“Vox Lumiere will join Cirque du Soleil, Stomp! and other one-of-a-kind theatrical experiences that audiences crave.” ~ The Daily Breeze

Vox Lumiere thrills with ‘Hunchback’

By Jeff Favre

Lon Chaney was the original “Man of 1,000 Faces.” With a few jars of makeup, some putty, false teeth and a wig, the movie star could become anyone.

Given his love for transformation and originality, it’s likely Chaney would enjoy the Vox Lumiere treatment of his most famous performance in 1923’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” assuming the extreme flood of technology into his early 20th century brain didn’t give him a stroke.

Vox Lumiere (the Latin words for “voices” and “light”) is the brainchild of film, stage and TV composer Kevin Saunders Hayes, who after watching a series of silent films, got an idea of how to combine all of his talents to re-present old, black and white works into a lush, colorful, musical experience.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is Hayes’ second Vox Lumiere work (the first was “Metropolis”), and while Hayes still seems to be developing his style, this 90-minute performance (directed by Gabriel Previtera) succeeds as a concert and as an interactive movie.

Without any existing equivalent, the best way to compare Vox Lumiere is to say it’s the musical “Rent” meets a weekend midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where performers act out parts of the film.

Vox Lumiere begins the movie’s opening credits projected over the stage on three screens (a big one in the middle and two smaller ones to either side) as conductor Hayes, clad all in leather, enters with a rock band of two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer.

Hayes’ score begins and eight singers arrive, also dressed in costumes that resemble ‘The Matrix,” each wearing headset microphones.

As an annual 24-hour festival takes place on screen, the live cast sings the rock song, “Just One Day.”

Those first few minutes set the tone for the entire show, as Hayes moves from his score to songs that represent a major character in the film.

For example, Greg Whipple, a hulking man with a shaved head, appears as Chaney’s counterpart, Quasimodo, and sings a hard rock tune, the catchiest of the evening, that repeats the phrase, “King of darkness. King of pain.” Occasionally, he turns to the screen with anguish as the film characters laugh and taunt Quasimodo.

Esmeralda is played live by Victoria Levy, whose melodic ballad expresses her wishes to be loved by the debonair Phoebus.

The remaining few songs are a bit simplistic in their rhyme schemes, though the music is always interesting.

The choreography, created by Lala Ghahreman is not much more than elegant walking or a bit of hip swaying, and it is less interesting than what’s happening on the screens.

Vox Lumiere works best when Hayes comments on the film through the stage action. The most imaginative stroke is when the film shows a brief image of a spider being caught in a web, signifying Phoebus’ attempts to capture Esmeralda’s heart. On stage, behind scrims bathed in red light with shadows of a spider web projected on them, four women move seductively to a piece of sultry music.

Hayes has purposely kept the live action minimal when he feels the audience needs to focus on the screen. But there is room to create even more clever moments.

All of the performers are solid and the music, some of which is pre-recorded, is intriguing and crosses several genres, from gothic, to punk to pop.

The other major force during the evening, besides Hayes, is Chaney. His portrayal of Quasimodo is visually and emotionally exciting and overshadows a lot of action on stage.

Hayes clearly has the composing skills to make an audibly exciting performance. And if he and his production collaborators continue to expand the visual aspects for future projects, it’s possible that Vox Lumiere will join Cirque du Soleil, Stomp! and other one-of-a-kind theatrical experiences that audiences crave.