‘Hunchback’ Offers Timeless Tale Against Timely Headlines

Production at Minnesota State Mankato Enters Final Weekend

SOUNDBITE: Theatre Director Paul Hustoles on the timeliness and social significance of Minnesota State University, Mankato’s musical stage adaptation of Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Quasimodo (Billy Gleason) is delighted to be “On Top of the World,” in the bell tower of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, with his new friend, Esmeralda (Delanie Wiedrich). Minnesota State Mankato’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame follows the Disney animation storyline and features music written by composers of such blockbusters as Wicked and Beauty and the Beast.

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by LENNY KOUPAL, CSU Communications Coordinator

The bells of Notre Dame will ring this weekend as cast and director of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at Minnesota State University, Mankato enter final performances reflecting on this week’s devastating fire of the iconic 850-year-old cathedral.

For Paul Hustoles, director of Minnesota State Mankato’s Theatre’s latest musical, said production plans started over a year ago for this adaptation based on the Disney animation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 classic,. This week’s Notre Dame Cathedral fire proved to be an eerie twist of fate.

“This is just a really strange coincidence that it would happen while we are doing the show,” Hustoles said.

‘The reason I like the show so much is because there are gypsies coming to Paris. The so-called church-going people want to get rid of all foreigners and they build walls…I think it’s incredibly timely for political reasons but then coincidentally timely because of what happened.’

Paul Hustoles, Director of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Final weekend performances of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. All performances are in the renovated Ted Paul Theatre in the University’s Earley Center for the Performing Arts.

Remaining tickets for this weekend may be purchased through the theatre box office open weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. Tickets by phone can be purchased at that time by calling 507-389-6661.

Hustoles said the cast hasn’t met since the fire, but he spoke with key cast members after watching shocking scenes from Monday’s fire. He added that one of the show’s special effects may have heightened emotional impact for cast and audience.

“One of the big things that happen in this show – it’s rather spectacular – the bells fly in. It will be very interesting to see what the audience does when that happens,” Hustoles said.

He added that the bells and the rose window featured in the performance were among those notable cathedral features spared by firefighting efforts.

The director said other aspects of Hunchback’s storyline are as timely as today’s headlines.

“The reason I like the show so much is because there are gypsies coming to Paris. The so-called church-going people want to get rid of all foreigners and they build walls,” Hustoles said. “I think it’s incredibly timely for political reasons but then coincidentally timely because of what happened (this week).”

Written in 1831, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is Victor Hugo’s tale of Quasimodo, the deformed, yet tender-hearted, bell ringer for Notre Dame who is shown compassion by a young gypsy street dancer. The Disney version of tragic love told through animation and music raised awareness and controversy around what is interpreted as good and evil, ugly and magnanimous.

Having done previous stage versions of Disney productions, Hustoles said he wasn’t planning to direct this show until the musical director suggested he take a second look.

“It was never done on Broadway. The reason it was never done on Broadway is because it is the most un-Disney thing that Disney ever did,” Hustoles said. “It’s serious. It has character. It has plot. And yet it’s also incredibly romantic.”

The show’s music also features two heavy hitters. Composer Alan Menken is credited with the musical score for such Disney animated blockbusters as Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Lyricist Stephen Schwartz is best known for the Broadway smash hit, Wicked.

Hustoles said the cast of Hunchback is one of the largest for an MSU production. Along with the leads and support cast, the show features an onstage choir comprised of students from the music department.  

“Four out of the five leads are graduating seniors,” he added. “It’s really fun when you can go out on a literal high note.”

The title role features Billy Gleason as Quasimodo. Senior All-American Actor Mathew Sather appears as Captain Phoebus.

‘Our Esmeralda is played by Delanie Wiedrich, who is an All-American Actress. Two years ago when she won the status as best musical theatre actor in our region – which put her in the top eight in the country – she did a song from Hunchback.’

Paul Hustoles

“Our Esmeralda is played by Delanie Wiedrich, who is an All-American Actress,” Hustoles added. “Two years ago when she won the status as best musical theatre actor in our region – which put her in the top eight in the country – she did a song from Hunchback.”

That song, “Someday,” has earned “screaming ovations” for Wiedrich in the opening weekend, Hustoles added.

This weekend’s production closes MSU Theatre’s main stage season for the University’s sesquicentennial year. Hustoles said it’s not yet known if this week’s events will prompt ticket sales for the stage adaptation of Disney’s animated version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“We normally get a bump in our second weekend,” he said. “The word of mouth (on this show) has been really very good. Many people thought this was the best show they’ve seen in quite some time, and I think we do pretty good shows. So that is a high compliment for us.”

Hustoles added that last Thursday’s snow also caused audience members to move their reservations to the second weekend.

One thing is for certain, audiences of this Disney musical will have a distinct historic perspective of an eight-century-old cathedral set against a 19th century social tale wrapped around today’s headlines of destruction and rebirth. Some could say that is theatre at its finest.

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