May 23, 2024

Wallace Theatre at California Baptist University is presenting the all-time classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” from April 5-14. The story, co-directed by Lisa Lyons and Rebekah Bortot, is based on the Victor Hugo Novel and includes songs from Disney’s animated feature. Peter Parnell’s new book embraces story theatre and features verbatim passages from Hugo’s gothic novel. 

The well-known story of the deformed Quasimodo falling in love with a beautiful girl, Esmeralda, tackles the bigger question of what makes a man, and what makes a monster? After exploring this last semester with “Frankenstein” they are rounding out the year with this final musical that grapples with that question at its heart.

Quasimodo played by Drake Lyons, freshman vocal performance major, explained his understanding of the character. 

“He has a hard life. He basically lives in the tower,” Lyons said. “And he’s so lonely that he just becomes friends with these gargoyles that are up in the tower. And in his mind, they’re very real people. But I guess that’s kind of up to the viewers’ interpretation as to whether they’re real.” 

The theme of searching for the answer to what makes a monster and what makes a man encapsulates every aspect of the play. The characters must see the darkness in Quasimodo and come to terms with their own internal darkness.

“But the theme is basically what makes a monster and what makes a man, right? So first semester we had Frankenstein, teacher, Maria, which is dealing with some very real and dark themes that are close to a lot of people,” Lyons said. “We wrestle with that throughout the entirety of the show. Because Quasimodo, physically, is not a pretty sight. And so it’s really interesting because we go through the show with [him as] the monster. And then towards the end, we’re looking at, ‘Oh, no, it’s not that at all.’  That’s not the qualities of a monster.”

While this story has been fleshed out before by Disney themselves, the take of the Wallace Theatre mainly focuses on the bigger ideas and the meaningful themes of the story and what the big takeaway is.

The play’s co-director is Rebekah Bortot, who is also choreographer, she states, “The main idea that I was going with was lifting up the vulnerable and embracing differences, which leads to community, understanding and love,” said Bortot.  “Others bring people out of fear, lead to isolation and shame, and ultimately, violence is what we’ll see.” 

This thought-provoking question that the theater highlights is the intriguing contrast between hidden darkness and outward beauty, suggesting that monsters may dwell beneath seemingly pleasant facades. It prompts reflection on the complexities of perception and the mysterious nature of hidden truths. 

Bortot reflected on how beauty can be found in horrible things, and how the things some would perceive as monsters may also contain an element of truth beneath the horror. 

“Just how monsters can be so hidden and almost beautiful, like, in some sense, or they’re hiding under something beautiful,” Bortot said, “it’s sort of embracing something that we’re supposed to fear.”

The perspective of the question shifts for the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” when Charles Martinez, theater and music double major, sees the story from the perspective of his character Frollo, and how his perception the narrative is different from other characters. 

“I try not to judge my characters, even though morally I know. He’s actually really, really bad. And it’s all based on decisions,” Martinez said. “It’s all about choices that we make. And he chooses to kill her, basically instead of choosing a different path.”

With the season of discovering what makes a man and what makes a monster, the question all comes down to the final musical of the semester with “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and dives into the root of who a person truly is regardless of their appearance, and that is a lesson that can be learned from watching the show.

“I think that’s something interesting throughout this whole season, because we did Frankenstein where it was like a creature and a human and like, really is actually the actual monster,” Martinez said. “But he’s such a kind-hearted soul and all of that he doesn’t really become a monster the monster really is Frollo in a sense.”

In any production, the spotlight often shines brightest on the performers onstage, but this insightful reflection sheds light on the invaluable contributions of the entire production team. It emphasizes the collaborative nature of theater where each individual, from the cast to the student designers and workers, plays an integral role in bringing the production to life. 

This perspective highlights the beauty of collective creativity and underscores the importance of recognizing and celebrating every contributor’s efforts.

“The wonderful people involved in the production, not just cast, our creative team, which is student designers that have been putting in work, and our student workers who work in the shop and are building the sets and for both shows. Their work is just as important as our work on stage,” Martinez said, “I’m excited to like, see their work displayed just as much as I’m excited for people to see our work. This huge collaboration of student and faculty creation.”

Through the collaborative efforts of the entire production team, the play delves into themes of acceptance, love and the true essence of being. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at Wallace Theatre exemplifies the profound exploration of humanity and the dichotomy between beauty and darkness.

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