www.musicalschwartz.com  >  The Hunckback - Stage  > Review
Search Site

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Der Glockner Von Notre Dame -- Berlin stage production Compact Disk icon

Glockner Poster artd1.

Buy Disney's Der Gloeckner Von Notre Dame [new browser window]

Thoughts on Disney's German Cast Recording

by Edward R. Cox

The highest compliment for the musical art form, IMHO (in my humble opinion), is when another artform embraces it and creates a satisfying experience. Such was the case of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The highest compliment for both of these, is for the animated feature to be rethought, and presented live on the musical stage, the original home for such works. With it's soul soaring melodies by award-winning Alan Menkin (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin), and perfectly matched character-driven lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Children of Eden, Prince of Egypt), this version of the classic tale by Victor Hugo, finally gave singing voice to characters and situations that have been embraced the world over.

On June 19th, 1996, I had the privilege and honor to experience the world premiere of the original animated feature film in my hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. Held in the Superdome, (giving this sports arena another reason to exist) to a rafters filled house, I immediately was swept away by the scope and ingenuity of this work. Having also portrayed Quasimodo myself in a non-musical touring version of this tale over ten years prior to this release, I was completely overtaken by emotions of having this character finally find voice to sing with such heartfelt candor and simplicity, with the underpinnings of such a depth of soul and insight.

Though not one of Disney's greatest moneymakers, this version of the tale certainly had enough going for it to have an ever-growing cult following as well as to entice Disney into creating a staged version.

BERLIN, GERMANY Stage Version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This new incarnation opened in Berlin on June 5th, 1999, over two years ago as of this writing, and has been running steadily with no signs of slowing down. It is directed by the incredibly talented James Lapine, (Into the Woods, Falsettos.)

The incredible set for this production utilizes many large hydraulically controlled boxes that can be placed at every conceivable height and level, and the usage of highly detailed photographic images make for one of the most stunning productions one can hope to see. Particullarly effective in usage is the finale of act one showing Pheobus' plummet from a bridge over the Seine after being shot by an arrow. With great disappointment, I have discovered that Disney has no plans to bring this staging to the United States. The pity here is that the stage incarnation is expanded perfectly from the original film version in many well thought out master strokes.

Several of the books original concepts have been reinstated. Pheobus is a braggart and on leave in Paris, Frollo is a corrupt clergy member and not a judicial magistrate, Quasi allows/aids in Frollo's plummet to his death, and Esmeralda dies. These matters, as well as a few others are obviously reason enough to show why Disney would be highly nervous of a transfer of this production past it's initial Berlin run. This is indeed a pity, for what this work has to offer is an incredibly fascinating and entertaining evening of live musical theatre whose main point stays with the audience member well past the last fading peel of the bellringer's bells. Something that most forms of entertainment aspire to.

The Original German Cast CD Der Glockner Von Notre Dame. This is the only record of the stage production available, and I highly recommend the reader obtain a copy for themselves to rediscover the joys of this work, as well as embrace the new work added to the tapestry of the lonely bellringer. Listening to the CD, one is immediately brought along the journey, despite the original german lyrics. However, the voices, and emotions are so beautifully portrayed in this production, that even a non-German speaking listener will find that they understand perfectly what is transpiring. The voices of the cast are perfect, and in some cases, even more astonishing than the recorded soundtrack due to the fact that these notes must be hit and sustained nightly before a live audience. Esmeralda has a delightfully young Petula Clark quality to her voice that actually works beautifully here. Frollo is dark and pendulous, Pheobus is bold and strong, Clopin is vocally thrilling, and Quasimodo is indeed Quasimodo.

I would like to state that the lyrics that I present here as examples of the new presentation, are moments from Stephen Schwartz's total lyric tapestry, and are copyrighted works. The CD's cuts are:

ACT I

1-THE BELLS OF NOTRE DAME. The original concept of Clopin presenting the story to an audience is still utilized, however here, an older cloaked Clopin, cane in hand, ambles onstage to introduce what has transpired in the past. He presents a scarf. Not just any scarf, but one that belonged to a magical woman who, along with the famous bellringer, brought Paris to it's knees.

