FeaturedMusicalNorth WestReview

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – NYMT at Manchester Cathedral

Reviewer: John McRoberts     

Music: Alan Menkin

Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz

Book: Peter Parnell

Director: Alex Sutton

Director of Sign: Raffie Julien

Having already been postponed last year due to lockdown restrictions, the eagerly anticipated production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by the incredibly talented older ensemble of the National Youth Music Theatre has finally made it to the stage. Despite having only had 10 days in rehearsal Alex Sutton’s inclusive production not only exceeds expectations but arguably becomes one of the most exciting, visceral, and emotional productions this reviewer has ever witnessed.

One doesn’t write the above words flippantly, instead choose to give due praise where it is indeed merited. Sutton has managed to combine a youth ensemble of over 100 performers aged between 14 and 22 years old (80 cast and 25-piece orchestra) into a slick, confident, and incredibly professional ensemble whose vocals are faultless, whose energy never wanes, and performances are nothing short of sublime.

Alen Menkin and Stephen Schwartz’s musical is based on the Disney Animated Classic of the same name, however the 2.5 hour running time allows the back story of Quasimodo to feel more rounded and richer compared to its animated sibling. Menkin’s music soars in the electrifying surroundings of Manchester Cathedral’s nave, not least thanks to Jordan Li-Smith’s superb musical direction.

What makes this production by the National Youth Music Theatre stand out is the high level of inclusion both from within the cast but also for those watching. BSL is woven intricately into the production thanks to a clever use of character doubling, and sign direction by Manchester based actor/director Raffie Julien and clever choreography from Mark Smith who somehow manage to fit an entire ensemble onto Ryan Dawson Laight’s compact scaffold-based set and introduce sign into the movement of every song. This inclusion hasn’t just been shoehorned in but is the fundamental underpinning of the entire concept of this production and how the characters interact and speak to each other throughout.

In the lead role of Quasimodo, Ciaran O’Brian and Adam Pugh are perfectly matched, O’Brian’s physicality combined with Pugh’s rich and textured vocals gel brilliantly. There is really chemistry and comradery between the two young performers which is a joy to watch.  Lois Chapman’s portrayal of gypsy performer Esmerelda is strong and full of conviction, her final few scenes are gut-wrenching and filled with incredible emotion. As Captain of the Guards, Thomas Ibbs makes for an imposing figure as Phoebus. As Frollo, 18-year-old George Dennett embodies the villainous role with a level of certainty that is often missed by seasoned professionals with twice as much experience. Likewise, 19-year-old Rosy Smith imbibes the ‘head of the gypsies’ Clopin with a sense of cheeky irony which gives the character a little more of a sinister edge and allows her much more freedom to express in her many perfectly delivered songs. If this cast is anything to go by the future of musical theatre is looking extremely exciting.

There is just one thing one regrets most about this production, and that’s not being able to watch it earlier in the run, so there was still time to make a return visit… perhaps this is one prayer the theatre Gods listen to and provide this sensational production a much deserved longer run!

Reviewed on 14 August 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Utter Perfection

The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you so so much. This is a truly humbling review. The entire cast, crew and producers are thrilled!!

  2. Thank you, John. This production was the realisation of a long-held dream. I could not be prouder of the entire company and of the creative, technical, pastoral and production teams involved, especially in light of the considerable challenges and set-backs posed by COVID. It was a fitting and poignant comeback for NYMT after a 2-year hiatus. I think we are all humbled by the response.

    Jeremy Walker
    CEO & Artistic Director
    National Youth Music Theatre

  3. Congratulations to Alex Sutton and the whole team. Love the strong message about the centrality of inclusivity. Gutted not to be able to be there. Will the show appear in other places?…please!

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