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CMT “THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME”
Gives its Audience a Professional Performance
By Iride Aparicio


Photos by: Curtis Finger
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   THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME cast with Quasimodo at the center


SAN JOSÉ, CA— Because of its name, CHILDREN’S MUSICAL THEATRE (CMT San Jose) may give those people unfamiliar with it, the idea that it is a children theatre, presenting  children plays acted by children, to an audience of children. Nothing is further from the truth. 

On its 21st season under  the Artistic Direction of KEVIN R. HAUGE, who among his many previous recognitions, in 2016  received an Honorable Mention as one of the nation’s outstanding theater educators by the Theater Education Awards Team for the Tony Awards.®, and The Legacy Laureate Award for his vision on commitment to the arts in silicon Valley, lifetime artistic achievement and community impact, CMT San Jose, is now the nation’s premier theater company for youth, has been  honored ten times by the NEA, and is the  oldest operating performing arts organization in S.J. 
 
In its 50 years Operating as a Musical Theatre training center for children,   CMT has presented well known and not too well-known musicals, and Award-winning Broadway’s shows, with all the roles played by male and female students ranging in ages from 6 to 20 years old, from all ethnicities and belonging to different races.  CMT’s policy is and always has been to accept every one who auditions for a class.

And as a person who has watched these “children” acting in different CMT musical shows during the years, I  have not yet seen a single CMT’s production that could be described as “Amateurish” in any way.

But this year, the best acting I have ever seen  on the stage of the Montgomery Theatre, happened during the July 30th  matinee performance of CMT SAN JOSE’s “ THE HUNCHBACK of NOTRE DAME” the musical, in which each one of the actors who played the Principal roles of Dom Claude Frollo, Quasimodo, Phoebus de Martin and Esmeralda, (that because of CMT policy we are not allowed to identify by name) were superb.

“THE HUNCHBACK of NOTRE DAME, the musical, is based on the characters of the novel of the same name, written by French writer VICTOR HUGO in l831, about the church of Notre Dame in Paris, where according to him, CARLEMAGNE laid the first stone and PHILIP AUGUSTUS the last.

While the musical is based on HUGO’s story, with music by ALAN MENKEN Lyrics by STEPHEN  SCHWARTZ  and Book by PETER PARNELL, in his book  PARNELL makes some changes to the original. One worth mentioning is that in musical, Monsignor Claude Frollo, (the Archdeacon of Notre Dame Church in Paris) is the uncle, of Quasimodo. In HUGO’s book he was never related to him. Quasimodo was a four-year old  foundling who in January 6, l482, "Quasimodo's Sunday," was abandoned on a bench of Notre Dame. In the book, out of pity, noticing that the child looked like a “monster,” Frollo who was de Archdeacon, decided to adopted him as his son and for years tried to educate him until the ringing of the bells left him almost deaf and the boy stopped talking.

The Acting of the story.

On its physical side, impersonating a hunchback is very demanding for any actor. He not only had to hunch his back on the stage as he walks, but must learn to move in that way. Perhaps even harder to portrait, is the psyche of a hunchback, which in this case, is described as a physical “monster.”because he “looks” like one.

Quasimodo’s experience with the people he had previously met, has been bad. While the men tolerated him, the women and children always screamed when they looked at his face. Because of it, he had learned to avoid people and. in time, he became introverted. He is lacking of self-esteem, lacks friends and being human, he is lonely. The only person he may love is this world is the Monsignor, who being a cleric or High Rank, and with his own inner problems is not exactly loving. And perhaps to give his character dimension, the musical has him “imagining ” that the stone-carved statues in the  church are his friends and talks with him and he talks with them..

Because in the musical Quasimodo's dialogue is minimal, the actor playing Quasimodo needs to depend in his facial expressions and pantomime to play his part. While walking around with a crooked mouth most of the time, when he is happy,he needs to smile and clap his hands like a little child.

Every one of these details was mastered by the young actor playing Quasimodo’s role on Sunday’s matinee. The young actor moved around the stage with a twisted face and a vague expression in his eyes, yet changed completely when he laughed, allowing  his eyes to sparkle, thus making the audience “feel” the short bursts of  happiness he experienced in a life where his universe was confined by the grey stone walls of a cavernous cathedral,  with tunnels, and a mysterious small room with a window to the plaza, and steps snaking through a narrow cold space leading to the belfry.  And it was there, were Quasimodo has his bells, The bells he loved to ring, but which loudness had left him almost deft, but still provided him with the only sound that he could still hear. 

And down below  the tall belfry was also the sight he loved. The sight of the Eternal City of Paris, with its river, and its people, and at night, the sight of gyspies dancing in the Plaza and the one he liked: Esmeralda, described in the book as agile, joyous, and sensuous, dancing her Provencal “Sarabande.

The young girl who played the role of Esmeralda that afternoon, was also very talented. She represented her feminine/fierce character well. She also was effective dancing as an Egyptian Gypsy.  In the story, she plays the role of  a bewitching woman wanted by three different men.  Phoebus de Martin, who is in love with her, Claude Frollo, who lust for her, and Quasimodo who worships here because she had been the only human being that showed him compassion and treated him with kindness. It is a complex role to play and she played well. Phoebus de Martin, was also convincing in his part.

And another difficult role, that also was mastered that afternoon, was the one of Dom Claude Frollo who as Bishop of Notre Dame must show no emotion in spite that his body is being ripped apart by the human emotions stirring in his heart by Esmeralda.

The Bishop is an educated man who has spent his life learning religion dogma. He is a master in Theology, has studied the science of herbs, he is a physician, a surgeon, speaks Latin, Greek and Hebrew and by the time he was eighteen had made his way through the four faculties.

Sadly,  since both his parents died in the heat Plague when he was eighteen, he inherited his young brother Jehan, and had been like a father for him since that age. It is no wonder that a man who had experienced nothing in life but learning, at his old age had decided to experiment in the occult, and is frustrated because his human instincts are beginning to dominate his brilliant mind. We may say that it is because that he is so frustrated, with himself, hat he did what he did to Esmeralda.

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The Cast dancing in The Night of Fools

As represented that afternoon, the musical was convincing in all his roles. Every one of the young actors understood his/her character well and stayed in character. The Choirs, sung in mixed voices, sounded exquisite. The costumes, sound and lighting and special effects were great. In my years watching CMT, I had never before seen such a seamless performance represented by the 14 to 20 year old students of  Children Musical theatre, San Jose. Their HUNCHBACK of NOTRE DAME, the musical, was Professional.