No Great Mystery

Playwright Crisp, better known in his native England than in the United States, also writes novels and for television. In the skeletal information I was able to dig up on him, not a single other thriller was mentioned. Given the scant material I found, this doesn't mean he hasn't tried his hand at other mysteries. Since he's not known for writing them, however, I suspect that, with its transparent plotting and its cliched lines about madness, Dangerous Obsession may very well be an unsuccessful attempt to parody the genre or at least to use the form as an excuse to write a morality play about taking responsibility for one's reckless actions. In either case the play's potential for suspense doesn't derive only from its been-there, done-that plot. It's also found in the head games among the principals, whose triangular relationship is marked by deception and betrayal. Unfortunately, director Arisco treats Obsession as a standard-issue, plot-driven thriller, favoring the revelation of ho-hum secrets over psychological tension. The interpretation renders an already obvious script toothless.

Stage Whispers
Disney is doing it this summer, but Christopher Bishop is doing it right now. Although an animated musical version of Victor Hugo's epic nineteenth-century novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame arrives in theaters this June, South Florida audiences can catch a live rendition by Miami composer, lyricist, and author Bishop at the Shores Performing Arts Theater, in Miami Shores, through May 19; Bishop also stars in the title role.

By day a music teacher at West Miami Middle School, Bishop had the initial inkling to turn Hunchback into a musical 23 years ago. Ultimately, however, "it just took its place in the time line of the different projects I was doing," he notes. Those projects included 1492, which Bishop created in celebration of the 500-year anniversary of the Spanish discovery of the New World; that work was named the National Quincentenary Jubilee Commission's official musical theater presentation, with the song "Discovering America" designated as the commission's official theme song. His other musicals include The Formula, which premiered at Florida International University's first original play festival in 1985; the post-Hurricane Andrew show We Will Rebuild; and Magic City, performed for Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Miami in 1991.

While Bishop labored on the production, other composers were mining broadly emotional, lushly romantic nineteenth-century novels for musical theater scenarios, from adaptions of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera to Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to yet another Victor Hugo tome, Les Miserables. None of this daunted Bishop. "The success of Phantom taught me the power of a Gothic approach," he explains. "Les Miserables taught me that the extreme complexity of a 600-page Gothic novel could be reduced to a two-and-a-half-hour entertainment."

Five years ago Bishop finally sat down to tackle Hunchback in earnest. Four years later he had translated into song and dance the story of the deformed Notre Dame cathedral bell ringer Quasimodo who falls in love with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda. The composer and his wife, Adelle LaBree Bishop, approached Stephen Neal, artistic director of the Shores Theater, with the finished product. "We played him the score," Bishop recalls, "and told him the story. He was enthralled and said, 'Let's do it.'" One year later the theater, with Neal as director, is playing host to what Bishop calls "a Broadway-style production," complete with period costumes and lavish sets.

After years of shaping the show in private, Bishop found that taking Hunchback into production flooded him with fresh ideas. "The marvelous thing about doing a musical," he says, "is the collaborative effort it takes. As you do the specific rewrites, you work with specific actors and try to mold some of the lines and the lyrics of the songs to make them particularly apropos of the personalities being used." For example, Frank O'Neill, who plays the part of Captain Phoebus, has a strong Portuguese speaking accent, so Bishop tailored the role to emphasize O'Neill's singing. Bishop also wrote a second song for the character of Claude Frollo, archdeacon of Notre Dame and Quasimodo's autocratic protector, because, as Bishop puts it, actor Wayne LeGette "is a very capable performer and it was helpful to the play to give him more to do." Bishop also emphasizes Neal's "cinematic" direction, his montagelike approach to staging: "When we're right in the middle of a song, we'll play a scene in the center of the song and then finish it. Then immediately something else is happening on the other side of the stage. The idea is to create a seamlessness."

For further information, call the Shores Performing Arts Theater at 751-0562 or see "Calendar Listings.

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