This classic theatrical device replaces the puppeteer from the film, and though that character is missed, this take on the character is much more valid onstage, particularly when the robes of age are thrown off, and the young, vibrant Clopin is revealed, letting the audience know that they have been transported to the time of the events at hand. New lyrics are scattered through out, with a notable section belonging to Frollo's bitterness and control of the hapless babe, Quasimodo-

"See this loathsome creature/From whom lesser men would flee.../I will enable him.../I will keep and care for him/ And teach him at my knee/ To think like me."

Overall, a highly effective entrance to the world we are about to experience. The visuals of this production begin small and subtly, but your breath is taken away as Frollo, followed by Quasimodo, cross upstage in living silhouettes, and Quasi's bell tower appears with him jumping out onto the platform just in time for the button. Extremely exhilarating!

2-SANCTUARY. Very much the same as the film version, with a newly added section that points to the moment when Frollo first began to change his perspective of his surroundings, and the people he must service. In this version, he is indeed placed back into religious service, rather than the magistrate of the Disney film. "Once I was blessed as you/ A novice priest in service to/ This holy church which was, I knew/ My sanctuary/ Oh,Then my duty called/ Paris was burning/ Sin, Vice, Corruption ev'rywhere/ For me to rout/Out there..." Cleverly setting up the theme that will continue through the work.

There is a sequence where the gargoyles come alive in Quasi's mind, like the film, however, the usage of the characters, representing Quasi's "ids" is much more effective and less obtrusive than the film. Their musings bring us to cut three.

3-OUT THERE. Once again, a very close adaptation of the original version, and still an incredibly powerful statement that anyone can relate to who has wished to learn and experience more than their current status.

4-REST AND RELAXATION. Pheobus sings! The theme that introduces him in the film is the perfect springboard fot the introduction of this character. In all his original book braggadaccio, he humorously tells, quite simply, how wonderful he is, and we accept him as a charming swine. "Darling, to be blunt/You are with the best/That's why I've been blessed, With this promotion/I've been working hard/Now I'm gonna be/Captain of the guard/Ain't that a notion?"

5-BALANCING ACT. This song sets up the introduction of Esmeralda, the Court Of Miracles,and the hopes and fears of the oppressed and misunderstood. A rousing song that excites and allows the audience to feel for these poor folk. Clopin sings-"Welcome to Paris/ Parasites and rubble/Though there's still our share of trouble we attract/ Wheras our wretched race is/ Banned or killed in other places/Here we have a sort of silent pact/ And life is like/ A balancing act."

6-TOPSY TURVY. Many improvements have been added to this version of the song. All for the better for a staged presentation. Additions include moments of out there for Quasi which intercuts the main song theme to allow us to feel even more for the moments he is experiencing. There is also an extended dance sequence that, for stage, helps to solidify Esmeralda's place in quasi's heart, as well as ours.

7-GOD HELP THE OUTCASTS. Though the same as the film, the addition of Quasi to this song adds such a world of unity to the pleas of Esmeralda and the parishoners. Adding Quasi here allows to show his pure compassion for other's pain, unselfishly.A brilliant stage device and moment.

8-TOP OF THE WORLD. Another new song, and it's beautiful in it's conception and placement. Viewing all of Paris below, Esmeralda begins to sing,"Gazing down from the top of the world/Suddenly seeing a different city/Quaint and pretty and friendly and fair/Seen from the top of the world." The gargoyles and quasi join in throughout the song, and though the entire moment is achingly beautiful, we experience the fact that Esmeralda, for all of her street smarts and self preservative capabilities needed to simply survive, has indeed got the open hearted outlook of a child, buried beneath layers of fears and doubts. This addition is very uplifting and revealing

9-HEAVEN'S LIGHT. Very close to the original version Quasi sings in the film, and the perfect counterpoint for what follows.

10-HELLFIRE. What can one say about a clergy's mad passions and thoughts gone out of control? Menkin and Schwartz certainly nailed this song. This presentation is very close to the original film version.

11-ESMERALDA. The finale of the first act of Glockner is a pip! Combining sections of several songs to point up various characters situations at this point of the tale is a masterstroke of musical theatre, IMHO. The rousing musical theme of Esmeralda is heard throughout the show, but here, it is a strong, pulsing drive. We are experiencing the burning of Paris by Frollo as his march to find Esmeralda threatens everything in his wake, Esmeralda flees, Quasi lurks, Pheobus is shot, and dangles from a bridge over the Seine, and as the curtain falls, he plunges to the watery depths below.

