February 16, 2016

There's a new way to experience the highly effective melodramatic score that Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz created for the Victor Hugo-inspired Disney film and have expanded and polished for the stage over the past twenty (yes, twenty!) years. It is the most sonically satisfying one to date. 

The Disney movie version of the score (complete with incidental music by Menken) is available on Walt Disney Records, of course, and the German language original cast album of the version mounted in Berlin with a book by James Lapine is on the Stella Musicals label. Now, however, Ghostlight Records has released a studio cast recording of the score based on the 2014/15 production at the La Jolla and Paper Mill Playhouses that had a new book by Peter Parnel and was directed by Scott Schwartz. 

Just as he did for the 1996 movie, Michael Starobin handled most of the orchestrations of the expanded score which is performed by 27 piece, string-dominated orchestra and a 28 voice chorus. It features Patrick Page as the villainous Frollo, and Clara Renée as the lovely gypsy Esmeralda. The very good cast is headed by Michael Arden as the hunchback whose name, Quasimodo, means partially formed. His singing is good, but it is his tortured vocal quality on the portions of dialog that he speaks that is most impressive. 

The songs that made the Disney film so memorable have been incorporated in this 22 song score. In the movie, much of the plot came in dialog and action scenes, not in musical numbers. Here, however, with the exception of the finale where parenthetical phrases are printed in the booklet to fill in a few gaps, the story is fully told in Schwartz's lyrics which are clear, clean and touched with his signature touch of dealing with aspects of religion and of spirituality. It was Schwartz, of course, who was chosen by Leonard Bernstein to help craft lyrics for Mass, so it shouldn't be too surprising that he would be comfortable with having the villain blame God for his own weaknesses — "It's not my fault if in God's plan / he made the devil so much stronger than a man." 

Menken's additions to his musical score add heft and sweep to the work while remaining musically connected to the original material so the entire score feels like a unified piece. 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Studio Cast Recording
Ghostlight Records Catalog 8-1482
Running time 1:20 over 23 tracks
Booklet contains full lyrics

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Studio Cast Recording