The Journey of a New Musical: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The past few years of being post-grad I struggled to find my place in the theatre. I was living paycheck to paycheck, unstable, and struggling to nail an audition like many of us starting off in this world. It was a long journey of interesting jobs and no real clarity. Hard work doesn’t always pay off in the ways you expect, as I learned very quickly. I was waiting for something to happen, to spark meaning in my existence again.
After 2.5 years of being creatively lost I found myself having that “aha” moment. I auditioned for and was selected to be in the local onstage choir Sacra/Profana for the U.S. premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at La Jolla Playhouse (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Peter Parnell). At that moment I realized everything that didn’t happen didn’t happen for a reason because I was meant to be there, in that moment, having the experience of a lifetime.
As cheesy as it sounds, I fell madly in love. I found my connection I had lost with the theatre and went to bed smiling after rehearsals. It was like being reunited with a lost love that I had longed for, for years. I was beaming and couldn’t imagine my life any differently.
As a choir, we rehearsed separately from the Hunchback cast until tech. Once tech hit, we were all in the theatre, on the set, fully immersed in the magic of a new musical. It was a very large puzzle delicately being put together. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, bright-eyed and beaming with energy and excitement getting to share the stage with such incredible performers. I remember thinking, “I could sit here for hours and be happily ever after” as I waited for our choir’s next direction. The house was filled with tables of brilliant people all working together to create something beautiful, to share a story that can touch the hearts of so many people.
To see the choices and the changes made all right in front of my eyes was such an incredible learning experience. The hard work and dedication presented by everyone involved was a reminder of why I love the theater. The rest of the world stopped and the only thing anyone could think of was the production. All I could think of was how grateful I was to be sitting in the pews, being able to watch professionals work doing what they love.
As tech progressed into previews I became enthralled with the creation of a new musical and how much goes on in preparation for opening. With it being a completely new work it enables changes to be made constantly. I read an earlier post written by the composer/lyrist Michael Patrick Walker about his musical Dog and Pony that related a new musical to expecting a baby. I found that article to remain very true. Measures cut, rhythms changed, props added, sounds cut, costumes altered, choreography added, the opportunities are endless and subject to change. As an actor you have to be able to adhere to those changes in a flash. It takes a really talented team to be able to successfully make it through tech and previews, let alone opening night.
Eventually after a streak of no-sleep, high stress, chaotic weeks of changes, opening night sneaks around to save the day. The musical is ready for birth and is ready to be shared.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was shared with La Jolla and brought life to everyone who sat in the audience. It was so surreal to be standing during curtain call amongst such an incredible team of talented and kind-hearted people. The actors inspired me daily and I always looked forward to pre-show backstage conversations. Having a local choir included in such a wonderful production added a sense of community that was really special. Even though I wasn’t on a first-name basis with everyone involved in the show, it didn’t matter. Everyone took care of each other on and off stage and that is one of the best feelings in the world. It felt like family.
Biased or not, Hunchback is an absolutely amazing production and I am so fortunate to have been able to experience part of its journey as a new musical. Now, the musical is setting off on its 2nd phase: a run at Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. The cast and creative team have had a few weeks of rehearsals and now are in previews with opening approaching. I bought a plane ticket to NYC and will be seeing the show at Papermill in April, and I couldn’t be more excited to see how it’s transformed since the run at La Jolla Playhouse. I am forever thankful that I had the opportunity and to leave it on a cheesy note, I’m forever changed from the experience.
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