Hear Those Bells Ring: A Discussion on Hunchback of Notre Dame

 Photo by straannick/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by straannick/iStock / Getty Images

 Now, ok I hear you all saying, “Hey Taylor didn’t you just do an entire article about Disney?” and to that I say look at the official logo for the musical, not the movie logo. You will notice the standard Disney’s (Insert Animated Classic Here) is absent. Even though it uses the music from the Disney film, it technically is not a Disney Theatricals show in the same way of - Ok, who am I kidding. It totally is. Anyways, if you haven’t been able to tell by now, I love Disney and I love their musicals. The company may show up very frequently in my articles, but hey, they’re slowly taking over the world anyways, so just preparing you to worship your new overlords.

Oh yeah, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, let’s talk about that.

I guess, somehow it is possible that maybe people don’t even know in the slightest what Hunchback actually is, and that’s fair - some of us aren’t as fond of the Disney renaissance as others are. So for many the most popular example of Hunchback is the 1996 Disney movie, but that itself is based on the classic story by Victor Hugo (you know the guy who wrote Les Mis), which in America is known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but in France, the books origin and location it is better known as Notre Dame De Paris. Which for those who need to brush up on their French is...just the name of the Cathedral. Victor Hugo didn’t really care much for fancy titles. That book went on to inspire an opera, several movies (most notably a black and white one in the thirties that came to be used as a huge reference for the Disney movie, the two drawing many visual parallels), the not Disney version musical, (it actually looks really cool and I believe it’s being shown in theatres temporarily soon and you absolutely should go see it), and of course a Disney movie! The story behind the movie is actually really cool because the movie was made after Beauty and the Beast did extremely well on Broadway, and Disney wanted to make a movie specifically to later be able to be turned into a musical and well…

It didn’t go the best. You see the musical was first adapted in Germany under the name Der Glöckner Von Notre Dame, which didn’t adapt much from the 1996 movie, and it actually did really well, there was of course plan for an American adaptation but it took years and years to happen. This is most likely because of the new songs and much closer story to Hugo’s that made this story overall much different than the 1996 movie. The show ran at La Jolla Playhouse and looked as if it was Broadway bound but, in the end, Hunchback got no further than that and was soon placed into licensing territory.

Hunchback tells the story of Quasimodo, the son of Jehan Frollo who, after being cast from the cathedral and dying from disease, gives his son onto Claude Frollo to take care of. Frollo appoints the deformed boy as the bellringer of Notre Dame who, after many years of ringing the bells and only being in the company of statues and gargoyles and his master, wishes to see the world outside of the cathedral and out there among the citizens of Paris. Quasimodo gets his chance to during the Festival of Fools, the one day Romanies, or “gypsies” as they are called, can walk around without being subject to arrest. During this, Quasimodo is decided to be the ugliest man in Paris and crowned the King of Fool, where he is then whipped and mocked by the citizens. He is saved by Esmeralda who, without knowing that the citizens would react so harshly, encouraged Quasimodo to enter the contest. Quasimodo retreats back into the bell tower where Esmeralda runs after him. Phoebus, the captain of the guard. stops her upon entering, but eventually lets her go. She finds Quasimodo and the two share a moment on the top of the world. Frollo who has developed a deep lust for Esmeralda, begins to stalk her, vowing to either maker her love him or burn her at the stake, while Quasimodo has fallen in love with Esmeralda and views her as the one bit of heaven’s light in his cold dark world. Esmeralda is then tried as a witch and arrested. Phoebus defies Frollo and refuses to turn her in and the two flee to the cathedral where Quasimodo is ringing the bells to sound the alarm that Esmeralda is in danger. Phoebus is injured, and left there while Esmeralda goes to seek refuge. She gives Quasimodo a map he must decode to find her, and the two, after much trial and error and almost being hung for entering the court of miracles, find her and warn her than since Esmeralda has fled, Frollo has found the hideout and will attack at dawn. In reality, Frollo has not found the hideout but follows Phoebus and Quasimodo to where it is and arrests Esmeralda and Phoebus while Clopin, the king of the gypsies, manages to escape. Esmeralda imprisoned is cornered and assuaged by Frollo overcome with lust, and then she and Phoebus are granted to spend their last night together, as Quasimodo who is now chained up in the bell tower is hopeless and would rather be made of stone than screw up anything else. When Esmerelda is about to be burned at the stake though, Quasimodo changes his mind and breaks free in order to save her. He swings down to the pyre and fights off the guards declaring sanctuary and climbing back up to the bell tower with an unconscious Esmeralda. Clopin returns and frees Phoebus who both rally the citizens to fight after Frollo breaks the sacred laws of sanctuary that states no one can be arrested inside the holy place. Quasimodo dumps hot lead into the streets below moments after Frollo manages to bust down the doors and make it into the cathedral. He confronts Quasimodo at the tower as Esmeralda dies in his arms. Overcome with rage and grief, he throws Frollo over the edge of the tower to his death. Quasimodo then goes into the streets with Esmerelda where the people who once wanted her to die realize their mistake and paint their faces and distort themselves in order to sympathize with the poor boy. The cast then delivers the final epilogue that Quasimodo would go to die with Esmeralda before closing the show with the question they asked in the beginning, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?”

