The Selma Arts Center has recreated many settings in the world for its plays and musicals. But one of the most challenging has to be Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. That’s the main location for the company’s new offering of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which opens Friday, Nov. 17, in an ambitious production.
There’s a lot to unpack about this Disney musical featuring songs by Alan Menken, which is loosely based on the 1996 film. The title has recently been made available to community theaters. Children’s Musical Theaterworks offered the premiere youth production in July; now Selma tackles the title with an all-ages cast. I checked in with directors Dominic Grijalva and Juan Luis Guzmán, who collaborated on their answers, to come up with 10 Things You Should Know About “Hunchback.”
The set is a biggie.
Designed by Erik and Nicolette Andersen and built by Erik Andersen and Ken Grey, the set posed many challenges.
Aside from having to reconstruct one of the most well known cathedrals in history, the designers had to figure out a way to make it accessible for actors and stagehands, flexible enough to work for numerous scenes, and functional for the special effects the show demands.
Says Erik Andersen: “The construction aspect was at times treacherous and time consuming, but the challenge to do justice to an architectural wonder was the real test. We wanted to create the feeling of size and grandeur while leaving room for a large cast. I’m happy that we were able to accomplish that on such an elaborate scale.”
Grijalva and Guzmán are co-directing the show.
Did they strictly divide up the duties?
“We have been working together on projects at the Selma Arts Center for quite some time, so coming together to work on ‘Hunchback’ was a natural decision for us,” they say. “It’s been a strong partnership for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we love the material and have great respect for each other. We know our individual strengths and we know when we need to use them for the benefit of the cast and production, and for our own sanity, too! We never really drew the line in the sand, per se, in terms of dividing up duties, and went into the production with an understanding that has really worked for us and for our cast.”
University High School’s orchestra recorded the music.
This show has a lot of “firsts” for the Selma Arts Center, including the first time a local ensemble has recorded music for the company. The co-directors faced some obstacles in terms of musical accompaniment:
“First, because our space is somewhat limited, we knew we would not be able to accommodate a live orchestra. Also, since the production is somewhat new to community theater stages, we had difficulty finding any recorded tracks for purchase. We knew University High School had recently performed the score for CMT’s production and so we approached Randall Cornelison, composer, musician, and educator at UHS, who was excited to join our team. Together with his orchestra, he produced some gorgeous music and it ended up being the best decision for this production. We think audiences will really enjoy it.”
Get to know Quasimodo.
Thomas Hayes, who is studying music education and is a student teacher at Clovis High School, plays the iconic title role. Quasimodo is an orphan who keeps apart from the world because of his deafness and physical appearance. His job is to ring the cathedral’s famed bells, and he “befriends” the statuary at the top of the soaring structure, who come to life to interact with him.
This is the first time Grijalva and Guzmán have worked with Hayes at the Selma Arts Center and it has been “an extraordinary partnership,” they say. “Aside from being an award-winning vocalist, Thomas is an incredible actor. One of the things that captivated us about Thomas’ portrayal is the sincerity he is able to display in this role. His approach to Quasimodo is honest and heartfelt, and audiences will feel the tenderness and anguish in this splendid arc Thomas has created for his character.”
Hayes was a first-place finisher earlier this year in the Central California Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing auditions in musical theatre.
The musical is darker and more “adult” than the Disney film.
One of the starkest differences between the animated Disney film and the stage production is in the character of Frollo. In the stage version, Frollo is Archdeacon of Notre Dame, and not a judge the way he is in the film.
“We find that Frollo is much more layered in the stage production and that makes him a way more complicated character, something that our actor, Terry Lewis, has been able to translate onto the stage quite beautifully,” the co-directors say. “Ultimately, the stage version transforms Frollo from cartoon villain to a real-life antagonist, which is ironically much more frightening.”
The goat got cut. But he’s there in spirit.
In the film version, Esmeralda is best friends with a goat named Djali. He is often the favorite character for younger audiences who watch the movie, but the goat was removed from the stage version.
“This didn’t stop our actress, Sabrina Lopez, from carrying around a miniature stuffed goat to our rehearsals from Day One,” Grijalva and Guzman say. “In fact, if you look for him, you might see a plush toy goat hanging around in the background of some of the photos our cast members have posted to social media. I hear he’s planning on wearing a bowtie to the dinner show. Maybe he’ll pose for pictures and sign autographs on our red carpet. Stay tuned.”
Expect impressive projections.
When Grijalva is involved, you can expect digital magic. The Selma Arts Center has been among the forefront of local theater companies in terms of sophisticated projections, and “Hunchback” should be no different.
The production team has some big new names.
Christina McCollam-Martinez of Fresno City College, who recently designed the lights and sets for “American Idiot” and “Silent Sky,” is lighting designer for “Hunchback.” James McDonnell, the resident costumer at College of the Sequoias (“In the Heights,” “White Christmas”), is doing the costumes. These first-timers are joined by regular collaborators such as vocal director Mindy Ramos, choreographer Michael Flores and set builder Erik Andersen.
The cast is strong.
Along with cast members already mentioned, theater fans in the area will recognize many of these names: William Bishop (Phoebus), Aaron Pierce (Clopin), and Camille Gaston, Marisa Sanchez, Maria Monreal, Lex Martin, Jeremy Hitch, Christopher Hoffman, Dakota Simpson, Benjamin Deghand, Adam Chavez, Joshua Plowman, and Mary Boutin. They are supported by a 17-voice choir.
Finally, don’t forget the special dinner. It’s a first-time thing.
The “Feast of Fools” will take place on Saturday, Nov. 18. Guests will be served a plated dinner at round tables inside the theatre. A full-course dinner entrée of chicken and steak kebabs, served with all the fixings, is on the menu, along with a bevy of appetizers and drinks, with dessert being served at intermission.
“In the past we have hosted fundraising dinners for some of our productions, but they were always off-site,” Grijalva and Guzman say. “We finally decided to host a dinner inside the theater after several requests from our patrons.”
Tickets for the dinner ($75 individual, $140 couples, $500 for tables of eight) are limited and are available for purchase at selmartscenter.com or by calling 559-891-2238.
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17, Selma Arts Center, 1935 High St., Selma. Runs through Dec. 2. Tickets are $19 general, $17 seniors and students, $15 children.
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