Steven Webb To Star in World Premiere of Lionel Bart's Quasimodo Musical in London
By Mark Shenton
Casting has been announced for the world premiere of Lionel Bart's Quasimodo at London's King's Head, 50 years after it was written. Robert Chevara will direct the production, which will begin performances March 20, prior to an official opening March 22, for a run through April 13.
Steven Webb will play the title role of the tragic Parisian hunchback, deafened by the bells of Notre Dame. He has previously played Posner in Alan Bennett's The History Boys at the National Theatre and Wyndhams, starred in the musical Betwixt! at Trafalgar Studios, and appeared in the title role in Lionel Bart's Oliver! at the London Palladium as a child actor in 1999.
When open auditions were held to find the young actor to play that role, the director commented, "We need a young man who has the vulnerability of Charles Laughton and the animal magnetism of a young Tom Hardy, but who can also sing like Tom Jones. Quasimodo is the most complex character in Lionel Bart's most ambitious score. Like The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, Quasimodo is an iconic role. He is like a young bull and the part is incredibly physically and emotionally demanding. He must be able to embody the isolation of the total outsider, with whom Lionel Bart identified and have the duality of both ferocious power but also a child-like inner joy. His scenes with Esmeralda fizz with sexuality and electricity and as in Beauty and the Beast, the audience should question their prejudice of what being ugly, or beautiful, really means."
Esmerelda will be played by Zoe George, who appeared as Martha in the Welsh National Theatre production of Spring Awakening and also appeared in the musical The Last 5 Years. Also in the cast are Helen Sheals, Iestyn Arwel, Melanie Bright, James Hume, Sean Paul Jenkinson, James Wolstenholme.
Bart wrote the show, based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel "Notre Dame de Paris," in 1963, but it was never produced in his lifetime. He died in 1999 in London. A semi-staged workshop for investors and producers in 1995 at the Soho Laundry, featuring Tony Award-winning Frances Ruffelle as Esmerelda, Ray Shell (currently playing the manager in The Bodyguard) as Quasimodo and Peter Straker, was the nearest it came to the West End. A recording of that workshop still exists with Bart himself playing the piano as part of the band.
At the time of the workshop, Bart commented: "I've been fascinated by this story since I saw Charles Laughton as the hunchback in the 1939 film version. I was inspired by the story of this marvelous soul within a monstrous body. But in the original story the hunchback is only 18 — not Charles Laughton at all. Esmerelda is 16, a street kid. With the obsession of the priest, Frollo, who is the hunchback's mentor, it suddenly came together as an involved, modern, dark subject. The simple premise of the piece, when I wrote it, was the question, 'What is ugly?' I hoped that you could realize, when you left the theatre, that the guy at the end of the row wasn't so ugly after all. It's a tragic story, but about being free to change, free to renew oneself. In a way I became the hunchback. It's a great release and a catharsis for me to put it all in this work."
Chevara previously staged Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carré at the King's head last year, in a production that subsequently transferred to the Charing Cross Theatre.
To book tickets, contact the box office on 020 7478 0160 or visit kingsheadtheatre.com for more details.
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