Cher Ellwood is directing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame’” that opens tonight at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall.
She has a warning for those who see this musical being put on by the Kauai Performing Arts Center:
“You’re going to be moved.”
And why does Ellwood believe this to be so?
Isaac Dubey, who plays the lead of Quasimodo, looked at her one time during a rehearsal.
“I saw you crying,” he said.
“I cry every rehearsal,” she said.
Based on the 1831 classic novel by Victor Hugo, the setting of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the Notre Dame Cathedral that was recently badly damaged in a fire.
The story is set in 15th-century Paris. Quasimodo is the deformed cathedral bell ringer — despised, jeered, feared and even beaten — who falls in love with the gypsy Esmeralda when she protects him from an angry mob.
The villain, the archdeacon Frollo, is obsessed with Esmeralda, who has feelings for the soldier Phoebus, who falls in love with her, too. Later, Quasimodo attempts to rescue Esmeralda when she is about to be put to death, accused of a crime she didn’t commit orchestrated by the evil Frollo, and hide her in the cathedral, long his sanctuary. When she dies in his arms, Quasimodo, in his grief and anger, picks up Frollo, his master, and tosses him from the cathedral tower.
The two-hour musical features about 20 songs and Gregorian chants. It has a cast of about 25 soldiers, gypsies, monks, and gargoyles, a choir of about 15 and a production crew of eight. Rebecca Hanseon is the choreographer.
Micah Miller plays Frollo and Mahina Olores plays Esmeralda. Preston Hayden plays Phoebus.
Ellwood said “Hunchback” has a tragic story line that has played out many times throughout history because of many people’s intolerance and hostility toward those who are different, toward those they don’t understand.
“Hunchback” calls on the audience to rise above prejudice and treat all with respect.
“That’s what this story is about,” she said. “Who is the monster and who is the man? What makes a monster and what makes a man?”
“The big thing about this story is, it’s asking us to look at how we, as humans, treat one another. How do we treat people who are disabled? How do we treat people who are born with deformities? How do we treat people from cultures other than our own?”
This version of “Hunchback” is in storytelling form, as it goes from the narrator to the action.
“It’s like you’ve opened up a book and you’re reading it and then it comes to life and you turn the page and the next page comes to life,” Ellwood said.
The cast, over the many rehearsals, has found meaning in the play beyond a performance on stage.
“The children are so connected to it and getting their own pictures of how they want to go forward in their lives as decent human beings and turn away from that mob mentality,” Ellwood said. “They want to think for themselves and stop injustices.”
Hanson said the cast was dedicated to learning many difficult dance numbers.
“The kids really had to work together because there’s a lot of formation changing and working in and around each other,” she said. “A lot of the choreography had to come with learning to work together as a unit.”
The audience will be rewarded for their efforts.
There are points when the stage is filled with swirling, twirling, leaping cast members “exploding into this huge festival, like it’s a big Mardi Gras.”
The real-life burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral came into play as well. This version of “Hunchback” was to be a tribute to history and Hugo’s book.
With the fire, it became a type of memorial to the revered cathedral, built in 1163 and survivor of revolutions and wars.
“It’s just makes it that much more poignant,” Ellwood said.
She said KPAC’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” attacks issues.
“This is a good, solid, powerful moving piece. It’s not a feel-good musical, and many musicals are. This one gives you a punch. It makes you stop and think. Are we better?”
Hanson said she was blown away by how the cast is “ready to take on the world” to fight injustice and intolerance.
“They see the issues that are ahead of them and they want to fix it,” Hanson said. “They want to be heard.”
Tickets available online, at door
The Kauai Performing Arts Center’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” runs tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m., and 2 p.m. Sunday. Shows are also scheduled May 3, 4 and 5. Tickets are $12 general admission, $8 students and $10 seniors at kauaiperformingarts.org. At the door, tickets are $15 GA, $10 students and $12 seniors.