with the story but when a hunchback falls in love with a woman who enchants every man she meets you know things aren’t stacked in the hunchback’s favor- even for a Disney musical.

But this production shines in many ways: Ben McCormack, as Quasimodo, is a true sensation and gives a heroic performance while also singing spectacularly well in one of the best performances I’ve seen all season. Director Christy McIntosh-Newsom works wonders with a large cast and not a particularly large stage and Clay Zambo does a great job handling the musical direction as the score really soars.

 (l to r) Alexis Willoughby, Perry Liu, Ben McCormack; Top & Bottom Images: DTCab.com

All the principal characters and most of the ensemble can act capably and sing well: Perry Liu as Claude Frollo, Alexis Willoughby as Esmeralda and Nicholas Kuell as Phoebus. The choir is terrific, too, but I have to mention that the night I saw it on opening weekend, the production was plagued by audio problems: namely sudden volume changes and some of the mics on the supporting actors didn’t always work. I expect these will get ironed out before the run ends on October 15th.

I would give Downtown Cabaret Theatre’s production of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ 4 stars out of 5 but, due to the audio problems and several missed lighting cues, I have to go by what I saw so I give it 3-and-a-half stars instead. However, if these kinks can be worked out, this is a show to see, in particular for Ben McCormack’s exceptional performance and the marvelous music. Again, the run at Downtown Cabaret ends October 15th.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews.

This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”

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