The staying power of one of literature’s most poignant underdogs is remarkable not only because of Victor Hugo’s sympathetic depiction of the Parisian hunchback Quasimodo, but for the many inspired reinterpretations of the character and his love for the gypsy girl Esmeralda.
Hugo’s 1831 novel has inspired frequent retellings, including a 1939 film with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, another starring Anthony Quinn in 1956, a 1997 TNT television production with Mandy Patinkin, and an upcoming made-for-Netflix that will star Idris Elba.
Most famously of all, Disney got into the act, with a popularly received animated film adaptation in 1996, followed three years later by a stage musical based on the film that ran for three years in Berlin.
The musical resurfaced, as a co-production of La Jolla Playhouse and New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, and made its world premiere in La Jolla just four years ago. It’s a chronology shorter than Hugo’s novel, but a testament to the public’s affection for the tale.
Steve Glaudini, artistic director of Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista, has his own personal history with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
“I was raised with the Charles Laughton film and my dad was a Maureen O’Sullivan fan (the movie’s Esmeralda),” said Glaudini, who is directing Moonlight’s 38th-season production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which opens Wednesday, Aug. 15. “It’s been a part of my life.”
Glaudini was working for Walt Disney Entertainment, the company’s theatrical production division, when the animated film was released back in 1996.
“I liked the movie,” he recalled, “because it was the darkest Disney animated film that they had done to date.”
When the movie became a stage musical, “what attracted me to this show was and always has been its score,” Glaudini said.
Moonlight’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is true to the score by Alan Menken (music) and Stephen Schwartz (lyrics) that includes “Bells of Notre Dame,” Quasimodo’s plaintive “Out There” and the blazing “Hellfire,” sung by the fanatical minister of justice, Frollo.
A 22-person choir, composed of volunteers who committed to all 14 performances of the run, will support a cast that includes David Burnham (from Moonlight’s 2017 “The Little Mermaid”) as Quasimodo, and Janaya Mahealani Jones and Lance Arthur Smith, both from the company’s “Mamma Mia!” earlier this summer, as Esmeralda and Frollo, respectively. Elan McMahan, a fixture at Moonlight, is the show’s musical director.
“Elan is a master class of a musical director,” Glaudini said. “I’m excited about making the sound as glorious as it can be and doing justice to this score.”
Though “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” interpretations have varied in their level of darkness and approach to the characters, the story’s central theme is a constant.
“It’s ‘What makes a monster and what makes a man?’ ” said Glaudini, referencing “The Bells of Notre Dame.” “That’s our question of the night. That is the moral. You can be hideous to look at but be beautiful on the inside.”
At Moonlight’s open-air amphitheater, the message is sure to resonate.
“When Quasimodo sings ‘Heaven’s Life,’ ” said Glaudini, “he’s going to look up and see stars.”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
When: Opens Aug. 15. Continues 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Through Sept. 1.
Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista
Phone: (760) 724-2110
Coddon is a freelance writer.