Sunday, November 30, 2014


This is quite naughty, but awesome at the same time! Here is a bootleg recording of Der Glöckner von Notre Dame with subtitles! Apparently an earlier version was taken down from YouTube, so who knows how long this is going to last. But for now, you can watch the whole show. ^_^


As the title implies, you are now in spoiler territory. If you plan to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame and you don't want the plot spoiled for you,

All good? Okay.

I'll just be randomly discussing elements of the plot and what I think of them. As I've mentioned in my earlier post, the show is not finished being tinkered with. There will still be changes before it hits New Jersey, and I daresay there will be even more changes after that.

Right from the beginning of the show, there is a major difference from previous versions. The "Bells of Notre Dame" song now details the life of Claude Frollo, and how he came to be Quasimodo's custodian. It begins with Claude and his brother Jehan. Now, Jehan was a character in the original novel, but his role was quite different. In this version, the two close brothers grow up together in Notre Dame with the intention of joining the clergy one day. Claude is studious and well-behaved, but Jehan has a bit of a wild side.

One night he brings a Gypsy girl back to their room. Claude is horrified! Not only a girl, but a Gypsy! His pristine conscience cannot abide this. When a priest hears noises and comes to investigate, Claude reveals the girl. This results in Jehan being expelled, and Claude does not see him for years.

The devout and pious Claude rises up the Catholic ranks until he becomes the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. One night he receives a letter from his brother. When he finds him, Jehan is on his deathbed. His Gypsy wife has died of the pox, and he will not be far behind. He only has one request: that Claude take his son and care for him. The baby is, of course, little misshapen Quasimodo. Claude tells Jehan that this baby is punishment for his sins.

Jehan dies and Claude whisks the baby away. Just as he is about to throw it into the river, he has a change of heart and decides to keep it locked away in the bell tower.

As you can see, immediately the character motivations in the story are entirely different. Quasimodo is actually Frollo's nephew. Frollo himself is not inherently evil like he was in the film. He is pious to a fault, but as he tells Quasimodo much later in the show, he genuinely loved his brother, and saw Quasimodo as his burden to bear for having Jehan expelled from Notre Dame.

When Phoebus comes to Paris, he is put in charge of cathedral security. This is an easy way to give him a similar relationship to Frollo, since he is no longer a judge. When Frollo approaches the French king for permission to arrest Esmeralda, he assigns his security staff (including Phoebus) to lead the hunt. Phoebus is reluctant about this, but Frollo tells him that it's the king's orders.

When Frollo sees Esmeralda dancing at the Festival of Fools, he is disgusted by her shamelessness but still finds himself somewhat intrigued. The two characters don't have the instant animosity they had in the previous versions. There is no shouting match across the town square. When Esmeralda enters Notre Dame, she doesn't do it to hide, she is merely trying to find Quasimodo to apologise to him. When Frollo sees her inside the church he is actually fairly polite. He calls her "my child" and tries to help her. Although he has no love for Gypsies, he sees something worth saving in her.

"Why can't you treat other people the way you would want to be treated yourself?" Esmeralda asks him. He is suddenly struck with a moment of clarity as he remembers Jesus saying almost the exact same thing. He offers to instruct her in the Gospels.

Later on, when she is up in the bell tower after Top of the World, Frollo finds her again and makes her an offer. She can stay in Notre Dame with him. You can almost see the excitement in Frollo's eyes. It is the first time he has had this kind of feeling for a woman before. And he is so self-righteous he sees her doing anything he says. So when she says, "I don't think that would be a good idea. I've seen the way you look at me," Frollo explodes with rage. "HOW DARE YOU!" he screams, and has Phoebus escort her out of the cathedral immediately.

Some nights later Phoebus and his friend Frederic visit a tavern and find Esmeralda dancing and singing with the other townsfolk. The soldier and the Gypsy share a passionate kiss, but she tells him she can't stay. Meanwhile Frollo, who has disguised himself and is wandering the streets to find Esmeralda, sees the whole thing.

Instead of a mill, it is a brothel that Frollo threatens to burn down.

The scene in the jail cell where Frollo comes to see Esmeralda after she has been captured is similar to the way it was in Berlin, but Frollo is much more vicious, grabbing at Esmeralda while she screams for help, calling him a demon. It's quite a disturbing scene, but in the end he uses Phoebus's life as leverage, just as he did in the Berlin version.

The way that the lead actor becomes Quasimodo is quite fantastic. As the opening song is reaching its conclusion, he enters from the back of the stage and sings, "What makes a monster and what makes a man?" The bundle that had been the baby is handed to him and he straps it on to his back. A shirt is laid over the top of his head, and he smears black lines across his face. Suddenly the actor has become the hunchback.