Act II

12-CITY UNDER SIEGE-Utilizing the chase music from the prologue, (the gypsy sequence with the infant Quasimodo), as well as from the corresponding sequence from the film, the second act begins with the search for Esmeralda by Frollo and his troops. Esmeralda and Pheobus rediscover one another, and Clopin, leading the Citizens of Paris, sing this rousing choral work that brings the viewer/listener back into the world created prior to intermission.

13-A GUY LIKE YOU-The three gargoyles, (Antoine, Charles & Loni) sing this song, as in the film, but with a different focus. They have far less "Shtick" than in the animated feature. We get to understand the myriad angles of Quasi's tortured thoughts and id. The song, while still charming, is far less a cloying trudge to experience to those who detested the three characters' presence in the work in the first place. There is a short new lyric section added. Loni sings "Sometimes the truth can be cruel, cheri, But let's face it..." Charles adds "There's no dispute about who is the cutest of us"All three join in "Thus... This mademoiselle, What joy you bring her, A fool could tell she really fell for you know who." It's an entirely new and different experience hearing this song in this rendition.

14-OUT OF LOVE-This song, basically a dialogue between Pheobus and Quasi, has the three gargoyles involved in what is essentially the moment of the two characters connecting, despite opposing reasons to band together to save Esmeralda. The two men unite for the common goal. Esmeralda's salvation. A beautiful song and moment in the production, showing growth and depth of character. Here is another instance of strong character development and presentation. The audience can't help but be interested in their motivations and outcome.

15-TANZ DER ZIGEUNER-This is a large, extended dance/chase sequence. Quite athletic in it's own way to move the narrative and events along musically. Very thrilling! (And the only basically instrumental track on the entire CD.)

16-OUT OF LOVE-(Reprise)-A touching reprise of this song, between Esmeralda and Pheobus, with painful interjections of Quasi's feelings, bravely hidden from the two lovers. Most involving, and quite heartwrenching.

17-MADE OF STONE-From the sequence in the film that succinctly brings Quasi's strength heartbreakingly to the fore, comes this song...(It's a stage musical, remember.) Quasi actually lashes out at the Gargoyles, his inadiquacies,and the misplacement of his own faith. Quasi has become a man, but at what cost? The Gargoyles revert to stone statues, and he is left alone. Strong emotions, the basis of a lot of this work, are very well presented here.

18-SOMEDAY-Cut from the original animated feature, yet sung over the end credits, this song is the perfect musical acceptance of current inevitabilities, with hope that the events at hand will affect a change for others. Esmeralda, Pheobus and the Crowd all join vocally in a fervent prayer that their lives will have led to better times for future generations. A noble sentiment that never fails to affect the heart and inspire. (Side note here-Debbi Shapiro Gravitte does a great compilation medley rendition of this song on her Alan Menken CD, with God Help The Outcasts. Check it out!)

19-FINALE ULTIMO-With the original Latin chants intact, this finale sequence is a pip! Everyone is here--Frollo, the Archdeacon, Quasi, Soldiers, Pheobus, Esmeralda, The Gargoyles, The Crowd--in a fantastic musical culmination of the tale. We have Frollo condeming Esmeralda and her precarious salvation by Quasi by swinging from a rope to the Sanctuary of the Bell Tower. Quasi calls forth the stone guardians of the cathedral to hurl down stones into the night. Esmeralda and he sing a plaintive reprise of "Top Of The World," and she does indeed die in Quasi's arms. Frollo enters stating that he was simply doing his duty, and sings of at last being free of Esmeralda...with Esmeralda's theme music. (A brilliant touch, and one that makes the viewer detest the creature even more.) Quasi flies into a rage, and dangling Frollo from the tower, tells him..."You are a good teacher, Master Frollo. A very good teacher!" And with that, releases his grip, sending Frollo to his death. The Gargoyles now sing, utilising Frollo's theme music, regarding the cruelty of the world, followed by Quasi's "Out There" theme. The Chorus now begins "Someday" while Quasi carries the limp body of Esmeralda "up stage center" followed by the distraught Pheobus. Clopin begins his original rondelay, "Whatever their pitch you can feel them bewitch you, The rich and the ritual knells...Of the Bells of Notre Dame!" And we arrive at our tale's conclusion.

