At the Playhouse until March 10
Tickets: 604-873-3311 vancouverplayhouse.com
It’s undeniably beautiful in a macabre, grotesque way. In Hunchback, designer Bretta Gerecke outdoes herself with bizarre costumes fashioned from shiny black skin-tight vinyl, metal, wool, velvet, sky-high hats, laced up corsets, net, platform boots, ripped and ragged gowns. She sets the action amongst a number of tubular, floor-to-ceiling “tripods” that evoke the soaring arches of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Narda McCarroll lights the scene dramatically—much of it from the side. Jonathan Christenson’s music is hauntingly beautiful and it’s sung by individuals and the ensemble ringingly. It’s all gorgeous, a swirling kaleidoscope of movement, music and colour. Victor Hugo meets Cirque du Soleil.
Dazzling as it is, however, style overwhelms story and, for the most part, distances us from the characters. Kabuki comes to mind with its extravagant makeup, costumes and highly ritualized movement. In Hunchback, for example, Quasimodo (Ron Pederson) frequently holds a hunched “lunge” position; Fleur-de-Lis (Molly Flood) appears on tippytoes; and Frollo (Scott Walters) lurches like a newly hatched Frankenstein. This is all very theatrical and perfectly in keeping with the design concept.
It doesn’t, however, leave you weeping for Quasimodo, abandoned at birth because of his deformity or La Esmeralda (Ava Jane Markus), stolen by the gypsies and who falls in love with philandering braggart Phoebus (Andrew Cohen).
Dramatic highlights are the moments of the characters’ self-discoveries: “I’m not the man I hoped to be/This is the man I now am,” sings an anguished Frollo; “I’m not a monster/I’m a man,” cries Quasimodo; and La Esmeralda’s epiphany when she finally sees past Quasimodo’s ugliness and finds beauty there.
Presented by the Vancouver Playhouse and the Cultch, and written, directed and composed by Catalyst Theatre’s Christenson, Hunchback is ambitious, dazzling and hyper-theatrical. Is it too much to ask for more?