At the end of the show, after Esmeralda has died and Quasimodo steps out into the open, the ensemble approach him, draw black lines on their faces and contort their bodies into twisted forms as he faces the back and watches. All of a sudden he turns to face the audience and the marks on his face are magically gone! I got a big shock the first time I saw the show. On the second viewing I was watching for the trick. There's nothing complicated about it, but it's still a wonderful surprising effect.

I hope this hasn't spoiled the show for anyone, but I know there are some people out there who would love to know how the story now works.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Since this is essentially "Version 3" of Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame, there have once again been some pretty major changes to the soundtrack. I'll post the changes here, but be warned, there may be spoilers ahead!

Musically, much the same as it always has been, but the story within the song is now completely different. Instead of a Gypsy family being hunted down and a mother killed on the steps of the church, the show's opening now tells the story of Claude Frollo and his carefree brother Jehan. Frollo rises up the ranks of Notre Dame until he is Archdeacon, and he is eventually left to look after the misshapen baby whom he names Quasimodo.

The extended introduction to "Out There" that was written for Berlin is no longer in the show, although the "Sanctuary" melody and theme appears throughout the story.

One of the only songs that has gone mostly unchanged throughout all versions.

Esmeralda is no longer a newcomer to Paris, and so this introduction to the Gypsy lifestyle is no longer in the show.

The ongoing "Hurry Hurry" melody from the Berlin version is gone, and we now jump straight into the song like in the movie. Interestingly though, there are two other songs WITHIN "Topsy Turvy..."

Instead of taking up a separate scene, Phoebus and his friend Frederic come to Paris during the Festival of Fools and he sings his song after "Topsy Turvy" has already started.

A brand new song which introduces the character of Esmeralda. (This is the first time she's seen in the show) She sings the song as she does her exotic dance at the festival. It's not a particularly memorable tune, but I like the way the song works.

It's much the same as the movie version. While Quasimodo is definitely on the stage watching Esmeralda sing, he no longer harmonizes with her, which is a bit of a shame.

The main melody is mostly the same, although there have been some lyric changes. The counter-melody though, which was written to be sung by the three gargoyles, is now quite different, since those characters no longer exist.

This is actually a brand new scene, obviously set in a tavern. The Gypsies party hard through the night, and when Phoebus and Frederic come inside, the captain is quite happy to see Esmeralda there. Meanwhile, Frollo is secretly watching from a distance. This is a great rollicking pub song with a catchy and exotic sounding melody. This is my favourite of the new songs.

Mostly the same as before. Sadly, the incredibly lifting key-change in Berlin's version of "Hellfire" has been removed. Whether that is because of Patrick Page's vocal range, I'm not sure. I was disappointed though. It must be said, Page absolutely OWNS the song.

Mostly hits the same points as it did in Berlin, although some of the sections have been re-ordered or left out. In the second half of the song, it changes from "Hunt down the Gypsy Esmeralda" to "Hunt down the Gypsy and the soldier." I dunno, for some reason it doesn't seem as powerful as it used to. It also doesn't end on a major chord like before, strangely. Instead, its ending is pretty much identical to "Bells of Notre Dame."

A chance for the choir to take centre-stage. Beautiful harmonies!

Since this was an ensemble number that didn't feature any of the main cast, it was removed. I did like the way it set up Act II, and I would like to see it come back in future productions.

No surprises here. It always was pretty ill-fitting, but since the three gargoyle characters are no longer part of the story, their song has been deleted with them.
This is a weird one. It essentially takes the place of "A Guy Like You," but instead of Quasimodo being encouraged by his gargoyle friends, he is encouraged by the ghost of Saint Aphrodisius, who has unfortunately lost his head. There are some clever laugh-out-loud gags in this song, but I really wonder how relevant it is to the story. I think "City Under Siege," while much more serious, would be a better Act II opener. The song itself isn't too bad. The chord structure and harmonies remind me quite a bit of Menken's work in another show, King David.

Shame! "Out of Love" was one of my favourites of the songs introduced in Der Glöckner. With the change in character motivation (Phoebus and Quasimodo are essentially arguing over which one of them will save Esmeralda first) there's no longer any reason for Phoebus to convince Quasimodo to leave the bell tower. Instead, he sings a reprise of "Rest and Recreation." I like the way the new scene works, but I do miss the song. A part of it still lives on a little bit. The "In my life I've seen some things - cruelty and heartlessness" verse that Esmeralda sings earlier in the show is still there.

Now this is interesting! The song that they removed for Berlin, has made it back in! While most of the lyrics are the same (or similar) to the movie version, the melody is actually quite different, almost re-written from scratch, so although it's an old song, it does feel new. No more big Gypsy dance here.

