NORTH EAST — The sound of ringing bells fills the air around the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” but in the bell tower itself lives a quieter soul: Quasimodo.
Cecil College’s Milburn Stone Theatre is taking on the musical, which is inspired by the 1831 Victor Hugo novel and contains music from the 1996 Disney film. The show will run Nov. 22-24, Nov. 29-30, and Dec. 1. To purchase tickets, visit www.milburnstone.com.
Director Tina Sheing is a self-proclaimed “Disney freak,” and while the stage adaptation is darker than the children’s movie many families may be used to, she said the story and music are still very familiar.
“They’ve really fleshed it out with beautiful choral arrangements of more Renaissance period music which is just gorgeous,” she said.
Sheing added that many of the songs in the show are sung in Latin and require complex choral structures.
“This show is very challenging and this cast has risen to the occasion brilliantly,” she said. “They’ve all worked incredibly hard overcoming all kinds of obstacles thrown at them.”
Quasimodo’s mother, Florica, dies at the beginning of the show, and Quasimodo becomes deaf due to being so close to the loud bells in the tower. So, Sheing decided to include Florica as what she calls an “angel mother,” who uses sign language to interpret Quasimodo’s singing for the audience.
Sheing was born with a birth defect that requires her to walk with crutches. She said it was important for her to embrace the characteristics that set Quasimodo apart, such as his deafness, rather than hiding them because she knows what it is like to feel different.
“The fact that he’s different and looked upon differently abled, I immediately could relate and I could relate to a lot of the songs,” she said. “I wanted to showcase his heart and his compassion and his beauty of his soul, being such a caring individual, how he had been treated just because he was different in the beginning and how that shines through in the end.”
Dale Martin Jr., who plays Quasimodo, said the stage show humanizes his character.
“He’s not like your regular ‘monsters,’” Martin said. “In the actual books, he’s more of an entity. In this, he’s actually a person more so. You get to see that throughout the show and the sensitive side of this ‘creature.’ … You start to see the evolution of this persona and this character as you go throughout this piece.”
Martin said playing Quasimodo has been quite a physically demanding role for him.
“It’s physically strenuous,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of action going on. I actually throw one of the cast members across the stage. There’s a lot of climbing and stairs, ringing of the bells, carrying of people and staying hunched at the same time.”
Ed Elder, who plays Frollo, loved the animated moving growing up. Upon watching the stage production a few years ago, he said he was surprised by the difference between Frollo in the film and stage versions, particularly how the stage show depicts the balance between good and evil within the character.
“He’s more human, he’s more nuanced than in the animated version,” Elder said. “In the animation, he’s pure evil. In this, he’s misguided due to something that occurs when he was young.”
Of the songs in the show, Elder said his favorite is “Hellfire,” which his character sings about wanting for Esmeralda to either be condemned to Hell or brought to him.
“That’s like the quintessential villain song,” Elder said. “It’s an emotional piece.”
Martin said his favorite part of the show is towards the end when there is a confrontation between Frollo and Quasimodo.
“[Quasimodo has] been locked up in this tower for his whole life and it’s finally come to fruition that he’s not going to take it anymore,” he said.
That pivotal moment touches Martin each time he acts it out.
“I feel that every night,” he said.
While the stage production does not feature the talking gargoyles from the animated Disney movie, Sheing said families can still bring their children to the show to learn some important messages about compassion and understanding. Those lessons are especially important heading into the holiday season, she added.
“Everybody just wants to be treated well and everybody wants to belong,” she said.