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'Hunchback fails to ring real chimes

May 16, 2003|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

In the final seconds of the concert presentation of Vox Lumiere's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at the Coronet Theatre, a slide flashes on the main screen with contact and booking information for the show.

It's a fitting conclusion to this glitzy but empty commercial package. The brainchild of creator-composer Kevin Saunders Hayes, Vox Lumiere (Latin and French for voice and light) is an ambitious production company that fuses original music and live performance with famous silent films -- in this case, the 1923 classic starring Lon Chaney.

"Hunchback" is only one work in the revolving repertory of fully staged silent-film concerts that Hayes envisions. Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" started out on the festival circuit and made quite a splash in France. Other silent films in the works include "Phantom of the Opera" and "Nosferatu." Hayes even intends to take a whack at the 1924 version of "Peter Pan."

It's all hugely ambitious and entrepreneurial. Artistically, however, "Hunchback" bodes ill for the franchise. Hayes' eclectic score blends musical styles from opera to head-banging rock, but the result is more simple-minded than innovative, more impressive for the fact that it is so perfectly syncopated to the film's action than for much else.

Hayes himself conducts the live onstage band, and although his sound can be full-bodied and lush, his lyrics are as predictable as a rhyming dictionary.

An enthusiastic young cast, clad in revealing black leather outfits, is more notable for its vocal skills than its acting ability. Gabriel Previtera's direction is conscientious but joyless, while Lala Ghahreman's perfunctory choreography seems dumbed down to accommodate the limited movement skills of the performers. Even the lighting is garish.

Fortunately, the film itself, projected on a huge upstage screen flanked by two smaller screens, is absolutely riveting, especially Chaney's virtuosic performance -- so riveting, in fact, that the cast's contribution often distracts from the main business at hand. Perhaps Hayes' planned future productions will feature more prepossessing production elements than this generally misshapen "Hunchback."

His current endeavor, however, remains in essence a glorified film score for a glorious film.


Vox Lumiere

What: 'Vox Lumiere's The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

Where: Coronet Theatre, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 6 and 9 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.

Ends: Sunday

Price: $35

Info: (310) 657-7377

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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