The Phantom of the Opera. Beauty and the Beast. Wicked. Hairspray. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. What do all these musicals have in common? Three are set in France. Three are adaptations from movies. Two have been staged in the past by South Bay Musical Theatre. Three were written by Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz or both. All but one earned Tony Awards for best costuming.
But the main thing all these critically acclaimed musicals have in common is their central theme of acceptance—as we discover inner beauty in a leading character whose external appearance causes fear, disgust, or ridicule. The phantom, the beast, the green-faced witch, the plus-sized teenager, and the hunchback—are all characters who struggle to demonstrate their basic goodness.
In the case of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is currently being mounted by South Bay Musical Theatre and is set to open on May 19, this musical about a sympathetic underdog character was itself an underdog in its long journey to the stage. Originally developed (and best known) as a 1996 Disney animated movie loosely adapted from Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, the story was brought to the stage three years later in Berlin—not Broadway. It ran there for three years, becoming one of Germany’s longest-running musicals. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that an English-language version would be developed!
The musical made its debut in San Diego at the La Jolla Playhouse before moving to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. Although it never made it to Broadway, the play earned rave reviews in the press. The New York Times called it “polished” and “impressive” with “rich choral singing.” The Hollywood Reporter said, “Menken’s uncommonly complex, classically-influenced score often soars.”
Of course, Paper Mill Playhouse is a nationally renowned regional theater. The big question is: How good is the show that SBMT is mounting? Fellow SBMT Board Member Braden Taylor reported on April 26 (three weeks before the show opens): “We had our final run through in the studio last night. It went really, really well. One of our Assistant Stage Managers told me she found herself tearing up multiple times throughout the show. (Our director) was visibly touched at the end. Our Music Director shared how deeply moved he was conducting the show—and we haven’t even moved to the stage yet, with sets, lights, costumes, and most importantly the choir.”
So… if you love to root for the underdog, the downtrodden, and the outcast in a lavishly costumed, staged, orchestrated, choreographed, and a soaringly sung piece of musical theatre, get your tickets now for opening weekend starting with our gala on May 19. The last time SBMT staged a musical quite like this was Les Misérables in 2013—and that show was entirely sold out before opening night!