My least-favourite of the new songs. It literally takes the place of the "Out of Love" reprise, and follows the exact same beats: Esmeralda and Phoebus declare their love while Quasimodo watches on and sadly sings a reprise of "Heaven's Light." Something about this song just strikes me as ill-fitting. Perhaps its the almost-pop-like rhythm of the chorus, perhaps it's the fact that to fit the song, "Heaven's Light" has to be sung quite fast. I don't know. I hope it gets replaced (or "Out of Love" gets reinstated) in future versions.

Mostly the same as it was in Berlin. Esmeralda and Phoebus sing it while they wait in the jail cell.

Apart from some lyric changes (since the three specific gargoyles no longer exist) it's mostly arrived intact. The impressive soft-to-loud High-C ending note is now a full belt.

Again, mostly the same as Berlin, with bits and pieces changed here and there. The song elements are more or less the same.


Hello fellow Hunchbackers! Irvyne here. I'm thrilled to say that I managed to fly halfway across the planet to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the La Jolla Playhouse last week! Was it worth it? Absolutely! I'm going to do a spoiler-free write-up of my thoughts. If you have plans to see the production yourself, this is for you. For those of you who live too far away, I'll add some more spoiler-ific info later.

But first a quick summary of the trip. I only had one week in the U.S.A., so I made sure I filled it up as best I could! First was was Los Angeles. I did the usual Hollywood stuff, a bit of sightseeing here and there, and I also managed to see the new Disney film Big Hero 6, which was exciting because it doesn't come out in Australia until the end of the year! (Disney put on a really awesome show at the El Capitan theatre, laser-lights and everything!)
After that I caught the train down to Anaheim and spent a couple of days at Disneyland. It was great to finally get a chance to visit California Adventure. Although this was my third visit to Disneyland, I hadn't seen the second park before. (I also got to give Mickey Mouse a hug for his birthday!)

One really awesome thing they've got at California Adventure is the chance to have a specially-made picture drawn by a real Disney artist! I was stoked at the thought of taking home a memento of the trip. So of course, I got the artist to draw me Quasimodo! I'm going to have this framed in the next couple of weeks. So awesome.

With Disneyland all done, I took the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train south to San Diego. It was there, in the suburb of La Jolla, that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was being performed. I showed my foreign ignorance by pronouncing La Jolla exactly as it's spelled. Turns out it's actually pronounced "La Hoya." Weird Spanish thing. I suppose I was practically on the border of Mexico...

I saw the show twice (when you're travelling halfway around the world to see a show, you might as well see it twice, right?) and I'm really glad I did. Twice a week, the theatre's managing director organises an informal chat in the courtyard out the front. On the first night I visited, he was talking to two of the show's swings, Mary Joe Duggan and Christian Villanueva. (The show has a THIRD swing, Julian Decker, but he was otherwise occupied at the time... more on him later)

M.J. and Christian happily chatted about what the life of a swing is like and what their experience of being in the show was. It seems strange to me that there is only one female swing... I have no idea what they would do if more than one female cast member got horribly sick! M.J. covers EIGHT different tracks in the show, meaning she has to know eight different peoples' dialogue, harmonies, choreography and blocking. Christian covers four of the male parts. (For those not in-the-know, a "swing" is what you call an understudy's understudy. When a cast member fills in for an absent lead role, the swing fills in the understudy's part. So they have to know them all!)

So then, after buying up some merchandise, it was into the auditorium! The set is simple but wonderfully effective. As you can see in the photos and video from previous posts, the designers took elements of Notre Dame cathedral without ever trying to directly copy it. Hence, we have tall wooden platforms and staircases, the big rose window at the back, and the checkered marble floor. (An interesting side-note - I learned that the patterns within the marble floor are actually an exact replica of the tiles in Notre Dame!)

The production is staged in a very low-tech way, which may seem strange for a production by Disney, a company that has always led the way in technology and the "wow" factor. There is no automation in this show, meaning that none of the sets move on-and-off with hydraulics or computer-run technology. The set pieces that come in from the fly-tower are operated by hand, and the various set pieces are brought on and off stage by the cast themselves.

 (Please note this is not my picture. I nicked it from another blog. It's pretty close to where I was sitting though!)
It's kind of hard to explain without actually SEEING it, but the way the show is presented is an old traditional style of theatre, and it demands the audience's imagination and a sharp suspension of disbelief. This can sometimes work wonderfully in theatrical productions, and the audience can feel like a real participant in the story. If done wrong though, it can come across as cheap and pretentious. Thankfully, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is firmly in the former camp. I absolutely LOVE the way it's been staged, and I would go so far as to say it fits the musical better than the incredible automated cube stage from Berlin, which I saw 13 years ago. The new production has cast members narrating directly to the audience. They use simple props to represent much more elaborate set pieces. There are simple sound and colour cues to represent different characters. Nothing is really "whiz-bang" or "wow," the entire show takes place on the single set, but I was still absolutely captivated by the story and I never, NEVER felt short-changed or ripped-off. It may not have the gasp-factor of other Disney productions (including its Berlin forebear) but it's a style of show that comes across as original, clever and entirely fitting to the source material.

