It’s January 6th, which can only mean one thing. It’s Topsy Turvy! Once a year we throw a party here in town, so I saw it fitting to review the newest addition to the Hunchback canon. The Hunchback of Notre Dame Original Cast Recording from the Papermill Playhouse production in New Jersey is available for pre-order now, but two songs have been released for your listening pleasure already, so let’s dissect them!
Before we dive into the songs, let me give you some key facts about the stage production. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz teamed back up to create new music, along with adapting the tunes from the film to better fit a stage. For this production, they were more influenced by the Victor Hugo novel. That means that the movie this isn’t. Nothing is watered down and the ending is not a happy one. At all.
With this darker take on the story we’ve come to know as softer than the original work, some work needed to be done on the original character, Quasimodo. In this production and audible on the cast recording, Quasimodo’s voice is not what we’re used to. He doesn’t have a perfect voice. He has deformities, and that affects his voice as well. However, this is only heard in scenes when he is talking to another character, as we are hearing what the character is hearing. That ends up being a gravelly and tired sounding voice. Yet, when Quasimodo is alone or in a scenario where we are in his head, we hear what he thinks he sounds like, or a beautiful and angelic tenor voice.
Those key points being known, two songs have been made available for us. The first is “The Bells of Notre Dame.” This song has been lengthened from the film and enhanced giving us less of a story about Quasimodo, but more of tale of Frollo’s upbringing. His life and decisions are discussed in the 7+ minute track. Patrick Page plays Frollo and is the most perfect casting choice I’ve ever seen in my entire life. His rich baritone voice stuns and his reciting of the word “Quasimodo” will give you goosebumps.
“Top of the World” is new for the stage production and I would argue is the best Alan Menken song in 15 years. It’s exceptional. It takes place as Esmeralda and Quasimodo sit a top Notre Dame and look down on the city. The song’s chorus has such a beautiful message in it, that if we look from above, the heartache and violence we suffer through down below becomes unnecessary. The melody swells as Ciara Renee, who plays Esmerelda, sings with such strength. Her instrument is one of the best in the business.
Another fun fact about this production is that the 3 gargoyles from the film are eliminated. Instead, a choir of 30+ takes the role of Quasimodo’s conscience and inner thoughts. They sort of take the role of the gargoyles, literally in certain scenes, but instead of being comic relief, they have a real meaning. With that being said, their voices add such a richness to the score. All those voices creating these stunning harmonies adds so much to the already tremendous music.
If these 2 songs are similar to the rest of the new score, we have a lot to look forward to.