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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Will the Hunchback Curse Strike Again?

posted by on May 7 at 10:21 AM


As local theatrical masochists will remember forever, in 1998, Seattle was blessed with a locally produced world-premiere rock musical based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Not since HAIR has a stage musical come along with the power to capture the imagination of an audience and leave them cheering like HUNCHBACK, an entirely new, blazingly original work by C.Rainey Lewis.

That’s a quote from the still-active Hunchback website, and it is factual. Hunchback captured the imagination of everyone who’s ever wondered, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if a New-Agey blues rocker with a lot of money and a weird Hunchback fixation decided to take it to the stage?”, and left its small but lucky audiences cheering a world that would allow such a monstrosity to come to fruition.

I’m proud to say I saw Hunchback, and it was so extravagantly bad I shall never forget it. On one hand you had the producers’ hubris, which drove them to book a world-premiere rock musical based on Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, written and directed by a fledgling theatrical talent with an iffy track record, into the humongous King Cat Theater for eight shows a week for four weeks, resulting in largely empty houses and cancelled shows. On the other, you had the vast limitations of the material and the delusions of its creator. “HUNCHBACK’s twenty songs include numerous ‘instant classics,’ and several which are candidates to become radio hits,” hypes the website, which also does a good job of characterizing the individual compositions:

“(Oh Let Me Be) Your Obsession”: A new twist on the seduction song, “Obsession” succeeds in combining innocence and lust in a homage to male power and sexuality combined with a fervent prayer for peace and harmony between the Universal Male and Female Principle. “Oh, let me be your obsession. Your love’s in need of expression”. Musically, the song lilts, swells, and sparkles in a brilliant and infectious melding of Western classical and Mideastern exotic, made all the more entertaining by the Gypsy girls’ dancing.

What’s more, a number of Seattle’s best-and-brightest—actors, dancers, musicians, designers—were dragged onto the sinking ship of Hunchback, lured by four simple words on the audition notice: “All positions are paid.” Among the brave Hunchback veterans: Derek Horton, Meghan Arnette, Jonathan Hochberg, Bhama Roget, Diana Cardiff, Hassan Christopher, Holly Eckert, and many more, each of whom deserves a fucking medal.

Why I’m bringing all this up now: A decade after Seattle’s Hunchback, another rocker is creating another new rock musical based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. To learn the identity of this rocker and more about his soon-to-be-opening show, please see Line Out.

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Posted by scary tyler moore | May 7, 2008 11:08 AM

Oh man, I still have a little square pin from "Hunchback" that I occasionally pull out just to remind myself of how trully execreble live theatre CAN be - with the resulting rededication to NEVER making anything as shitty as "Hunchback" ever, ever, EVER!

Posted by COMTE | May 7, 2008 11:28 AM

Oh, I dunno, COMTE . . . It seems to me that risking such shittiness is how we redeem theatre of the bourgeois "respectability" that keeps so much contemporary theatre so resolutely lukewarm.

Of course, I didn't see Hunchback myself, so perhaps I'm underestimating exactly how shitty it was.

Posted by thelyamhound | May 7, 2008 12:47 PM

it failed because they didn't title it:


Posted by michael strangeways | May 7, 2008 1:13 PM

Lyam, a person can *only* underestimate the shittiness of Hunchback.

I will never forget the first time I saw it: the "BONG BONG BONG" of the church bells in the opening moment, with the villagers walking in grim, slow motion and then POW! the horrible music kicking in ("Gotta Give The People What They Want") and the villagers going apeshit and cartwheeling and backspringing all over the stage. What have we here??! The rest of the show lived up to the promise of that first scene. It was so bad that I bought the t-shirt at intermission and wore it during the second half.

I will also never forget how various cast members invited me and my boyfriend to sneak on and join the cast for the closing performance. We were assured costumes and total sanction from all crew. We passed, and went to watch the closing performance instead and it was total mutiny. The actors were fucking off extravagantly all over the place. Simulated blow jobs, clothes coming off. It was a joy.

Hunchback: Never Forget.

Posted by Tina | May 7, 2008 1:53 PM


Risk is one thing; obliviousness to the point of foolhardy arrogance is quite another my friend.

As Tina attests, it really WAS that bad.

Posted by COMTE | May 7, 2008 2:32 PM

And I so wish I would have seen this when it was going on. Sigh you always miss the great bad theatre....

Posted by DJ Eternal Darkness | May 8, 2008 5:15 AM

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