A few days ago, I had an opportunity to pose questions to four of the stars of Circle Players’ regional premiere production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame before the cast and crew lead by director Tim Larson say goodbye to the show. On Sunday, November 12 at 3 p.m., the company will mount their final performance at Z. Alexander Looby Theatre (2301 Rosa Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37208). The result of my conversations make up the latest installment of my continuing interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q as I chat with Hunchback stars Tyler Evick, Courtney Harkins, Dwayne Mitchell and Brian Jones, who play Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Phoebus and Frollo, respectively.
RAPID FIRE 20 Q with stars of Circle Players The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Jonathan Pinkerton: You play Quasimodo. Rather than Quasimodo being depicted as comical Disney character, he is based more on the original literary source material from Victor Hugo’s Classic novel. How challenging has it been to affect the physical and verbal difficulties that personify the character? Tyler Evick: They physical changes are very challenging. walking bent over for so long is very difficult on my back. I am thankful for the moments in the show where I get to either sit down, or be in my own head singing and stand up straight! Anyone know a good chiropractor? The hardest part for me vocally is the verbal characteristics of Quasimodo. He speaks with a raspy voice, which on my vocal chords is the most fatiguing part of this role.
JP: When Quasimodo is alone…or with his gargoyle friends, his disabilities ‘disappear’. I love that aspect of the show. Tell me about that?
Tyler Evick: These are the moments that we get to see what Quasimodo thinks of himself. I believe Quasi is somewhere on the autism spectrum. I have met nonverbal autistic people before that now are able to communicate by using an iPad. It definitely showed me, and made me understand, that even when people cannot communicate like me or cannot express themselves like me, they still have deep thoughts and emotions that are locked away from my understanding. This character gives me the chance to explore that idea and hopefully bring understanding to audience members as they soak in the story.
JP: While researching to chat with you, I learned this isn’t exactly your first time to perform Quasimodo’s songs, right?
Tyler Evick: When the studio cast album came out a couple years ago, I immediately added Out There into my audition book. Then I heard that MTI/Disney were recording the licensing reference recording here in Nashville, and I knew I had to audition. Vocally this music sits in the perfect place for me, and I knew I HAD TO HAVE THAT ROLE!!!
JP: How did the MTS gig come about?
Tyler Evick: Musical Theater International and Disney have begun to record reference recordings for their shows so that when someone licenses the show, they have a recording that matches perfectly to the material they have rented. (Sometimes the cast albums have cuts, different songs, different keys, etc.) We have so much talent here in Nashville, they have decided this is a great spot to make this happen. I saw that there were going to be auditions and I went! Lori Casteel and Dan Rudin are able to put together STELLAR casts for these recordings, and I am just thankful to have been able to spend some time in that circle of talent.
JP: What has being part of Circle’s Hunchback meant to you?
Tyler Evick: Putting this story on stage has been a huge honor. It reminds me every rehearsal and performance to always approach other people as human first. Not as left or right, or religious or not, or this skin pigment or that, or whatever… When you approach someone as human first, even if you disagree on something, the conversation is much more open and constructive. We have to remember that we do not know how everyone got to where they are. We do not know what has guided their character or motivations. But when I understand that they are a human just like me, with faults just like I have, the walls and barriers between us begin to fall.
JP: Tell me about your Esmeralda?
Courtney Harkins: Esmeralda is sassy yet kind. She is always trying to help those who are less fortunate and do the right thing, no matter the cost. She is strong and brave and not afraid to pull her knife out for a fight and I love that about her. She is a fighter for justice and won’t stop until the world is a better place.
JP: This is your first time appearing in a Circle show. What has the experience been like?
Courtney Harkins: My first experience with Circle Players has been truly amazing!!! I was so nervous when I auditioned for this show because I had just moved to Nashville a few weeks prior and I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted. I was blown away by how kind and supportive everyone was. They brought me into their group with opened arms and we have really bonded as a family. I can’t wait to continue doing more shows with Circle!
JP: As Esmeralda, you get to perform God Help the Outcast, my personal favorite song in the show. What does that song mean to you?
Courtney Harkins: God Help the Outcasts includes my absolute favorite moment in the show! In the middle of the song, the congregants of the church are asking for money and fame because they’re not satisfied with what they already have. Esmeralda listens to their selfish wishes and turns around and says “I ask for nothing. I can get by, but I know so many less lucky then I. Please help my people, the pour and down trod. I thought we all were the children of God.” She is pleading to God to help her people who are in need, but she doesn’t ask for anything for herself. I love how selfless she is and it really makes this moment in the song so powerful and moving.
JP: As Esmeralda, you have not one, not two, but three leading men. Let’s play a little word Association…describe each of the three in one word:
Tyler Evick as Quasimodo- kindhearted
Dwayne Mitchell as Phoebus- charming
Brian Jones as Frollo- intimidating
JP: Unlike the animated Disney version, this stage production is decidedly darker. Do you do anything to prepare mentally each night or to decompress after?
Courtney Harkins: I don’t usually mentally prepare much before the show. Esmeralda’s character starts off fun and flirty and so I take in those moments and enjoy them to the fullest. As the show progresses the darker side comes into play for her character. I try to stay in those moments even when I’m backstage so I can maintain her feelings and build upon them in the following scenes. There are a few dark scenes where I can’t help but cry because the emotions are so intense. By the end of the show I come off the stage with tears in my eyes. They’re happy/sad tears because I’m so proud of the story we told, but I know we only have a few more shows left before we have to say goodbye. It truly is a beautiful story that everyone can relate to in one way or another.
