Currently onstage at the Fulton Theatre is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It is a grand musical and the biggest show of their season. This is a show that draws the audience into the story as they are transported to fifteenth century France. It is a wonderful show with a beautiful score and exquisite performances.
We had the chance to sit down and talk with three actors from the show: Nathaniel Hackmann who plays Quasimodo, Kalyn West who plays Esmerelda and Travis Taylor who portrays Pheobus De Martin. They spoke about how much they love the opportunity to be part of the production at the Fulton, what audiences can expect when coming to see the show and some of their favorite parts of the musical.
Kelli Curtin: Could you please tell me a little about Hunchback?
Nathaniel Hackmann: The Fulton’s production of Hunchback is a large musical that is based on the Victor Hugo novel, Notre-Dame de Paris. The book was published in 1831, and is a huge work of literature and influential in many cultures. There have been many reiterations and creations of Hunchback including a movie in the 1930s and a Disney movie that has many songs in common with this show. The show is an epic story about humanity, about people being humane to each other and treating each other with the kindness we all deserve.
A lot of what people like from the Disney movie is in the show: an epic score and a lot of the message is similar. In some ways the stage show is the matured version of the Disney movie. The Disney movie of Hunchback is pretty cut and dry in regards to the Disney formula for their movies of the 1990s. Our version is more thought through as far as the arc for the characters is concerned.
Kalyn West: What I love about Hunchback is that there are so many ways you can take the story and understand why it has inspired so many different incarnations. With the production at the Fulton the message I feel is that if we just learn to look each other in the eye and in the soul and in the heart and listen to each other the world would be a better place. We are all different, we all come from somewhere different and have different backgrounds and that is a beautiful thing and should not be something that separates us.
Travis Taylor: The baseline through the show is basically not judging a book by its cover. Just because Quasimodo’s appearance is “ugly” does not mean that he is a horrible person. The stage version definitely stays more true to the novel especially in that it is more of a tragic ending instead of the Disney troupe of living happily ever after.
Kelli: What can audiences expect when coming to see this show? How does this compare to the novel vs the Disney film?
Nathaniel: If you are coming to the Fulton to see a dramatic piece then audiences will definitely be satisfied, but if they are coming to see a Disneyfied “happily ever after” piece this is not it. People can expect to be challenged a little bit as well. Once again this show is not as simple as good versus evil, and not as easy as saying this is the character audiences should be cheering for and this one is the villain. Unfortunately, for the characters, the ending is tragic as it is in the book and at some point every character in this show is empathetic to a certain extent. One of the major questions that is asked at the very beginning is “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” Unfortunately, we spend so much time in our particular society in trying to categorize things as good versus evil. Whatever you are an advocate for - your team versus their team, Republicans versus Democrats, etc. - there is this line drawn in the sand and people feel their side is right and the other side is wrong. Life is not about black and white, it is about shades of grey. Hunchback does an incredible job at illustrating that every person is different, everyone has their own struggles they are dealing with and the people who seem monstrous have moments of humanity and the people who seem to be the paeans of humanity can have monstrous moments.
Travis: This is definitely a show that people who are fans of Les Misérables will love. The show has big sound and a huge set and an epic story. People can expect a good marrying in between the Hugo novel and the Disney film. Audiences can expect not to have the fluffy Disney movie and have many of the more dramatic moments of the book.
Kalyn: A lot of honesty and heart is in this musical. I do not draw any of my portrayal of Esmerelda from the Disney troupe of being helpless or being a damsel in distress. I play her as modern as I can, and based on my own personality. I wanted to make her strong and full of vigor. I personally take stock in putting characters onstage that I can see part of myself in. The characters we as actors put onstage are the characters that the public looks to and that children also look to. I do not want to perpetuate old stereotypes, and I do not think Hunchback does that at all. It breaks the cycle of making assumptions and categorizing people. It breaks the cycle of only putting classes of people in boxes such as women, mentally challenged or religious people. In this show we are breaking down these stereotypical walls and reminding people that we shouldn’t categorize people. This show gives individuals the opportunity to look at the human being and look beneath the surface. For me, with Esmerelda, I do not want to play her in a stereotypical Disney princess like manner, I want to find the woman and the playfulness and the honesty and fire and conviction of this individual. There are little tidbits of humanity in every character in this play from Esmerelda to Frollo. We are all human. One line I absolutely love is when Frollo says to Esmerelda, “My curse is that I am truly human.” I think it is difficult for us as human beings to overcome that instinct to categorize and label everything for the sake of understanding.
Kelli: Could you each describe the characters you play?
