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  • Writer's picturekClare McK

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Music Theatre Works, 2019

Costume Coordinator (Partial Rental from Fourth Wall Scenic) and Wardrobe Lead

Hunchback was new to me—I had neither seen the stage production nor the Disney movie it is based on before. The music is epic and swelling, right in line with the company producing it (formerly Light Opera Works). We took a lot of inspiration from an incredible La Jolla production of the show, and this show seems so topical in our climate. The notion of “other”, “outcasts”, and “sanctuary” hit home for me. The emotional "God Help the Outcasts" sung by Esmerelda is incredibly moving as we think about the humanitarian crisis at our border.

Outside of the rental, we created an Esmerelda who felt different and exciting but especially real and strong. Esmerelda goes from sex symbol to the mouthpiece of morality to fighter and finally martyr. Esmerelda was played by the talented Anna Marie Abbate, who handled each of these prisms of character with skill and ease.

Photos by Brett Beiner

Our Quasimodo, played by the excellent Billy Dawson, a consummate professional with an amazing spirit, was another rework from the rental. Quasi can easily err into the cartoon/caricature realm, which pulls from the responsibility of representing disability onstage. This show is fraught with trappings of representation, from gypsies to the “deformed”, but the beauty of the lyrics and the format of the musical is the ability to lean into the storytelling of the legendary Hugo tale. Dawson does this perfectly, donning the “hump” onstage, marking his face with makeup. Similarly, the direction calls for the removal of the hump and dirt makeup at the end as Quasi becomes the actor again in finale. We didn’t reinvent the wheel here, keeping the character in tattered brown pants and green tunic, but we found a nice match with the palettes of the church and the gypsy “others” and setting him apart from the pristine whites and deep blacks and precious gold of Father Frollo.

Photo by Brett Beiner

Finally, the ensemble came out of the rental in garish primaries, a far cry from the director’s vision of earth tones and muted texture. An ensemble is something I love to dig into, creating a cohesive look that also lets the individual shine. We toned them down considerably, giving them a clean base to revert to when needed as gargoyles or parishioners. Clopin, played by Ben Sprunger, remained loud and colorful as fitting with his title of King of the Gypsies.

Photo by Brett Beiner

This is a show I would have loved to have spent six more months developing. The music is gorgeous and the Brechtian elements of storytelling are very appealing to me. Working with Rudy Hogenmiller, the amazing director, and Jim Davis, the Production Manager, has been a delight. The entire cast and crew are a treasure.

Next for Music Theatre Works is one of my favorites--Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in December. I will continue as Wardrobe Lead for that show, and I look forward to seeing the brilliant Costume Design of Robert S. Kuhn.

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It's Me!

Welcome to my blog. I'm kClare, a Costume Designer located in Chicago. I'm going to use this blog to spill my thoughts and re-hone my writing skills as I work towards publishing articles and academic


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