Now, I absolutely love Hunchback. I mean, makes sense really, I wouldn’t be covering it if I didn’t. I had the chance to see it at Thesfest 2 years ago and I have had the pleasure of being a part of it. The music is incredible and serves to drive forward the message and the overall dark tone of the story. It covers a variety of topics such as racism, disabilities, and class without ever focusing on one specifically.  It covers the age old theme of accepting and embracing others differences in a very meaningful and impactful way. And oh my god did I mention the music. It is absolutely amazing, I mean I love everything Alan Menken, but this is spot on. The lyrics are written by Stephen Schwartz and this duo is absolutely incredible. It leads to already amazing songs like “God Help the Outcasts” and “Out There” being outranked by songs like “Made Of Stone” and the incredible show stopping Act 1 Finale, “Esmeralda”. I mean the soundtrack absolutely deserves a listen and the story as you just saw is compelling, interesting, and very engaging.

So I love it, it’s gained quite a sense of popularity in community theatres and high school, and its many people's favorite musical despite never going on Broadway. So why didn’t it? Well a lot of people would think it’s because of its dark theme. I mean three of the five main characters die by the end so… but actually, it’s an entirely different reason. See, just about every musical has a gimmick and while most are visual, Hunchback’s is an entire choir of 15-30 people who provide background vocals to the songs. Believe me when I say the choir is what makes the show different from any other musical, and Disney said they just simply could not make the show work with the cast and that large of a choir. It’s a shame, but for very reason Hunchback is one of the coolest recent musicals is the same reason we may never see it on Broadway and subsequently never tour, but it, as I mentioned, found success regionally, and recently had a critically acclaimed deaf west version.

I would highly encourage you if you haven’t seen or listened to Hunchback before to give it a try. It is one of my favorite musicals I’ve seen and one of my favorites I have been a part of. This show is truly incredible and I encourage you to see for yourself exactly what makes a monster and what makes a man…

And you can, because once again it’s The Upcoming Production Segment, where I show you where in the world Hunchback is currently or about to play so you have the chance to see the show for yourself…

Stage Door Repertory Theatre in California from August 25th to September 22nd http://www.stagedoorrep.org

The New Paradigm Theatre Company in Connecticut from August 18th to August 19th http://nptheatre.org

Music Theatre of Denton in Texas from October 19th to October 28th http://www.musictheatreofdenton.com

And I am starting a new thing this go around, if I missed any local production you would like to list go to this spreadsheet- https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1LRfWXoigYMOL03ZlNH5rw9xffaOzgMMIdZOj0RQ1wNg/edit?usp=sharing and add your own. You can also view this list to find a production that may be closer to you!

....And that is all I have for you today. Thank out for reading and please keep checking back in on the blog. We release a new article every Monday and Thursday and they are all just as, if not more entertaining than this one. I hope you enjoyed reading and until next time, have a great week everyone and I will see you later in the month. Goodbye