If you loved the 1996 Disney animated musical version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” you’re going to love the music in the stage version. The stage musical features the same Alan Menken-Stephen Schwartz songs that helped make the film one of the most acclaimed of the “Disney Renaissance” era.
The book of the musical, though, might catch you a bit off-guard.
“It’s quite a bit darker,” Alexander Zickafoose said. “It takes some inspiration from the novel by Victor Hugo.”
Zickafoose takes the title role, Quasimodo, in the upcoming Manatee Players production of “Hunchback.” It opens Thursday in Stone Hall of the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
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It will be a new theatrical experience for almost all Bradenton-area theater-goers. “Hunchback” has had only a handful of productions around the country. It premiered in Germany in 1999, where it was titled “Der Glockner von Notre Dame,” and didn’t come to the United States (in an English-language adaptation, of course) until 2014. It has had one major production on each coast. It’s hasn’t been to Broadway and it hasn’t toured.
“I love the fact that it’s new for our audience,” said Manatee Players producing artistic director Rick Kerby, who’s directing the show. “This is a regional premiere. And I think we have the right cast for it. I like our talent pool.”
I love the fact that it’s new for our audience. This is a regional premiere. And I think we have the right cast for it. I like our talent pool.
The animated film was noted for being more serious and somber than most Disney musicals, even thought it reunited Menken and Schwartz, who has created the much fluffier hit “Pocahontas.” (Menken is the composer of most of the big Disney hits of recent years, and Schwartz is the composer and lyricist of “Godspell,” “Pippin” and “Wicked,” among many others.)
But the stage musical is significantly darker, according to people who know the show. It’s even been described as “gothic.” Among the most significant changes from the film is that Quasimodo is deaf.
“The aspect that I appreciate is that my character is deaf from the bell-ringing,” Zickafoose said. “We use American Sign Language to get the point across.”
You’re not going to have to know ASL to follow the action and dialogue, he said.
“Hunchback” doesn’t have a lot of familiar songs, possibly because the score isn’t as pop-oriented as a lot of Menken’s other shows. “Out There,” Quasimodo’s wistful song about his desire to be able to live in the sunlight, among people, is probably the best known.
But Zickafoose, who’s a music educator when he’s not on stage, thinks the music is among Menken’s best.
I grew up with it, and I’ve always loved the movie and the music. Then when I got to be a music educator, I appreciated the music even more.
“I grew up with it, and I’ve always loved the movie and the music,” he said. “Then when I got to be a music educator, I appreciated the music even more.”
The show promises to be a visual feast, with an exceptionally large cast. There are about two dozen people in lead roles and ensemble parts, and about the same number in a choir that’s on stage through the entire show.
“I wish I could have even more” Kerby said.
Details: Feb. 15-March 4, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $27-$34. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.