Director Scott Schwartz made a very conscious effort to put the focus firmly on the four lead characters. Anything else gets relegated to the background. This becomes especially true in the show's conclusion. Whereas in the film we saw a massive battle with crowds fighting the authorities to protect the cathedral, in this version we see very little of that, and the focus is kept on the leads and whatever THEY are doing at the time.

I'll mention the gargoyles, because I don't really see that as much of a spoiler. Victor, Hugo and Laverne (or - if you like - Charles, Antoine and Loni) are no more. Those characters are gone, and I'm sure there are many people who won't miss them. I actually quite liked their presence in the Berlin production, but I much prefer what's been done in this new version. Quasimodo still talks to the gargoyles. They are still his friends, and he still imagines that they talk back to him. But the gargoyles' voices are played by all of the ensemble members. Whenever they wear a simple grey tabard, they represent the voice of a gargoyle. A lovely little touch is that whenever a gargoyle is speaking to Quasimodo, they ring a little bell. It's an old theatre technique, and it's wonderful. Quasimodo still has his relationship with his gargoyle friends, but they don't have specific personalities, it's just like he's hearing voices coming from all over the bell tower. The only part of this I might want to change is the tabards themselves, which are very plain. I'm not sure what else they could do instead, perhaps wear a mask whenever they're being gargoyles? The tabards look a bit dull and cheap. The concept is fantastic though.

The tone of the show has continued the pattern towards a dark, adult story. In moving more and more towards the original Victor Hugo text, Frollo has been reinstated to his position as the archdeacon of Notre Dame. You might remember in the film and the Berlin production he had been made a judge, which was fine, but I can't tell you how much more powerful the story is with Frollo being the leader of the church. In fact, I'd say the revelation of this new version is the character of Frollo. Brilliantly played by Broadway veteran Patrick Page, Frollo is not just an evil and sinister brute, but we see his flaws, his uncertainties. At times he comes across as completely vulnerable. It is an outstanding performance by Page, and if this production heads to Broadway, I see awards in his future. His beautiful baritone stands alongside Tony Jay with its velveteen tones.

All of the other cast members were likewise fantastic. On the nights I saw the show, leading man Michael Arden was ill, and therefore I saw his understudy Julian Decker, who usually stands in as a male swing. Now, I can't compare the two, because I only saw Julian. But he was absolutely brilliant, and while I'm sure Mr. Arden plays the role wonderfully, Julian Decker WAS Quasimodo, and the audience adored him. One of the fun things about being at the theatre on your own is that you get to eavesdrop on peoples' conversations. I was constantly trying to gauge how people were enjoying it. And I heard many people talking about how amazing Quasimodo was, and that they couldn't believe this was just the understudy! Like in Berlin, Quasimodo talks with a twisted mouth and affected voice when he's speaking with Frollo, Esmeralda or any of the other characters. When he's singing or talking to his gargoyles though, his voice is completely unaffected. It was a nuanced, sympathetic and ultimately powerful performance by Mr. Decker. I was stoked to get my photo with him in the foyer after the second show I saw. I hope he gets to play the lead role many more times in the future.

Esmeralda was played by the young and beautiful Ciara Renée, who brought spunk and spice to the role, while also pulling at the audience's heartstrings when things go horribly wrong for Esmeralda. With Page, Decker and Renée leading the cast, I saw a Triple-A grade performance. The fourth member of the lead cast was Andrew Samonsky as Captain Phoebus. Samonsky also delivered a solid performance as the cocky and arrogant captain who faces an identity crisis when he falls in love with Esmeralda. It has to be said though, that Phoebus simply isn't as interesting a character as the other three, so he doesn't get the opportunity to stand out as much. He does get some good laughs, although Phoebus no longer has a beard, which makes the lines "I just shaved this morning" and "You missed a spot" not make much sense anymore...

 The character of Clopin is an interesting one. In the film and even moreso in the Berlin production he acted as narrator, becoming the audience's eyes into the story. This is no longer the case. Clopin is still in the story as much as he was before, but he no longer narrates... well, no more than anyone else, anyway. As I mentioned before, the narration job has now been spread across the entire cast. In some scenes various ensemble members tell the story as if they are reading it straight from the pages of a book. Since this device became a staple of the show, I suppose it was decided that Clopin simply didn't need to be a storyteller anymore. Hence, his part has been downsized somewhat, but it's still played with gusto by Erik Liberman.

