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An introduction from the Director of our next show – The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Matthew Westrip 


The Original Story 

The story of the famous Cathedral on the L’île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine in Paris has been told in many guises and through many mediums since the publication of Victor Hugo’s novel in 1831. The title, Notre-Dame de Paris was specifically chosen by Hugo because the main character of the book itself is not the legendary Hunchback, but rather Notre-Dame herself. When the English edition was published in 1833 it was given the title The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, a title which Hugo disliked because it put the focus on the eponymous bellringer as opposed to the Cathedral. Hugo, who had a deep appreciation for Gothic architecture, its flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings, gargoyles and grand scale had wanted the piece to be an ode to Notre-Dame and the mistreatment of this forgotten architecture that he was witnessing in 19th century Paris. 


The story has subsequently been adapted into many operas, ballets, films (famously the 1939 Charles Laughton and 1996 animated Disney versions), television, music, theatre and of course musicals. All of these adaptions have focused on various aspects of the story, whether that be the plight of the Gypsies in Paris, the Catholic Church, the Cathedral herself or indeed Quasimodo. 


When Disney began their production in 1993, they did so because they wanted a new challenge by adapting a literary masterpiece that was sophisticated and serious in tone. This type of challenge was something that very much appealed to Artform when we took the decision to produce the 2014 Disney stage musical version in April 2024. Artform have strived to stretch and develop as a production house with our routes in Sondheim but also looking at hard hitting plays like Blood Brothers and The Elephant Man, along with poignant pieces like Oh! What a Lovely War, classics such as Sweet Charity and indeed comedic cabarets like Forbidden Broadway. 


There are many differences in the Disney animated film to the book and indeed the tone is noticeably uneven.  Subsequently a German adaptation was created in 1999, Der Glöckner von Notre-Dame, which was a huge success, prompting Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz to rework the piece to reach the definitive version of their vision and bring it even closer to the original novel. 


Our Story 

The new stage adaptation would be presented in a story theatre format. It would provide a brand-new prologue elucidating Frollo’s backstory and strip away the spectacle of the initial German production, employing a unit set of the Cathedral interior and focusing on the story and music. The cast was pared down to just 17 players, augmented by a large onstage choir.  


Peter Parnell devised the new libretto which hews closer to the novel than previous Disney adaptations. The new prologue and ending are both rooted in Hugo’s writing, as are many of the changes made to the characters and story throughout. However, some aspects of the German production still exist, for example the gargoyles that were refined in that production are now displayed, along with the statutes, as figments of Quasimodo’s imagination embodied by the congregation.  


The story with its new elements is more adult, darker and highly theatrical, inspired by and incorporating original text from the novel and expanding the Disney film’s beloved score. Showcasing themes such as faith, power, discrimination, isolation, and sacrifice, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame offers a powerful message of acceptance that resonates with audience, cast and crew alike. These themes are timeless and unfortunately are as relevant for us to reflect upon today as they were in 1482. 


With a score and lyrics that, I would argue, represent some of the very best work of both Menken and Schwartz (which is saying a lot considering Beauty & The BeastAladdinThe Little MermaidLittle Shop of HorrorsWickedPippin and Godspell make up some of their back catalogues), a story that itself speaks to our very nature as human beings and an opportunity for a unique company experience, I and Artform cannot wait for you to come and watch or indeed get involved in this epic musical. 


“Love is like a tree: It grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being, and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.” - Victor Hugo 





Artform's successful community fund raising concerts are held at the Corbett Library Carford Also at Hildenborough Primary School PTA and St Mary Church Hall Bromley and at Hunton Vilage Hall to great audience appreciation. 


Artform presents A Night at the Musicals in conjunction with the Corbett Community Library.


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