Love, acceptance and heroism

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is at the Players Guild Theatre. The Players Guild Theatre is bringing a story of unconditional love, acceptance and heroism to its main stage.

Photo provided by The Players Guild Theatre

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is at the Players Guild Theatre.

The Players Guild Theatre is bringing a story of unconditional love, acceptance and heroism to its main stage.

The theater will close its season with a run of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The musical is based on the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo—who also wrote “Les Miserables”—and includes music from the 1996 Walt Disney Pictures animated movie. The show also has new songs with music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid”) and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (“Pippin,” “Wicked”).

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is set in 15th-century Paris and tells the story of Quasimodo, the hunchback who is the bell ringer at Notre Dame. He watches as the people in the city are enjoying the Feast of Fools, and he escapes from his caretaker, archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, to go join the fun for a day. The only person who shows him kindness is the gypsy Esmeralda. Quasimodo ends up competing for her affections while Frollo launches an attempt to free the city of gypsies.

The musical earned mixed reviews when it played in 2015 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, after debuting in California a few months earlier. The production never moved to Broadway and started being performed regionally.

Locally, the show hasn’t been seen on many Northeast Ohio stages. At the Players Guild, audiences can expect a set that architecturally points to the famous cathedral. The theater’s master carpenter, Micah Harvey, sculpted three large bells that will hang in the bell tower.

The musical also features an onstage choir that helps narrate the story in the style of a Greek chorus. Joshua Erichsen, producing artistic director for the Guild, described the music in the show as “sweeping and beautiful.”

For those audiences who love a traditional Disney musical, a word of caution: This musical is darker than others. The ending of the stage version is different from the ending of the movie, and it isn’t the happiest. Reviewers who saw the first performances of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” likened the show more to “Les Miserables” than “The Little Mermaid.”

“Ultimately, I think the message is one of unconditional love, acceptance and what it truly means to be a hero,” Erichsen said. “Not what a hero conventionally looks like or even sounds like, but shows through compassion and actions. Additionally, the message of loving and accepting unconditionally, despite all outcomes, is layered throughout the story, and that is one theme I don’t think we can hear often enough.”

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