‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ on stage at White Plains Performing Arts Center
What does it mean to be a hero? This intriguing question is explored in the musical, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” on stage at the White Plains (N.Y.) Performing Arts Center.
Based on the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo, with songs from the 1996 animated Disney movie, this epic story of love and acceptance will be presented Friday, Dec. 22, through Sunday, Jan. 14.
“Hunchback” tells the tale of Quasimodo, a deformed bell ringer held captive by a devious archdeacon at the famed cathedral in 15th century Paris. As he watches the crowds of revelers during the Feast of Fools, he longs to join them, to be part of society. When he finally escapes to do so, everyone is cruel to him, everyone except the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo, his captor and a handsome captain all vie for her attention, but when the evil cleric plots to destroy the gypsies, it’s up to Quasimodo to save them all.
Bobby Cassell, who plays Quasimodo, said he loves the complexity of his character. Certainly, he’s a hero, but not the kind who flies with superpowers.
“Quasi is very much so an outcast; he longs to belong to a group and experience the world on his own,” Cassell said via email. “I can relate to that, as I’m sure many people can. Whenever you start a new job, or move to a new location, there’s always the fear of not making friends and being alone.”
Quasimodo is made fun of, and ridiculed. “I personally have never felt ridicule from others, but I am a really compassionate person, so I feel that pain when I see that happen.”
Cassell’s portrayal of Quasimodo is different from the way in which he’s depicted in Disney’s film. “Quasimodo is deaf in the book ... so I embody that ailment as well. For me, Quasi is partially on the (autism) spectrum. Therefore, I do my best to show the heart and love that people who are mentally or physically handicapped have when they communicate with others.”
When Cassell played the same role in a South Florida production, he said he was moved to tears when an autistic man approached him after the show and “told me that he was thankful for how truthful I was to a disabled person, and that my portrayal meant a lot.”
Though he loves all the tunes in “Hunchback,” Cassell said if he had to pick a favorite, it would be “Out There.”
“That song is Quasi’s anthem. It’s his reason for everything he wants. He longs to see the world, to explore more than what’s in the little box of Notre Dame.”
“Hunchback” is recommended for ages 8 and up. Cassell said it deals with elements that are for a more mature audience, such as death and abuse, but the moral of its story is meaningful to all ages.
“What makes a monster and what makes a man? I think with today’s society, it’s easy to mix those two up. I think if you see ‘Hunchback,’ you will yearn to be a better person to others who are different from you. I hope everyone takes something away from this show.”
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @LindaTKoonz