Magnificent music mixes with epic encounters as Anoka High School theater presents its spring musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” outdoors June 3-6.
The story is far from a happily-ever-after fairytale, filled with intensity and complex, at times dark, characters.
“‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is based on one of the best films from the Disney Renaissance, with a sweeping, majestic score and genuine, heartbreaking characters — if you can tell, it’s one of my favorites,” director Jake Sullivan said. “And from the reactions of students, they’re excited as well. It’s always one of my goals to present engaging, challenging and new materials to students, and they have taken this up with much enthusiasm.”
It is not the first outdoor performance at Anoka, but the first musical. It has led to new challenges, yet also new opportunities.
“Anoka has done outdoor theater before, but never a musical, which comes with its own set of hurdles, such as sound, lighting, weather, etc.,” Sullivan said. “The most fun I think is seeing students interact with the environment and react to the fading sun during the show. The excitement of being outside will also extend to the audience. It adds a certain something extra you can’t get in an auditorium.
“The show is told in the style of story theater, with a troupe of actors presenting the story, narrating and taking on various characters to further the plot. This style was ideal for a COVID-safe show, allowing us to distance actors more than a traditional musical. Besides, it offers more engaging and creative opportunities for the students.”
The selection offers a sweeping musical arrangement for students to dive into and display for the audience.
“I love the music for this show,” said Mackenzie Moe, playing Esmeralda. “Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz wrote the most incredible score for this musical. I am excited for audiences to see the dancing and combat. These physical elements make the show come alive. It has been really fun to learn traditional Romani dances and incorporate them in our dances. It was also exciting to learn onstage combat, and I can’t wait for audiences to see it! Playing Esmeralda has brought me so much joy, and I can’t wait to portray her in front of an audience. The beautiful messages of this show will stick with me throughout the rest of my life, and I’m so grateful for that.”
“I am excited for people to see the magic and tricks of the show,” said Devah Gohl, playing in the ensemble. “I mostly enjoy the ensemble dance numbers and the fun scenes where everyone is getting excited and hyping each other up.”
The show will mark firsts and lasts across the cast as well, with some students making their theater debuts while others put on one final high school performance. For all, it’s a chance to be taking part in something again with friends old and new in-person.
“This is my first ever theater production, and I am so glad I have got to experience something so wonderful,” said Devyn Thomas Harris, playing Captain Phoebus De Martin. “When I came, I felt like I was welcomed by everyone, making it easy to make many new friends. I felt like I was right at home. This show has brought me much joy in my life and it was a way for me to come into the spotlight and show my true colors. I want to thank everyone that was a part of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame Musical’ for welcoming me and making me feel like I’m worth something.”
“In light of the pandemic, I have finally gotten the opportunity to rehearse on stage and in person with some of my favorite people, and I am excited to be able to perform in front of a live audience for the first time in over a year,” said Makenzie Taylor, playing Clopin Trouillefou. “I hope the audiences are as excited as we are to see this favored story come to life and be able to see all of the intricate pieces of blocking, choreography and combat that we have put together. It has really been such a unique experience to work together with the whole cast in this show and create something that I hope audiences will be eager and thrilled to see. I have never been a part of a show as emotionally challenging and enlightening as this one. It is amazing to be back performing with all of my peers, and to be a part of a show as large as this one is so incredible. This is, as far as I know, the first high school production of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ to be performed within our school’s district and that on its own is something really special to be a part of. To be able to perform this incredible, well-known and favored story is thrilling for not only myself, but the cast as a whole, and I cannot wait to show everyone all of the hard work we have put into this production!”
“This is my last show at Anoka High School, and I could not be any more proud of this show, the cast and this program as a whole,” said CarolAnn Frederickson, playing Gargoyle 1. “Everybody is so committed to making this show happen, and I think the cast has a bond unlike any other. I cannot wait to perform and I hope the audience enjoys it just as much as we all do! I love all the creativity that’s put into this show. I think we’ve really made the most out of the COVID situation and created a very unique and different piece of theater. We use a lot of different levels on stage, which adds more emotion and depth to the story. It’s so cool to see the people on the bell tower, up above on the balcony and of course down on the stage. I’m super excited for people to hear all of the fun music. The score on its own is so powerful, so when all of the visuals are added it makes the music so much more impactful and fun and compliments the story beautifully.”
Everyone involved plays a role in the show, one that focuses on inclusivity and doesn’t shy away from tough topics, even more so than in the original version.
“I’m most excited for audiences to see the students tackle this mature and challenging work,” Sullivan said. “While retaining the Disney songs we know and love, the show is notably darker than the film. It tackles head on the themes touched on in the movie, such as prejudice, religious zealotry, stereotypes and dehumanization of the ‘other,’ and so much more. We have gone into the history of the Roma people, and their lives in medieval France, and it has opened a lot of us up to a group many of us may be ignorant about. It has been wonderful to discuss these themes with the cast, and how they are portrayed in the show. Additionally, the creativity students have displayed in this production is wonderful. We have a very minimal set, but create so many different environments with just a few pieces. The students have dived into how to best utilize their environment to help immerse the audience into the world of the show.”
“I really enjoy how hands-on this production is! Everyone has some sort of role in telling this story, whether that be through the manipulation of set pieces to create a scene or through lines and song,” said Nina English, stage manager and part of the ensemble. “This show is a team effort and I think it really shows both on and off stage. This show is very relevant to today’s world and I really think its message is one that people need to hear.”
“My favorite part about ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is the complex and compelling characters,” said Enzo La Hoz Calassara, playing Quasimodo. “The depth of each individual is astounding and extremely enjoyable to explore; both the character that one might be playing, but also the connections and relationships between the diverse cast of personalities. To me, this show has been one of the most fun productions that I have been a part of. The cast just seemed to click, and I would consider this cast one of the best groups of people that I have worked with. I think a part of it was we all felt the responsibility of pulling off this musical of epic proportions, and enthusiastically committed to the labor of bringing ‘The Hunchback’ to life. I would say that I am very proud and honored to have been a part of this and extremely thankful to all the wonderful castmates who shared the ride with me.”
“I am most excited for people to see the connecting moments on stage,” said Makayla Taylor, playing a Gargoyle. “There is never a dull moment during this show and all the actors are involved in every scene whether they are on or off stage. There are so many mood changes throughout the show, and I think it is going to be interesting to see how that works out as well as how the audience will react to the different emotions that run through this show. I enjoy the chemistry between all the actors on stage the most. We are a tight-knit group and I think that shows on stage. Even after being apart for so long, once we got started in rehearsals we all started to feel like no time had passed at all. This show requires a lot of connection between everyone, and I really enjoy that! The meaning behind this show is so moving that you can’t help but be invested in what is happening on stage. There are a lot of elements that go into making this show so huge and we as the actors and all the artistic crew have been working so hard on making it the best it can be.”
The show will be held June 3-6 at 7 p.m. each night outdoors at Anoka High School. Tickets are available for in-person shows and for streaming and must be purchased in advance. For more information, visit www.anokatheatre.com.