The ensemble (who are called "the congregation") were uniformly excellent in their multiple characters. It's not a large cast (17 including the leads) but they are backed by an amazing 32-piece choir, who remain in their robes at the stage's rear throughout the entire duration of the show. The choir, an existing group called SACRA/PROFANA, brings a whole new level of sophistication and power to Alan Menken's stunning score. Now the main cast can concentrate on their characters, and all of the complex Latin chanting can be taken care of by the choir.

It must be said that the show has had a MAJOR rewrite by Peter Parnell. While there are still elements of the 1996 movie as well as James Lapine's 1999 script, the vast majority of the dialogue is entirely new. This is not like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King where you're basically watching the film on stage with some added songs. This is a whole new creation, based on the versions that came before it but forging its own daring path.

And daring it is. This is not (repeat: NOT) a show for children. Which probably explains why you won't find Disney's name on any of the marketing. I would not have it any other way though; this is a stage version of the classic novel. Nothing has been toned down or "Disneyfied." And I think audiences really appreciate that. There is a feeling of authenticity in its tone. A simple example is that the mill that Frollo asks Phoebus to burn down is now a brothel... A brothel where the madam recognises Phoebus straight away. There are many other little "adult" touches like that throughout the musical.

After my first viewing of the show, I had a half-hour tour which took me on-stage and behind-the-scenes. (You can book these in advance for $25, but they are limited to 16 people per performance) It was great to see how things worked, and exciting to get the opportunity to walk around on the stage.

After the second show, I hung around in the foyer and had some conversations with the cast. The La Jolla Playhouse doesn't have a "stage door;" the actors simply come down the staircase into the foyer, so they're easy to find. I mostly chatted to Patrick Page, Erik Liberman and Julian Decker, and they were very friendly and seemed genuinely interested in what I thought of the show, being someone that is clearly passionate enough to travel around the world just to see it!

So all up, I think Scott Schwartz and Peter Parnell have done an amazing job in bringing this production to life. It's like nothing Disney has produced before. It feels fresh, it feels bold, and best of all, the characters and the story are completely gripping. The audience didn't even hesitate on both nights I was there; as soon as the curtain call began, they leaped to their feet. They had been genuinely moved; emotionally invested in the story.

Although I know from my conversations with the cast that there are still changes ahead (there will be rewrites before the New Jersey season) I feel that they are definitely on to a good thing here. I wish everybody involved all the very best. I hope this show has a long and successful future, and I hope they bring it to Australia really soon!


In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the first trailer for the La Jolla production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Ladies & gentlemen, I have now seen the La Jolla production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame! Twice!
I have some very extensive reactions that I plan to write up over the coming week. In the meantime, I saw this comic strip in the newspaper today and it gave me a chuckle.

Friday, November 7, 2014


The first photos of the La Jolla Playhouse production appeared on today!
At first I was thinking I should avoid looking at them, to keep maximum surprise when I see the show in a couple of weeks... But ah, who am I kidding? I had to see them! Here they are!
Wow! What an impressive-looking set! I'm assuming this would be at the end of "Bells of Notre Dame" where Quasimodo is first seen ringing the bells?

Esmeralda dances her sultry dance while Archdeacon Frollo watches on in horror and fascination. Since he is already holding a red scarf, I assume this is soon after Esmeralda has taunted him in her dance? Also note that you can see the conductor popping his head up at the bottom-right of the picture!

Frollo on the steps. Is this Hellfire? You can see the choir singing in the background and some random soldiers standing around. Why is Frollo holding up a sword. It's all a mystery!

Monday, November 3, 2014


On my old website I wrote up a detailed description of the trip that my friend Andrew and I took to Berlin to see Der Glöckner von Notre Dame. It's amazing, re-reading it now, to realise that it's been 13 years since I saw the show! Anyway, here is the unabridged account of my trip for your reading pleasure...

My friends, I am ecstatic to report to you that I have, after all this time, indeed seen "Der Glöckner Notre Dame" on stage in Berlin! Before I begin, I would like to pre-warn readers that this section is long, and full of (potentially useless) information. With that said, I hope you will enjoy my memoirs of my trip around the world, that lead me straight to Potsdamer Platz to finally experience the show that I have been writing about for the last year or two. 
  PART ONE - The Lead-Up
Ever since we were young teenagers, my best buddy Andrew and I had planned to go on an overseas holiday together someday. Then, in the year 2000 we finally realised that the dream was a very real possibility. Andrew had finished his university course at the end of 2000, and I was due to finish in 2001. We realised that if I deferred my course for a year and we both worked hard at our part-time jobs during the year, we could afford to travel the world at the end of 2001. It eventuated. All year we were kept busy saving, all the while talking about all of the amazing places we would go and things we would see. Even though we were away for three months, the world is an incredibly large place. We were restricted as to what places we would have time to visit. There was one place that I simply refused to bypass though - Berlin. I suppose you can guess why. 

