leave your inhibitions at the door
It’s been a while since I’ve posted about our theater doings, the last one being when I talked about how I absolutely LOATHE Grease. Then in Spring I was music director again for the middle school’s production of Annie, which I love. It was an awesome show and I was excited to be conducting the orchestra again or, as I often like to think of it, waving my arms rhythmically and hoping the musicians bail me out if I mess up.
Every time I work with these kids I feel a twinge of jealously. I was never in any shows myself when I was young, mainly because none of the schools I went to put on any. Even if they did, I was so painfully shy and self-conscious that I probably wouldn’t have auditioned anyway. But now I’m willing to do it, but don’t have as many opportunities. Or time.
Pioneer High School (here in Ann Arbor) has one of the top theater companies in the country. Because of its reputation for high quality performances, it often gets first crack at newly released shows such as Rent, Rock of Ages, and Shrek The Musical. This time around they were one of three non-professional companies to get to premiere Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The show opens tonight and tickets are available at showtix4u.com The stage production is billed as based on the Victor Hugo novel and the Disney movie of the same name. If you saw the movie, you’ll know that it was only loosely based on the book.
I don’t why people got so up in arms about that. Disney does it all the time – Beauty and the Beast was quite different than the book and I’m not sure there was any part of Pocahontas that was historically accurate – outside of the character’s name. But what do the detractors expect? This is a company that makes money creating family-friendly movies and theme parks. What people often forget about when they complain about “Disnification” is that – you know – THEY CAN ALWAYS READ THE ORIGINAL BOOKS. I’m sure many people became interested in the originals because of the Disney movies.
The stage show, as the billing hints at, is closer to the original book. The movie had wacky talking gargoyles, love stories, and a happy ending. On stage, the gargoyles are still there but only mildly amusing. There are still moments of levity but the book’s gothic mood and tragic ending was retained. But the best part about the movie was the music, and it’s in full force in the stage show.
And it’s gorgeous. I mean, out of this world beautiful. Alan Menken is the genius behind the great Disney musicals of the 90s – Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas – and many consider Hunchback to be his best work.
The music at times is dark and chilling, but it’s also lush, lively, and soaring. I am not exaggerating when I say that the music is on par with West Side Story, Les Miserables, Rent, and Miss Saigon.
In addition to the leads and the ensemble, the staging requires a full choir to represent one that would be in place at the real Notre Dame in Paris in the early 1800s. The choir is on stage the whole time and sings music inspired by music of the period. In fact, some of it comes from centuries-old Catholic masses which were in Latin. Most of the new material written for show, true to form, is also in Latin.
So what does this have to do with me?
On Menken’s personal suggestion, they decided to fill that choir with parents, middle-schoolers, and other members of the community. I was not going to pass this up. So I signed up myself, Mini-me, and a couple others from his school. We’re enjoying getting to see the show and singing the beautiful music. But damn, it’s hard – all the harmonies, the arrangements, the vocal gymnastics needed. And being in a language that’s been dead for centuries certainly doesn’t help.
My favorite song prominently features us baritones in the choir, the haunting “Hellfire” –
And even it’s out of my range, I may or may not have been caught singing “Out There” at full volume with the top down of the convertible.
I downloaded the soundtrack to learn the music, but have been listening to it non-stop because I enjoy it. The best part? A version of the inspirational song “Someday” that isn’t THIS version….
Now, c’mon, don’t you want to see me on stage?