Travis: I do not want to spoil the surprises in the show, so I will give a brief answer. I am the captain, Pheobus De Martin and I am the captain of the Cathedral Guard. He has just come back from war and enters the town with his promotion to being the captain of the Cathedral Guard.
Kalyn: I play Esmerelda and she is a Gypsy. Even though she is a gypsy she does not necessarily click with the rest of the gypsies in the town and she is an outcast in her own community. She finds herself living a very nomadic lifestyle bouncing from town to town trying to find some place she fits in. However, she only fits in wherever her feet are standing. She is fiery, passionate and believes there is good in the world even when she encounters nothing but obstacles, but she still maintains hope.
Nathaniel: Quasimodo’s history is that he is a foundling. In this version of the story he is the arch deacon’s brother’s illegitimate son. He is deformed from birth and deals with many physical ailments, underdevelopment and deficiencies that impede his ability to communicate and that have isolated him. He also is forcibly isolated by Frollo, the archdeacon. Frollo understands that this child is deformed and the culture of the time would not accept him into polite society, so he decided in order to keep him safe that he must be sheltered inside the church. Quasimodo’s job is to ring the bells, which has damaged his hearing permanently. Quasimodo has a huge uphill battle from the beginning, but he remains optimistic. All this being said, he is still full of innocence and purity. He is the outcast of the piece and relatable to the audience because at one time or another we have all felt outcast or felt that we were not the best at something.
Kelli: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
Travis: Some of my favorite moments are ones that I am not a part of. I really love the ending of this show and Quasimodo’s monologue about corpses being found and how they crumbled to dust. There is just something romantic and beautiful about that moment. That type of love it beyond romance; it is soulful. Hearing Nate speak those words every night gets me every time. What I hope for all humanity is that we all care about each other the way Quasimodo cared for Esmerelda.
Kalyn: One of my favorite moments is the song, “Top of the World.” I just love this number, it is so much fun every time we perform it. The song is so playful and is so enjoyable to perform. It is the one moment in the show where Esmerelda gets to transform into a child. She becomes playful for a brief moment and she says, “It’s like I am seeing the world for the first time.” It is a joyous little journey.
Nathaniel: Mine changes all the time. Hunchback is such a heavy story and we work hard to do justice to this piece. That being said, the moments of levity that are written into the script are really important especially to the audience. There is a moment in the script where Pheobus has been injured and we both realize Esmerelda is in danger. Phoebus thinks that even though he is injured and despite his back being hurt he is going to go and find Esmerelda. Quasimodo explains to Phoebus that he cannot go out there and that he will go help Esmerelda instead. In a kind way Phoebus says “You can barely talk” and Quasimodo fires back “What do you mean? You can barely walk!” That exchange makes me laugh every night.
Kelli: In your opinion, why is live theatre important?
Kalyn: Honestly, I can think of hundreds of reasons why live theatre is important. In this moment I think live theatre is almost meditative in that the rest of the world disappears. People come together in a little dark space and everyone in that room has a collective experience. The experience is magical. For a few hours the audience is listening to a story and listening to other people. Being in a room listening to others and being transported to a different world where the audience is told a story is unique and does not happen anywhere except in a theatre. Live theatre teaches people to be empathic.
Nathaniel: Live theatre has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. As an adult I realized live theatre is not only about sharing a story, it is also about the shared experience. Live theatre is unique in that we as audience members and actors have the ability to connect. We do not have screens in front of us, our attention is not somewhere else. All of us in a theatre connect on a personal level unlike any other environment because we do not have the distractions of everyday life in that room.
Travis: This is a two part answer – why it is important to me as an actor and why live theatre is important to our audience. To me, live theatre is important because it is one of the most collaborative art forms I have ever been a part of. Every aspect of what goes into our show is collaborative. There are over a hundred people involved in putting this show together from the director to the actors to the spotlight operators to the people who donated to let this show happen. I love live theatre because not only am I collaborating with my fellow artists onstage, but also with the writers, the backstage crew and musicians just to name a few. And everyone is contributing in order to tell a story to transport themselves and the audience to a different place.
Why I think live theatre is important for the audience goes along the same lines of what Kalyn and Nate said – it is an opportunity to challenge people to pay attention to what is occurring onstage in front of them and to listen to a story that hopefully will influence them to do good and help those less fortunate. Live theatre is important because it should empower the audience members to act on something to help with the greater good of society.
Hunchback of the Notre Dame is at the Fulton Theatre through July 21, 2018. For more information and tickets visit their website at www.thefulton.org or call the box office at 717-397-7425.
Photos courtesy of the Fulton Theatre. Photo Credit: Kinectiv
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for Theatre Sensation. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.