Final Thoughts

Detailed above are just some of the examples of why the Disney corporation fears bringing this production anywhere past it's Berlin production...I guess by now you can see why. Though based on the original animated feature, the reinstating of concepts and story elements from the original Victor Hugo book force the work to be more adult, and less "family friendly," and thereby, not commercial enough to produce elsewhere (in Disney's eyes). This is indeed unfortunate, as this production exhibits everything that makes a great stage musical. I can not stress enough the incredible work done by Messrs. Menken, Schwartz, & Lapine and their incredible staff and cast in developing this work from film to stage. Heartfelt BRAVOS to all concerned! In this day and age for a producing company to invest such time and talent in creating such a stage presentation, and not move it forward is, at base, financially ludicrous. (Maybe Cameron Macintosh could get interested in picking up the reigns! Now that would be pretty incredible!)

As for all the changes and embellishments, the one song cut from the film, "The Court of Miracles," though missed, is understandably absent when viewing the entire milieu of this stage incarnation. Even changing the names of the Gargoyles to replace the campy names used in the film was a master stroke to help move this production into it's own reality, utilising only that which served the story best. Most if not all of the problems people have cited as to why they didn't completely "get into" the original film have been taken care of in a tasteful and heartfelt manner.

As for the deaths in the production, well, consider other Disney productions. In the stage as well as film version of the Lion King, Mufasa is killed, and Scar, the villain, dies. In Beauty and the Beast, both stage and film, Gaston basically falls to his death. In Aida both lovers die! Many Disney productions include either a death or a major comupance for the villains, as well as sometimes, the main characters. To have the deaths in this production be a holding factor for non-production is ludicrous, IMHO. If you have a basically serious musical concept, death validates the work, and places the story on it's most basic human element. (Particularly when it is such a strong part of the original story.) Quasi actually causing Frollo's death by tossing Frollo to the wind may be a tad much, and could be softened to Frollo falling, and Quasi reaching for him instead, (just one of several easily dealt with moments) but even that doesn't seem to be the reason for Disney's fear of this production. Esmeralda may have died, but her spirit has been shared with everyone, onstage and in the audience, and we carry within us the germ of resurrection. An enobling of one's worth, as well as one's fellow man in a renewed interest in other's lives around us. Can this not be any more an important emotion to carry off with one when one leaves a beautiful theatrical/musical experience?

With the "New Disney" all around us, I see no reason for them to hide this production away in Berlin. They certainly have withstood the slings and arrows of the New York Theatre scene to become a major force, aiding in the refurbishment of several severely in need historical theatres. Whether you love or loathe Disney, they are here on the theatrical scene, and they are a great help to the theatrical community. Upcoming productions that are being bandied about for possible production are, at best, scary propositions which, in my mind, don't have the "legs" that this production of Glockner has...particularly since the basic work is up and running to packed and enthusiastic audiences. (Versions of "101 Dalmations", a twisted take on "Pinocchio", among many others are in discussion/pre-production as I type this! The old musical "Carnival" was given a major staged presentation for consideration of a full-blown production recently!) Until more people here in the states, and other countries become more aware that this production even exists, there will be very little cause for Disney to even consider a transfer of any kind for this production. Spread the word! There are a number of great sites on the web touting this production. Several of them are listed on these pages of MusicalSchwartz.com. Visit them. See what all the hoop-la is all about!

My advice to you is to find the original Berlin cast CD and enjoy it, for it may very well be the only chance you have to experience this incredibly beautiful, satisfying translation to stage of this work you may ever have. (Of course, there are the stage shows at the theme parks, which I whole heartedly adore. Walt Disney World's version in particular, but these are a different breed of production, and another article entirely to write about!)

Edward R. Cox

Any thoughts? I'd love to hear from you regarding this, and any other theatrical,musical,or animated feature subject! Email me at: EdwardRCox@yahoo.com

Check out my website at: Edward R's Place: A Theatrical Online Portfolio; or his personal site.

Buy Disney's Der Gloeckner Von Notre Dame [new browser window]