As the story of a famous deformed bell ringer opens, Clopin, its feisty narrator declares that the "soul of the city is the toll of the bells, the bells of Notre Dame."
The bells may have soul, but even more could be said of the bell ringer himself, and the friends who surround him.
Disney's adaptation of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame was brought to life by the talented actresses of Ladies College from October 31 to November 1. Described by its director Mohammed Adamaly (Adam) in his message as an initially frightening experience – directing a musical with a cast of around 100 girls, the staging of Hunchback was nothing short of impressive.
"Now here is a riddle to guess if you can… what makes a monster and what makes a man?" continued Clopin. Apart from solving the riddle, what Colombo audiences saw on those nights was also an enchanting tale of friendship, selflessness and a thirst for justice, with brilliant singing and dancing along the way.
The drama opened with an effective part tableau-part dance scene, with the entrance of the citizens of Paris and Clopin. One criticism which could be made is that of the dance that took place at the beginning, which was a little too long and slightly redundant as it did not contribute to the theme or plot of the play.
The opening scene proper was nice to watch, with lots of colour and life from the cast. Kids and adults alike watched enthralled as Paris in 1847 was brought to life before them. Down to every minute detail, it was clear not only that a lot of trouble had been taken, but that each and every actress was enjoying the performance and revelling in it.
To focus on the individual performances, the character of Quasimodo – played by Tehani Welgama was convincing as the self conscious, emotional and sensitive bell ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral. Her performance consistently improved throughout the duration of the play, as her character's life took on a dramatic turn after participating in the Festival of Fools.
Rhadeena De Alwis was impressive in her role as Frollo, bringing out all the violence, bitterness and conflicting emotions of one the most cold hearted and formidable of Disney's villains.
Other noteworthy performances were those of Clopin – played by Anushka Senanayake who wowed her audience with her wit and her voice; the three lovable Gargoyles – Victor, Hugo and Laverne, played by Dinoo Wickramage, Irushi Tennekoon and Ruwendi Wakwella.
It could be agreed on by most of us who watched Hunchback that the star of the night was Esmeralda, played by Dhanushi Wijeyakulasuriya. Her performance was stunning from beginning to end, not only being a great actress but a great singer as well.
Another striking factor about last weeks performance was the fact that every member of the supporting cast and the chorus gave a 100% performance on those nights. Not only did they add a lot of vibrancy and life to the crowd scenes, but being very much in sync even with small roles, they contributed a great deal to the drama in the sense that they also displayed various colourful aspects of different cross sections of the citizens of Paris.
Overall, it would be safe to say that the performance was impressive; more so than many dramas presented to the Colombo audience in the recent past. The fact that the performance was done by schoolgirls, made it even more impressive. It was also a refreshing change to see that the cast did not sing to tracks, and were not backed by choirs singing in the wings – where the quality of the singing most often did not match up to that of Hunchback.
Although the singing itself was excellent, it could be mentioned that the songs by the main male characters could have been more convincing if sung about an octave or two lower.
There was little or no gimmick in the performance, with one simple collapsible stage set of the Notre Dame Cathedral. This ensured that apart from the acting, the scene transition was also slick. Each actress displayed a lot of commitment and communicated an infectious sense of fun to the audience who had a great theatre experience and came away wishing for more.
Congratulations to Adam, Beatrice Devasagayam the musical Director, Sureka Amerasinghe on the Piano and Sureka Buell for choreography and all those who contributed towards making the play a success.