Bells are tolling for Slow Burn Theatre Company, but not the ominous bells that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel. Instead, the company is recreating the massive tower bells of the famed Notre Dame cathedral at the Broward Center for the southeast regional premiere of Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Unlike recent theatrical adaptations of animated films like “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin,” “Hunchback” didn’t go directly to Broadway after tryouts La Jolla Playhouse in California and Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, executives with Disney Theatricals decided instead to make the musical available to
leading regional theaters.
“As soon as I heard (“Hunchback”) wasn’t going to go to Broadway, I immediately began ‘stalking’ Disney,” admitted Slow Burn’s co-artistic director Patrick Fitzwater.
Fitzwater’s diligence paid off, making Slow Burn one of the first companies granted rights to mount a production.
“The musical is much closer to Victor Hugo’s novel,” said Fitzwater. “It’s darker and I think that’s one reason Disney decided not to take it to Broadway.”
The show will be the largest in the company’s eight years. Fitzwater, co-artistic director Matthew Korinko and their dedicated team of designers, actors and musicians have developed a critical and audience following for their productions of quirky, sometimes commercially unsuccessful Broadway shows.
“There’s a large cast, a chorus of 21 and the largest pit (orchestra) we’ve ever used,” explained Fitzwater. “There are so many more moving parts to this show, I really have to be on my game from day one (of rehearsals).”
Even before the scripts and scores arrived just weeks ago, Fitzwater and his team were studying the original novel, watching the animated film, listening to the soundtrack and speaking to the handful of other companies that had undertaken the enormous challenge. Unlike their other shows, Disney does not allow companies to replicate the animated film in any way, other than the musical score.
During the interview, Fitzwater was assisting designer Rick Pena, sewing medieval choir robes, just a handful of the original, historically-accurate costumes required.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he promised.