Sunday, November 30, 2014


As the title implies, you are now in spoiler territory. If you plan to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame and you don't want the plot spoiled for you,

All good? Okay.

I'll just be randomly discussing elements of the plot and what I think of them. As I've mentioned in my earlier post, the show is not finished being tinkered with. There will still be changes before it hits New Jersey, and I daresay there will be even more changes after that.

Right from the beginning of the show, there is a major difference from previous versions. The "Bells of Notre Dame" song now details the life of Claude Frollo, and how he came to be Quasimodo's custodian. It begins with Claude and his brother Jehan. Now, Jehan was a character in the original novel, but his role was quite different. In this version, the two close brothers grow up together in Notre Dame with the intention of joining the clergy one day. Claude is studious and well-behaved, but Jehan has a bit of a wild side.

One night he brings a Gypsy girl back to their room. Claude is horrified! Not only a girl, but a Gypsy! His pristine conscience cannot abide this. When a priest hears noises and comes to investigate, Claude reveals the girl. This results in Jehan being expelled, and Claude does not see him for years.

The devout and pious Claude rises up the Catholic ranks until he becomes the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. One night he receives a letter from his brother. When he finds him, Jehan is on his deathbed. His Gypsy wife has died of the pox, and he will not be far behind. He only has one request: that Claude take his son and care for him. The baby is, of course, little misshapen Quasimodo. Claude tells Jehan that this baby is punishment for his sins.

Jehan dies and Claude whisks the baby away. Just as he is about to throw it into the river, he has a change of heart and decides to keep it locked away in the bell tower.

As you can see, immediately the character motivations in the story are entirely different. Quasimodo is actually Frollo's nephew. Frollo himself is not inherently evil like he was in the film. He is pious to a fault, but as he tells Quasimodo much later in the show, he genuinely loved his brother, and saw Quasimodo as his burden to bear for having Jehan expelled from Notre Dame.

When Phoebus comes to Paris, he is put in charge of cathedral security. This is an easy way to give him a similar relationship to Frollo, since he is no longer a judge. When Frollo approaches the French king for permission to arrest Esmeralda, he assigns his security staff (including Phoebus) to lead the hunt. Phoebus is reluctant about this, but Frollo tells him that it's the king's orders.

When Frollo sees Esmeralda dancing at the Festival of Fools, he is disgusted by her shamelessness but still finds himself somewhat intrigued. The two characters don't have the instant animosity they had in the previous versions. There is no shouting match across the town square. When Esmeralda enters Notre Dame, she doesn't do it to hide, she is merely trying to find Quasimodo to apologise to him. When Frollo sees her inside the church he is actually fairly polite. He calls her "my child" and tries to help her. Although he has no love for Gypsies, he sees something worth saving in her.

"Why can't you treat other people the way you would want to be treated yourself?" Esmeralda asks him. He is suddenly struck with a moment of clarity as he remembers Jesus saying almost the exact same thing. He offers to instruct her in the Gospels.

Later on, when she is up in the bell tower after Top of the World, Frollo finds her again and makes her an offer. She can stay in Notre Dame with him. You can almost see the excitement in Frollo's eyes. It is the first time he has had this kind of feeling for a woman before. And he is so self-righteous he sees her doing anything he says. So when she says, "I don't think that would be a good idea. I've seen the way you look at me," Frollo explodes with rage. "HOW DARE YOU!" he screams, and has Phoebus escort her out of the cathedral immediately.

Some nights later Phoebus and his friend Frederic visit a tavern and find Esmeralda dancing and singing with the other townsfolk. The soldier and the Gypsy share a passionate kiss, but she tells him she can't stay. Meanwhile Frollo, who has disguised himself and is wandering the streets to find Esmeralda, sees the whole thing.

Instead of a mill, it is a brothel that Frollo threatens to burn down.

The scene in the jail cell where Frollo comes to see Esmeralda after she has been captured is similar to the way it was in Berlin, but Frollo is much more vicious, grabbing at Esmeralda while she screams for help, calling him a demon. It's quite a disturbing scene, but in the end he uses Phoebus's life as leverage, just as he did in the Berlin version.

The way that the lead actor becomes Quasimodo is quite fantastic. As the opening song is reaching its conclusion, he enters from the back of the stage and sings, "What makes a monster and what makes a man?" The bundle that had been the baby is handed to him and he straps it on to his back. A shirt is laid over the top of his head, and he smears black lines across his face. Suddenly the actor has become the hunchback.

At the end of the show, after Esmeralda has died and Quasimodo steps out into the open, the ensemble approach him, draw black lines on their faces and contort their bodies into twisted forms as he faces the back and watches. All of a sudden he turns to face the audience and the marks on his face are magically gone! I got a big shock the first time I saw the show. On the second viewing I was watching for the trick. There's nothing complicated about it, but it's still a wonderful surprising effect.

I hope this hasn't spoiled the show for anyone, but I know there are some people out there who would love to know how the story now works.

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