JP: Tell me about Phoebus?
Dwayne Mitchell: Captain Phoebus DeMartin, is the new Captain of the Cathedral Guard, and has just arrived back to Paris from the war. He is a huge ladies’ man looking for, what he refers to as, Rest and Recreation. That is, until he meets a gypsy that would change his life in this new world known as Notre Dame.
JP: Is this your first show with Circle?
Dwayne Mitchell: This is my first show with Circle Players. I am continuously grateful to the entire Hunchback team for allowing me the opportunity
JP: Prior to being cast, were you more familiar with the Disney movie and subsequent animated series or with the classic novel?
Dwayne Mitchell: I am a Disney Fanatic, with that being said I was more familiar with the Disney film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
JP: Which of Phoebus’ characteristics do you identify with most?
Dwayne Mitchell: I believe I relate more with Phoebus’ perseverance. Though he is known to be a ladies’ man, the perseverance he shows once he falls for Esmeralda, goes to show that once he has his mind set on achieving something, he will not rest until it is accomplished!
JP: What do you hope audiences take away from Hunchback?
Dwayne Mitchell: I hope our audiences understand the importance of Unity and Equality amongst all human kind no matter your background, past, or even genetic make up. We are all jewels of this world, and the only way for us to live in peace, we must walk in Love.
JP: Tell me about Frollo
Brian Jones: Frollo is deeply complicated and is similar to another Victor Hugo character, Javert, who I had the privilege of previously portraying. He is the villain of the show, yet he isn’t inherently a bad person. His actions are the result of an inner turmoil and struggle between his devotion and obedience to the Catholic Church (who raised him and his brother as orphans), his repressed human sexual urges, his feelings of personal responsibility for the careless actions and death of his brother, his duty to not allow Quasimodo to experience that same fate, and his need for power and control. Frollo was a difficult character to dissect and challenged me to make some decisions while developing the character. Does he really love Quasimodo or is he ashamed by him and merely acting out of duty to his brother who he feels he failed? Does he really love Esmeralda or is he dangerously coping with religiously repressed human desire? Does he really despise the gypsies or is he merely using them to place the blame for the death of his brother instead of taking responsibility himself? There are so many questions and issues surrounding religion, family, morality, power and love that plague this character which ultimately results in his own demise. He is beautifully tragic and on one hand, you might feel sorry for him and on the other hand, you may loathe him. I think the audience may see a bit of themselves in Frollo and although he isn’t “loveable,” he is “relatable.”
JP: I told you after seeing the show that you’re so good at being bad. Have you embraced the badness, or is it difficult acting so mean?
Brian Jones: Like any role an actor portrays, you have to let go of yourself and step into the shoes of your character. You have to embrace it fully. I actually find it quite fun to be the bad guy as it completely the opposite of my real-life personality. Sometimes, being the bad guy is really good stress relief and is quite therapeutic – I get to use Frollo on stage to let go of any pent up anger or take out that day’s frustrations. Then, when the curtain falls, I feel so much better.
JP: I’ll just say it…..I love listening to your deep bass vocals. What’s the lowest note you can hit comfortably while maintaining pitch and tone?
Brian Jones: It depends on what time of the day you ask me! I can step pretty far down the scale first thing in the morning! But honestly, I haven’t really paid attention to the bottom of my range as most musical theatre requires proficiency at the top of the range–tenor envy, I suppose!
JP: it’s so interesting that while a version of the musical debuted in Germany in 1999, it didn’t debut in the US until 2014. Why do you think it took so long?
Brian Jones: I can only speculate that a show of this magnitude takes time to develop. With other competing priorities of the creative team and producers, it probably just needed time to be worked and polished and then find the perfect home and cast, which it did at La Jolla Playhouse. The real tragedy is that this show never got to see a run on Broadway. But I think this piece is perfectly suited for the community theatre stage and provides us with a challenging score, a beautiful story, compelling characters and technical challenges.
JP: In addition to being part of the cast, you’re also Circle’s current Board President. How excited were you all to be staging the regional premiere?
Brian Jones: It is incredibly exciting to be a part of this show and to give so many talented actors and our creative team the opportunity to really shine! So many shows are done over and over again, not just here in Nashville but in all major metro areas. Sure, we love them and that’s why we produce them, but sometimes the excitement of the theatre is the opportunity to be a part of something that hasn’t been done before. This production is truly an accomplishment for Circle because we had to figure out how to stage the production physically without having all the bells and whistles (no pun intended) or budget of a larger, professional stage. I am honored to be a part of this production and I think our creative team, cast, crew and other volunteers did an incredible job in imaging and telling this story
With Brian’s and the other cast members thoughtful and often thought-provoking responses, my conversations about Circle Players’ The Hunchback of Notre Dame came to a close. Much like our chats, the show itself comes to a close with one final matinee performance at 3 p.m. Sunday, November 12. At press time, a limited number of seats remain, so be sure and Click Here to purchase tickets. In case you missed it, Click Here to check out my review of the show.
Next up at Circle Players is The Full Monty onstage at the Looby Theatre from Friday, January 12 through Sunday, January 28. For more information, follow Circle Players on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If you’ve enjoyed this Rapid Fire 20 Q with Circle Players’ The Hunchback of Notre Dame, be sure and Click Here to peruse previous Rapid Fire 20 Q chats with stars of many regional and national touring productions. If you’d like to keep up with the latest from Nashville Arts Critic, subscribe to receive free email alerts when new items are published by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.