Locals add voices to Fulton’s ‘Hunchback’

By on July 3, 2018

It is nearly impossible for someone in the audience of Fulton Theatre’s current production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” not to get chills at some point. From the opening projection of the tale’s title on the three-story curtain to lead Nathaniel Hackmann’s (Quasimodo) heartwarming curtain call, the epic production is awe-inspiring.

With a cast of more than 90, including a chorus of 70 singers, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the biggest show in the landmark theatre’s 166-year history. The show opened June 5 to near capacity audiences and for Akron resident and actor Preston Cuer the show is a bucket list fulfillment.

“The soundtrack came out about two years ago, and when I heard ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ I was like, ‘I would kill just to be a member of the choir in this show,’” said Cuer. “It’s a dream show for me.”

Preston Cuer

Fast forward to February when Cuer was performing in “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Fulton and the theatre announced it would be presenting “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” later in the year. He immediately decided to enlist the help of Lancaster-based, experienced actor Randall Frizado to prepare material for the audition. The private lessons paid off, and Cuer was cast as part of the ensemble.

As an ensemble member, Cuer can be spotted as part of the townsfolk and gypsy clan in Paris, the setting for “Hunchback.” The classic tragedy follows Quasimodo as he struggles to be accepted by society. Enslaved by his uncle and “master” Dom Claude Frollo (David Girolmo), the hunchback toils in the bell tower of the cathedral until inspired by the beauty of Esmeralda (Kalyn West) to face the world.

“It’s an ensemble show where there are four or five leads, but the rest of us play all of the rest of the characters. There’s constant movement. We are all on stage the entire show. Even when we are not on stage we are off stage singing,” said Cuer. “It’s a whirlwind.”

Cuer’s favorite moments come at the beginning of Act II and end of Act II, when the entire cast is on stage backed by the entire choir, which resides aloft behind the principal action.

“All we are doing is singing to vocally tell the story,” said Cuer. “That moment of utter stillness in the whirlwind of the rest of the show, when I get to be a part of almost 100 voices singing music I love deeply is a truly special moment.”

One of those voices belongs to Ephrata resident April Yoder, making her Fulton stage debut as a member of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” choir.

April Yoder

“We are on stage the entire performance,” said Yoder. “We’re dressed as monks and we are in a choir loft … in church pews, so to speak.”

Yoder, a classically trained singer, started by performing in elementary school productions, advanced to voice lessons to help land roles in Warwick High School, and eventually placed first in the Pennsylvania State Chorus competition in her senior year. After high school she went on to get a degree in vocal music education.

“It’s always been something I love. I went to church my whole life and grew up in a church that was primarily acappella singing,” said Yoder, who learned harmonies and music reading early in her life. “That has definitely helped hone my skills now.”

Yoder always enjoyed singing but took time away to have children. She “jumped back in,” started singing with the Ephrata Area Church of Christ, and joined the regional women’s chorus Vocal Harmonix. She then auditioned for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“The show is really phenomenal,” said Yoder.

The musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is based on the Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name and incorporates songs from the 1996 Walt Disney animated film. The show started as a German production and came to the United States in 2014.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” never made the leap from theatres in California and New Jersey to Broadway, but the grand show plays big, especially on the stage of the Fulton where massive bells swing and gargoyles come to life.

The production is just a new beginning for Yoder who plans on auditioning for roles at other local theatres for next season. She also has her eyes on the upcoming Lancaster Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Carmina Burana.

“I sang in Carmina Burana with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in Little Rock, Arkansas,” said Yoder.

Another bucket list production for Cuer is “Beauty and the Beast,” which he will perform in this December at EPAC as an ensemble member. He enjoys mainstream productions dating back to his participation in “Les Misérables” and “Pirates of Penzance” in high school, in Buffalo, N.Y.

“It would be nice to do (Les Misérables) again as an adult,” said Cuer, who has made Lancaster County his home. “I just decided to stick around … We have something special here. You don’t run into as many theatre opportunities elsewhere as you do here. It’s a really nice community to be a part of.”

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” runs at the Fulton Theatre now through July 21. Tickets and information can be found at thefulton.org.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.


The chorus of Fulton’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” has 70 members, most of whom are onstage in one capacity or another for the entire show. (Photo by Kinectiv)

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