The Hunchback of Notre Dame Studio Cast Recording
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a dramatic telling of the famous love story on a grand scale, with a lush, emotionally rich score featuring music by Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast) and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin). The only stage collaboration from two masters of the American musical, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. This first ever recording of the acclaimed American stage score based on the Academy Award-nominated 1996 film brings together a 25 piece orchestra, a choir of 28 and some of Broadway s most formidable talent: Michael Arden (Big River) as Quasimodo, Patrick Page (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) as Dom Claude Frollo, Ciara Renée (Pippin) as Esmeralda, Andrew Samonsky (Lincoln Center s South Pacific) as Captain Phoebus de Martin and Erik Liberman (Lovemusik) as Clopin Trouillefou. The cast heard on this album performed the show s US Premiere productions at La Jolla Playhouse and Paper Mill Playhouse during their 2014-15 seasons.
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The story of the deformed bell-ringer, whose unrequited love for a young gypsy woman forces him to find out who he truly is, rings with universal truth and beauty. Michael Arden brings a fierceness and vulnerability to the role of Quasimodo that left me breathless.
I love how this version does not merely copy the Disney movie but makes changes that more closely resemble Victor Hugo's novel. I especially love that Frollo's character has been humanized. He is still a villain, but one sees his torment and complexity. Patrick Page's strong baritone voice lends authority, anger and a strange tenderness to this interesting character.
Some of my favorite songs in this score are as follows:
1. "The Bells of Notre Dame": Showing Frollo's relationship with his brother and explaining how Quasimodo came to live at the cathedral, this song delves into Frollo's character.
2. "Out There": A perfect commentary on isolation and the longing for acceptance.
3. "Rhythm of the Tambourine": Very catchy. I love the tango-like feel, and the song really illustrates Esmeralda's sensuality.
4. "God Help the Outcasts": A beautiful contrast to Esmeralda's first song.
5. "Hellfire": Chill-inducing! Frollo's unbridled lust and torment are vividly portrayed.
6. "Someday": Made me cry.
7. "Made of Stone": This song is worth the price of the soundtrack alone. Heartbreaking.
8. "Finale": I cannot accurately describe how much I love this song. It made me happy and sad simultaneously. Unlike some reviewers, I appreciated the addition of the statues relating the story. I am visually impaired, and it helped me to know what was going on. The final confrontation between Quasimodo and Frollo will leave you breathless.
I cannot recommend this soundtrack enough. Please support this musical tour de force by purchasing this exceptional album. Menkin and Schwartz really outdid themselves. It is shameful that this show with such a timeless message did not make it to Broadway. Happy listening, and God bless you all.
However, with the exception of a few bridging sequences (such as the one with Quasimodo in “Topsy Turvy, Pt. 1"), every song in The Hunchback of Notre Dame feels like it could’ve been taken from the original film. Normally, in these kinds of shows, it feels really awkward when an entire song is based on just a few lines from the original script. However, now when I view the scene that inspired “Made of Stone,” I feel like there’s empty space in the story that a song should be occupying. And the new context of “Someday” makes much, much more sense than the original one. (It was originally written for the scene where “God Help the Outcasts” was later placed.)
I would give the score, and this album by extension, full marks if not for the removal of “A Guy Like You.” The tone shift between the song and the scene before was rather jarring in the film. However, in the German stage production, it worked beautifully. The humor came from the wordplay, and the poignancy came from Quasimodo attempting to convince himself that he’s worthy of love by having his figments sing about how ugliness can be a good thing, as though his identity and his exterior are inseparable. It was perfect comic relief, on par with Master of the House in Les Misérables. However, in the American production, A Guy Like You is replaced with “Flight into Egypt,” which is just as good musically, but not nearly as good contextually. It features Quasmiodo’s figments trying to persuade him to be brave and chase after Esmeralda, which turns out to be pointless, as dire circumstances force him to do so in literally the next scene. I don’t think the show would have lost anything if “Flight into Egypt” had been cut. At the very least, “A Guy Like You” could have been included as a bonus track on the cast album.
Overall, this is a great album featuring music from a great show that deserved more than it got. Please show your support by purchasing it, instead of just listening to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.
Edit: I'll be honest. I wrote this review before actually receiving the cast album, using my knowledge of the show itself. I still hold all of the views I expressed, but my criticism of "Flight Into Egypt" doesn't work as well. Apparently, since the performance I saw, the scene where Quasimodo deciphers Esmeralda's map was merged with "Flight into Egypt," making the song technically necessary. However, I still think a better creative decision would have been to place "A Guy Like You" there and keep the "city seen from above" bit as a separate dialogue sequence, as in the German production.