for their upcoming summer production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” recently, showcasing a large group of actors both new and familiar to the SAAC stage.
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” tells the story of Quasimodo, a “deformed” man taken in as a child by Claude Frollo, who will eventually become the archdeacon of Notre Dame. Frollo keeps Quasimodo locked away in the bell towers of the cathedral until one day, Quasimodo decides to go out on his own, against Frollo’s orders.
“The whole story unravels based on his decision to go ahead and leave the tower and break free from the fear that was holding him up there,” said director Kristen Blossom. “That’s pretty much the platform from which everything else launches forward.”
Joshua Purvis was cast in the role of Quasimodo. Blossom said Purvis is perfect for the role in many ways – he has a gorgeous singing voice, is a good actor and has received physical training, which Blossom said will help with the role of Quasimodo.
“I was just thrilled when Josh came in to audition, because I was just very surprised. I think he is just perfect for the role,” Blossom said. “He can do the requirements physically for this character and he’s really great at acting too, everything that comes out of his mouth is really honest.”
In the show, Esmeralda is a gypsy woman whose beauty is part of Quasimodo’s impetus for leaving Notre Dame despite Frollo’s wishes. Lainey Walthall was cast as Esmeralda.
“Quasimodo often refers to her as an ‘angel’ in the script, so I liked that we cast somebody a lot younger than the typical look for Esmeralda. And also, in the novel, Esmeralda is a teenager, so technically, Lainey is exactly [right],” Blossom said.
Blossom said she is glad to have a young cast for this show. One concept she wants to exemplify with the show is “hope,” and she said she thinks the young, fresh energy from the cast will help to show that theme.
Another integral part of the musical are the gargoyles that act as Quasimodo’s confidants. Throughout the show, Quasimodo turns to the gargoyles for advice and comfort.
For their parts, Blossom decided to cast five actors from the ensemble for the specific roles of the gargoyles. Those actors will also play gypsies, French citizens, dancers and other characters.
“I really like being as efficient as possible in casting, and I like telling stories in a very, very, very simple way, because too many bodies on stage, I think it’s confusing for the audience,” she said. “What I’m calling them are five storytellers. The play starts off with the gypsies come out and they’re like ‘okay, we’re going to tell you this story,’ and the story ends with a riddle – ‘what makes a monster and what makes a man?’ – so it essentially is a play within a play of actors coming out and saying ‘hey audience, here’s a story for you,’ so we kind of ran with that concept.”
The music in “Hunchback of Notre Dame” was especially important for Blossom. Many of the songs in the musical are taken from the Disney animated feature, and the show features a Catholic choir that sings throughout.
For SAAC’s production, technical director Justin Howard envisioned choir lofts that will allow the choir to stay on stage throughout the entire show.
“We have a very large choir and they are a really important part of the story and they are sort of like a part of the set,” Blossom said. “We don’t have an orchestra for this show, but we do have a live choir, and I think that kind of makes up for it.”
Blossom said she thinks “Hunchback of Notre Dame” is a particularly relevant piece to perform in this day and age. The central theme of the show is about society’s “outcasts,” those who are isolated by society for whatever reason.
“The central core of the story is about the outcasts and people who are isolated from society and how we treat them and how we look at them, and the story challenges us to be better at how we treat the outsider and how we treat the ‘other’ – so not necessarily an outsider, but somebody who is different from us or what society has deemed to be normal,” she said. “Anybody outside of that sometimes has a stigma, whether that be a mental disability or a physical disability or the color of someone’s skin or their gender or anything about how they choose to identify, there is a certain way that they should be treated – with kindness and inclusiveness – and we often don’t honor that. So that is at the core of the story.”
Working at SAAC has been a dream so far, Blossom said, emphasizing the talent, dedication and creativity of the actors, production team and staff at SAAC.
“It’s so refreshing to see people so passionate about what they do, and it’s so refreshing to see people so happy to be doing what they do,” she said. “Everyone has been so kind and funny and nice, and I really, really like working with people who are funny, have the ability to laugh and have a good time and also make really good work at the same time, so I was so excited to see that everybody is cool and chill and nice and able to produce a really great product but not take themselves so seriously.”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” will open at SAAC on July 18. The show is based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name and the Disney animated feature, also with the same title. To learn more, visit saac-arts.org.
Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full cast list for SAAC’s summer production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
Quasimodo: Joshua Purvis
Esmeralda: Lainey Walthall
Dom Claude Frollo: Roland Bradfute
Clopin Trouillefiou: Jonathan Randle
Phoebus De Martin: Joel Chesier
Congregation/Gypsy/Gargoyle/Florika/Fredrick/Madame/King Louis XI/Priest/Parishioner/Dancer/Reveler/Soldier/Citizen/Choir/Children’s Choir: Kesynce Brewster-Daniel, Carmelo Brown, Abby Cate, Josie Denson, Clay Evers, Bekah Gunter, Samuel Nathan Gunter, Jacarllus Hill, Hannah Hopson, Tallis Kyle, Shana McWilliams, Jimmy Martinez, Mike Means, Lani Misenheimer, Maggie Phillips, Bob Stephenson, Abby Triplet, Jazz VanAssche