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Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie Music Monday: Changing Der Glöckner von Notre Dame back to The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the U.S. stage

Film Flam Flummox

When it was announced earlier this year that stage version of Disney's underappreciated 1996 animated classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be making its much-belated, hotly anticipated U.S. premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse , speculation abounded as to whether it would more closely resemble director/librettist James Lapine's acclaimed hit German language adaptation Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, which ran in Berlin from 1999 to 2002; or the more family-friendly original film. Less than a week before its first preview performance set for Sunday, October 26, La Jolla Playhouse has provided some answers with a PDF file of the final official program posted on their official website, and it appears that what director Scott Schwartz, librettist Peter Parnell, and the returning musical team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are serving American premiere audiences is a third separate incarnation almost entirely different from its predecessors--a conclusion that can be gleaned from a mere glimpse at the song number listing. Below is that listing as it appears on the program (click for a larger view), and I'll go into some bullet points on the differences and what this definitely indicates and possibly suggests about this newest incarnation of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's tuneful take on Victor Hugo's classic novel. (Needless to say, spoilers abound for the Der Glöckner version and this new production, along with some pure speculation on the new version.)

  • Right off the bat, one can see that Parnell and director Schwartz have made one very significant alteration--one that Lapine reportedly wanted to make early in the development of his version but was ultimately convinced (forced?) to not go through with: removing reclusive cathedral bellringer Quasimodo's three comic relief gargoyle sidekicks. While Parnell has gone on record that gargoyles do remain in this production in some capacity, it's clear it is in a wildly diminished background one, for none are mentioned as taking part in any musical numbers either by character name or group. As such, their big number as featured in the film and Berlin incarnations, "A Guy Like You," is missing from the song list, and obviously the Berlin numbers in which they are featured that were retained for this production will have to have been reworked/rewritten.
  • The only song from the Disney film that won't be included is the aforementioned gargoyle showcase "A Guy Like You," for the late film number "The Court of Miracles," led by gypsy king Clopin, has been restored to its proper place, with its replacement in Germany, the instrumental dance number "Dance of the Gypsies," removed. A song that was originally cut from the film early in production and left out of Berlin, "In a Place of Miracles," a romantic number between Quasimodo's gypsy love Esmeralda and soldier Captain Phoebus, has been reinstated.
  • Speaking of film-cut songs that were reinstated, the incredible 11th hour number from Germany, "Someday," is indeed retained, as are these additions for the original German stage production: "Sanctuary," an expansion of Frollo's verses in "Out There"; "Rest and Relaxation," an introductory number for Phoebus; "Top of the World," a duet between Quasimodo and Esmeralda; the rousing act one closer "Esmeralda"; and Quasimodo's powerful late number "Made of Stone"...
  • ...which, in a change that makes me wonder, is now placed after "Someday" and before "Finale Ultimo." "Someday" seamlessly led into "Finale Ultimo" without an applause break in Berlin, making for relentless dramatic momentum to its powerful finish. Perhaps the removal of the gargoyles-as-characters (who were a major part of the song in Berlin) and whatever changes to the ending motivated the order swap.
  • Additions in Germany apparently jettisoned for the States: "Balancing Act," an early act 1 number that introduces the melody to the act 1 finale song "Esmeralda"; the choral-driven act 2 opener "City Under Siege", the act 2 Quasimodo/Phoebus duet "Out of Love"; and the aforementioned instrumental "Dance of the Gypsies."
  • All-new in La Jolla: "Rhythm of the Tambourine," which appears to be an extended introduction number for Esmeralda; "The Tavern Song," a number for Quasimodo's dastardly master Frollo and Esmeralda in the middle of act 1; and "Flight into Egypt," an act 2 number for Quasimodo and Esmeralda.
But most striking of all, which is reflected by the removal of the gargoyles, is the apparent "de-Disney-fying" of the entire piece, both in content and any materials related to this production. The company's familiar logo is nowhere to be found on the official poster (even the haunting, minimalist key art for that famously dark German production had it prominently featured), and the company's name only appears in the finest of print, as being part of a "special arrangement." But perhaps most telling of all is this official credit: "Based on the Victor Hugo novel with songs from the Disney film." Could it be that this Hunchback is a full-blown, twelve-hanky tearjerker on the level of a certain other Hugo-based stage musical, Les Misérables? I guess we'll all find out when the show runs from October 26 to December 14 at the La Jolla Playhouse . More information and ticket sales at the official website.

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