Hunchback Rings True

Prominent French Romantic poet, artist, novelist and dramatist Victor Marie Hugo lived in a turbulent era of political unrest. While best known for swelling prose and elaborate sagas, Hugo also led a life of political activism, advocating for the abolition of capital punishment, along with several other noble endeavors during the nineteenth century in his homeland of France. In an attempt to bolster reverence for and to protect the crumbling semblances of the great French Gothic architecture, Hugo began work on a novel that he hoped would spread this veneration for the past amongst his contemporaries. A powerful tale of tragically scorned bell-ringer Quasimodo and his love for fiery gypsy dancer Esmeralda soon evolved into a larger epic of more elaborately tangled nuances than Hugo had anticipated, and the piece took longer than expected to complete. The result was a seamless narrative of dark, embroiled conflict set in fifteenth century Paris within the looming parapets and intricate buttresses of one of France’s most impressive cathedrals, Notre Dame.

Notre-Dame de Paris, published in 1831 and translated to English in 1933 as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, ultimately accomplished what Hugo hoped it would. The popularity of the novel incited a historical preservation movement in France, eventually leading to major renovations at the Cathedral, many of which are hallmarks of its present-day appearance. After Notre-Dame was finished, Hugo began work on a new novel that he hoped would shine a light on the widespread social injustice felt in the wake of the French Revolution. Taking years to finish and largely written while in exile after speaking out against the government, Les Misérables would arguably become one of Hugo’s most famous works and be adapted into one of the most loved stage musicals of all time. With a similar tone and style, Notre-Dame, too, inspired numerous adaptations, evolving into incarnations for radio, film, television, ballet, opera, and theatre.

A recent retelling is Disney’s heartwarming animated classic released in 1996. The film brought together musical powerhouses Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Aladdin) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) who collaborated to construct a beautifully elaborate score for the epic story. The film’s writer James Lapine made some changes to the story and a few years later Disney took to the stages of Germany with Der Glöckner Von Notre Dame, the company’s first international stage musical premiere which also became one of Berlin’s longest-running musicals of all-time.

The undeniable success of the German stage production added to the already growing desire for an English language version of Disney’s production in the United States. While a translated version of the German production was staged by The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, in early 2013, the North American premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame with a new book by Peter Parnell opened in late 2014 at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse. Though many adaptations displayed varying degrees of faithfulness to Hugo’s original text, Parnell’s book was more closely reflective of the novel. The production also featured ten new songs from Menken and Schwartz to accompany the already well-loved Disney score. The production transferred to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse the following year for a limited run that spring, receiving critical acclaim at both theatres. A cast recording was released in January 2016 under the direction of Brent-Alan Huffman, who will also serve as music director for the Ogunquit production.

The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be the New England premiere and one of the first regional theatres in the United States to produce The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Led by returning Broadway director Shaun Kerrison (Ogunquit’s Mary Poppins, Les Misérables, My Fair Lady, South Pacific), the production’s dramatic theatrics are intensified by a 32-voice choir to create a powerful rendition of this timeless tale. In honor of Victor Hugo’s reverence of Gothic grandeur, the magnificent set, designed by returning scenic designer Adam Koch (Ogunquit’s Sister Act, Saturday Night Fever), stretches out past the proscenium and transports the audience inside the walls of the famed Paris cathedral.

Scenic Design by Adam Koch

Adam Koch returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse (The Addams Family, Mary Poppins, Victor/Victoria, Nice Work..., Million Dollar Quartet, White Christmas, and Anything Goes) to design the set for the New England premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The show, with a book by Peter Parnell that more closely resembles Victor Hugo's original novel, features a 32-voice choir that enhances the dramatic theatrics of this epic retelling. Check out a few of Adam's favorite designs from the show, which opens on our stage on July 13 and runs through August 6.