Meanwhile, throughout the year, I had been in touch with many people via e-mail, people who had somehow come across my website and felt the urge to write to me. A couple of them were cast members of the show itself, which was very exciting! The one I communicated with most, Seth Lerner, had actually left the show after 2 years of performances in the ensemble, as well as playing Quasimodo 9 times. He said that "cast members have been looking for some kind of cool web site about us since we opened. Always lamenting that, here we are, the largest, most expensive... and hardest to sing... musical EVER, and we have no cool web pages. So it was very nice to see yours." Cue warm fuzzy feelings. Throughout the year, as the holiday plans solidified, I kept in contact with Seth, and he said that if he was still in Berlin when I came, we'd meet and he'd introduce me to some cast members. (He also gave me a heck of a lot of backstage information, which I found absolutely fascinating - some I will post to the website, some I won't!) 
Once our dates had been finalised and we knew when we would be in Germany's capital, I jumped on the internet and began e-mailing Stella back and forth, negotiating how I would go about purchasing tickets. Due to a rather unfortunate incident on Broadway 4 years ago (I turned up on the doorstep of "The Lion King" and just expected there to be spare seats) I decided I should definitely pre-book. I must say, the Stella staff were very friendly and understanding in all their e-mails. They did seem a little baffled though, that some guy from Australia was so interested in coming all the way across the world to see this show. Eventually I ordered the tickets, and they were sent through the mail to my house... I didn't know what the mailing system is like between Germany and Australia, but through some kind of incident, the tickets never arrived. So I immediately went into panic mode. The Stella people assured me that there was nothing to worry about. I had my order number, and I was told that all I needed to do was show the people at the box office that number, and they would give me new tickets there. Phew! 

The plans for the holiday continued. The date drew closer and closer, and the time seemed to fly. Finally, we were ready. Backpacks on our backs, we made our way to Melbourne airport and flew an enormous distance... to New Zealand.

