; Fun! Fun! Vancouver!: Hunchback

Friday, 24 February 2012


Edmonton's Catalyst Theatre have certainly put the goth back into gothic with their latest addition to their canon of work. Last night saw the Vancouver opening of their original musical, Hunchback, a newly revisioned telling of the Victor Hugo classic. If you've seen Catalyst Theatre's productions before, you'll know what to expect with their identifiable Edward Scissorhands-esque aesthetic. If you haven't, then imagine a musical done a la Tim Burton and don't expect to leave the theatre humming a catchy pop tune.

The sparse stage reminded me of life-sized Phillipe Starck juicers, with towering spider-like legs (think Louise Bourgeois' "Maman") that pose as the arching cathedrals of Notre Dame, then doubling as the dark and shadowy streets of Paris. We are shepherded through the story by a Cabaret-esque Emcee, who helps hammer down the voluminous work of literature into a manageable 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The vocals were done with intensity, showing off the range of all the actors, at times hauntingly beautiful and other times wrought with emotion. Backed by a pre-recorded soundtrack, there is no live orchestra here busting out an overture of things to come. Rather, you are plunged immediately into the pulsating score that is more concerned with providing a backdrop to the story than it is with creating an Andrew Lloyd Webber one-note riff. This is definitely not your typical Broadway blockbuster, nor should it be.

The unique costumes and props are what impressed me the most, this being the first Catalyst Theatre production I've seen. From the ominous police chariot that glides out of the shadows to Quasimodo's crustacean-like hunchback, the level of detail for the costumes and props were immaculate. Even La Esmeralda's water bottle was a stunning one-of-a-kind piece of art!

Vancouver is currently blessed with a multitude of musicals on the scene (The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, last month's Gunmetal Blues, and the recently finished I Love You Because), each one bringing something different to the table. Step into a dark wonderland of love and despair, desperation and hope, at Hunchback, which runs at the Vancouver Playhouse now until March 10! Presented in collaboration by the Vancouver Playhouse and The Cultch.

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