BY SANTI GABINO JR.
Few buildings are as iconic and evoke such passion as France’s majestic La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Equally, few stories are as epic as Victor Hugo’s terrific tale of the scorned bell-ringer and the many colorful and eccentric individuals who surround him. Overflowing with hope, jealousy and the realization of self-worth, it is love (both unrequited and reciprocal) that is at the true center of this timeless narrative.
Much like the flying buttresses, which for more than six centuries have held the jewel of Paris in place, it is the ardent passion and forlorn romance of Hugo’s sweeping saga, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that continues to enthrall audiences almost 200 years since its debut.
This hauntingly beautiful and incredibly powerful musical features a book by Peter Parnell, songs by Disney composer Alan Menken, and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. An adrenalized and emotionally fueled retelling of the classic, it promises to transport theatergoers back to the grit and lusty lairs of 15th-century France.
With impressive orchestral power and ethereal, live choral beauty, the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame soars to the loftiest points of the stony cathedral. From April 14 through May 7, the Athens Theatre in DeLand will shed its iconic, Italian Renaissance architecture and morph into the chrysalis that will ultimately unfurl its wings and emerge as the gothic, cavernous structure that looms over the Île de la Cité.
Those fortunate enough to experience this metamorphosis will see the curtain rise and be greeted by the sounds of the bell and the one who toils to produce its earth-shaking sound, Quasimodo, played by Robert Justin Dresner. Dresner’s notable past credits include Sebastian in The Thing About Men, King Arthur in Camelot, Max in The Royale, and Toad in A Year With Frog and Toad. He has also worked with Disney Cruise Lines as a Mainstage performer and portrayed such notable characters as The Beast in DCL’s award-winning musical adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.
Making her Athens debut is Adriana Aquino Andino embracing the role of the seductive and enchanting Esmeralda. She has previously performed regionally in A Chorus Line (Diana), Cabaret (Lulu), and On Your Feet! the Musical (Ensemble).
The role of the valiantly dashing Capt. Phoebus is played by Christopher DeJongh, who was last seen on the Athens stage as Lonny in Rock of Ages, and also portrayed Charlie in Kinky Boots, Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, Peter in Bare: A Pop Opera and Jerry in The Full Monty.
The decidedly dark Monseigneur Claude Frollo is being brought to life by Athens facility manager and all-around theater chameleon Alan Ware. Ware, a recent regional Broadway World award-winner for his comic antics in Clue, was last seen crashing down the stairs amid sardines in last month’s Noises Off. His past performances include Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Addams Family, Scrooge!, Les Misérables and so many more.
The musical also features incredible performances in supporting roles by Alexis Camina, Avry Aviles, Theodore Champagne, Noah Clark, Kit Cleto, Drew Koon, Sorangel Muñoz, Ashley Peters, Logan Reynolds, Chris Siciliano, Gabriella Smith, Chelsea Street and Lauren Stromak.
The musical’s magnificent sweeping score is brought to life thanks to an impressive live choir (doubling as gargoyles and statues!) directed by Bert Rodriguez, who works extensively as a musical director in the region. Some recent shows under his musical direction include In the Heights, And the World Goes Round, A Chorus Line, On Your Feet, Beauty and the Beast, Marie and Rosetta and Broadbend.
Moreover, the score features some of Central Florida’s most amazing vocal talent, including Christie Young, Alexa Villanueva, Savannah Decosta, Abigail Morgan, Dominique Cecchetti, Jennifer Eunice and Ellis Hall.
The production is directed and choreographed by Mayme Paul. Her previous shows at the Athens include Young Frankenstein, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Chicago, Singin’ in the Rain, Into the Woods, The Fantasticks and Gypsy.
The grand set designed by Michael Brewer is crafted by Tori Oakes and Bonnie Sprung. The vivid and texture-rich costumes are designed by the Athens’ own garment guru Tamara Marke-Lares.
This spring, travel through time and to the heart of France, as Hugo’s wonderfully intrinsic tale of longing, loyalty and love takes the stage at the Athens Theatre! Be sure to join them for their traditional opening-night champagne toast Friday, April 14!
The Athens Theatre is at 124 N. Florida Ave. in Downtown DeLand.
Tickets for all shows, along with more information, can be found at www.AthensDeLand.com, or by calling the box office at 386-736-1500. Box-office hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 1 1/2 hours before live performances.