PART TWO - The Holiday
 Now, I'm not going to bore you with every detail of the places we went, but there was over 2 months of travelling before we actually got to Berlin, so I will touch on where we were in the lead-up. As mentioned, first stop was New Zealand. Two weeks there, buzzing round the country in a rental car, seeing the absolutely beautiful scenery. I'm not surprised that "Lord of the Rings" was filmed there. 
After that we went to Los Angeles, where we stayed in a hotel in West Hollywood. We both found L.A. a little creepy, but Disneyland was brilliant, as always. They were playing a live show there which I think was called "Animazement." It was really good! It took songs and scenes from "Little Mermaid," "Beauty & The Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," "Pocahontas," "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Hercules" and combined them all together. My favourite part was when "Just Around The Riverbend," "Go The Distance" and "Out There" were all blended together, with the three characters singing simultaneously. 
In our L.A. leg, we took a Greyhound bus up to the Yosemite region and spent a week there. Absolutely beautiful country. It was so relaxing, and we stayed at such a cool place called the Yosemite Bug. Then we went back to L.A. and flew across the country to New York City. Anyone who has never been to N.Y.C. really should - it's a magical place, with such atmosphere. The Americans (and especially the New Yorkers) had become even more patriotic since the 11th of September, and everywhere we went, American flags were flying. While in New York, we saw the other two Disney shows that hadn't yet been to Australia, "The Lion King" and "Aida." The former was very clever, but unfortunately over the years I have read so much about it, there were very few surprises in store, and the majority of the script is a carbon-copy of the movie script. Don't get me wrong though, it was an amazing (and very original) spectacle, and I got goosebumps over and over again while watching it. Beautiful African music. The latter, Disney's newest stage musical, was very enjoyable, and very nicely staged. The story of "Aida" is a very powerful one, and the music, while entirely different from "Der Glöckner," is very catchy and singable. A little bit like "RENT," I thought. 
From New York, it was on to Merry Old England, the Mother Country. Both Andrew and I loved England. On one hand, it felt a bit like home. On the other hand, it was absolutely nothing like home. We went on a Stray bus tour around the U.K., which was so much fun - mainly full of Aussies, so we didn't feel too alien. 
After the U.K., we flew down to Holland (a very pretty, very foggy country) and then we caught the train to... wait for it... (drumroll) Berlin. 
PART THREE - The Theatre
As it turned out, Seth had left Germany by the time we got there, but he had left us a contact - Barbara Raunegger, another original cast member who had seen the site. I rang her number when we got to Berlin and she agreed to meet us at the stage door before the show. The day came. December the 6th. After a rather scary experience at the box office (a heap of people shouting at each other in German, a broken-down computer system and stressed staff who didn't speak much English) we finally got our voucher to get into the show, and at 6:30, wandered through the Stage Door to page Barbara. Imagine my face when she handed me a programme, signed by the entire cast! She took Andrew and I up to the cast and crew's cafeteria room and we sat and talked for a while. Not only was she really nice, but she and some other cast members (Karin Sang and Lachlan Youngberg among others) told us all kinds of incredible stories of the original workshops in New York, the awe of watching professionals like Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken at work, and what it's actually like to perform the same show day-in, day-out, month after month. Everyone in the production seems extremely close and friendly, which is great to see. It must make the working conditions so much nicer. 
After wishing the cast a great deal of leg-breaking, we were taken around the stage and backstage area by a member of the stage crew. My first impression was "Where's the set...?" When looking at the stage before a show, one can't help but notice how empty everything looks. There are no big set pieces in the wings, there are a few flies, but not a great deal, and there are no elaborate backdrops. Just a plain white backing, and a black, plain-looking stage. There are 6 wings though -- on either side of the stage, there are 3 levels where cast members can enter from. What this offered the show wasn't obvious until we actually saw it in action. I have written about the famous Cubes in the "Theatre" page, so I won't bother writing about them here. They looked pretty much as I expected them to. When at rest, it just looks as though the majority of the stage area is made of grates. We were also taken beneath the stage, which is huge! These cubes don't only move up, they also move down, and hence a lot of space is needed for them to lower. There's probably about as much space BENEATH the stage as ABOVE! The hydraulics system used to operate the cubes is mind-boggling! Looking at the technical aspect of it gave me a whole new reason as to why Disney is reluctant to tour this show. But I'll leave that for the "Rants" page. 
So after the tour, we wandered back around the front of the theatre (which, I must note, is a simply enormous, awesome-looking building) and walked around the foyer, feeling very smug. I almost felt like saying to some of the other people waiting, "Hey, guess where I'VE just been!" Finally we went into the auditorium, sat in our seats (middle of the 8th row - PERFECT view!) and prepared to be swept away.
PART FOUR - The Performance
Instantly, the unique wings were put to good use. The opening chants are performed by ensemble members, shrouded under hoods, standing in all 6 of the openings on the side of the stage. Then enters Clopin, an old peg-legged man, to tell his tale. 
I must say at once, that "Der Glöckner von Notre Dame" is a visual feast. That is the best way I can think to describe it. The very original structure of the stage and settings have been designed with one image in mind - what the audience will see. By having the stage as such a basic, blank canvas, the set can literally be made into whatever is needed. And the stage comes alive, thanks to the awesome lighting effects and the state-of-the-art projections. The projections are more stylistic than realistic. Don't expect to see a photo-realistic image of Notre Dame thrown on to the backdrop. Instead, we are shown what looks like old outlined paintings. When seen in still photos, I must admit, it looks rather unimpressive. But when you're in the audience watching the set transform itself while the projections are thrown all over the place, giving an amazing sense of place and space, it's a sight to behold. And there is often so much happening on stage at once (especially in songs such as "Topsy Turvy" and the "Finale") you often don't know where to look. By having the option of showing action right up at the top of the stage, as well as the bottom, as well as in the 6 wings, the entire stage area literally comes alive in every corner. It's truly a work of genius. I know that it's impossible to describe in written words. I'd had it described to me before, but I had no idea what it was really like until I saw it. Visually, this show is every bit as impressive as "The Lion King," but in a very different way. 

The performances from the actors were all very good, as far as I could tell. (Not that obvious when you don't speak the language) Aaron Paul played a shy, fearful Quasimodo, and Ruby Rosales was wonderful as the gutsy, oppressed gypsy Esmeralda. After the movie, I was very set in my ways in having a Tony Jay-style voice accompanying Frollo, and after listening to the C.D. I was a little concerned about Norbert Lamla. However, after seeing him in action, I can say he is absolutely brilliant in the part. He has a fantastic way of holding himself around the other characters, especially talking down to Phoebus, (Brad Spencer) and we also see his inner torment in "Hellfire." (A scene which, by the way, holds an amazing surprise. I won't tell you what it is, you'll just have to see it for yourself)

The gargoyles were good - I know it's debatable, but I thought they fit into the story much better in this version than in the film. They are still funny, but not silly. There is a difference. The person who stole the show though, Andrew and I both agreed, was Christopher Murray as Clopin. Wow, talk about changing a character for the stage! Clopin has a whole new attitude in this version, while still being the loud and outspoken jester that we all know him as. The crowd clearly loved him. Overall, this cast seemed magnificent to me. I commend them on the superb job they did.
I think one of the things that impressed me most about this show was that, unlike "The Lion King," the flow of it was largely unknown to me beforehand. I had read the English script, so I knew basically what they were saying, but the look of the scenes themselves was still largely a mystery. I mouthed the word "wow" so many times throughout the show. It is a true spectacle. I'd love to write about all the amazing visual effects, but I wouldn't want to spoil them for anyone else. Suffice to say that "Esmeralda," the finale of Act I, has a very impressive "falling-off-a-bridge" scene! And the scene that I held the most fear for, the pyre finale, worked magnificently.

The dance scenes were excellently choreographed, as was the show in general. It has to be, because if someone isn't where they should be at any given time, injuries could occur. The sound, apart from a couple of brief microphone drop-outs, was superb. The choral chanting really soared through the theatre, and the orchestra sounded top-notch.

After all that praise though, there were a couple of things that, while not necessarily disappointing, I expected a bit more from, mainly from a directoral point of view. Two songs come to mind, "Out There" and "Top of the World." Both of them are played on exactly the same set, with no major alterations of lighting or anything, just sung straight. Perhaps my memory of the movie's "Out There" is a bit vivid, where Quasimodo goes galloping along the rooftops of Notre Dame, and I know that couldn't be done on stage, but I just feel that SOMETHING more could have been done. Still, these are very minor gripes, and everyone involved in the show should feel so proud of themselves that they have helped create such an awesome spectacle.
So, do I recommend going to Berlin to see it...? That is largely up to you. Some people may find that watching a show in another language is hard and frustrating work, and may be put off by this factor. Personally, it didn't bother me much. It was just like watching a foreign film without the subtitles. There are scenes with a lot of talking and not much action, but it's not too difficult to get the general gist of what's going on. Obviously, if you don't live anywhere near Europe (like me) it's going to cost a lot of money to get there, so it may not be justifiable just for one show. Make sure, if you're putting a lot of effort in to go, that you get good seats. This way, the memory will stay clearer in your mind. The extra money will be worth it. If you are already going to Europe, or live in Europe, then you have no excuse. SEE THIS MUSICAL, it is groundbreaking, phenomenal, a feast for the eyes and ears, and has a very powerful message about freedom that, while being performed just by where the Berlin Wall once stood, has a whole new relevance. Bear in mind though, you only have until June 19th 2002 to see it, before it closes for good.
I give "Der Glöckner von Notre Dame" two big thumbs up! Thank you to everybody who made this visit a possibility!
January 2002

Friday, September 26, 2014


Welcome to my new blog.
What brings you to this corner of the internet?
Are you, perhaps like me, interested and intrigued by Disney's version of the Victor Hugo classic "The Hunchback of Notre Dame...?"

Did you know that it has been turned into a stage musical? Following in the same vein as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid and (most recently) Aladdin, Disney Theatrical transformed its animated masterpiece into a live musical theatre event. The only problem... It only ever played in Berlin.
Have you ever heard of Der Glöckner Von Notre Dame? It ran from 1999-2002. If you were interested in the production, you might have happened upon my website. It became quite popular during those years!
(It looked like this)
For years I tried to get any information I could about a transferal to an English-speaking production. I mean, it's Disney! The entire musical was written in English before being translated to German!
But Disney showed a strong reluctance to open a new production of the musical, apart from its very strong showing in Berlin, where it ran successfully for years.  The reason is likely that the show is dark. Especially dark for a Disney production. It is not a show for children. Taking inspiration from the original book, the show removed a lot of the wacky humour from the movie and maintained the dark themes and added an even more menacing tone.
How do I know all this? Because I saw it! On the 6th of December 2001, I not only sat in the audience and watched this show that I had been obsessing over, but I also got a special backstage tour and got to hang out with the cast. (Told you my website had become popular!) It's a memory I hold very dearly. I shall blog about it more in the future.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is finally, FINALLY seeing an official English release. The new production has a rewritten script by Peter Parnell, and it's being directed by lyricist Stephen Schwartz's son, Scott Schwartz!
(The new logo)
There are two out-of-town tryout seasons planned for this brand new production. The first will be playing at the La Jolla Playhouse, just outside of San Diego California, from the 26th October to the 7th December. After that it will transfer to the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey from the 4th March to the 5th April next year. If the show is in good shape and audiences are loving it after those two seasons, Disney will consider bringing it to Broadway.
Because I'm a little bit obsessive (and probably a little bit crazy) I will be flying over to California (from Australia!) for a week in November to see this new production. I'm extremely excited about it, and I hope to be able to share the whole experience with YOU, dear reader!
That's all for now. I shall blog as I go. There's so much I want to say, but I've got to save it for future posts. Until next time, may you get all your hunches back.