A new ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ gets its Philly-area premiere

Quasimodo (Patrick J. Walsh) and ensemble under the bells. (Photo by Cate R. Paxson.)

Move over, Les Mis, says Upper Darby Summer Stage. It’s getting ready to mount the Philadelphia regional premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a retelling of the Victor Hugo novel that marries the classic story to Academy Award-nominated music from Disney's 1996 film.

But it’s not a children’s production (the Summer Stage’s Mainstage shows feature actors aged 18 to 28, many of whom graduated from its children’s program), and the show is not recommended for kids under 12.

This powerful musical-theater production sticks closer to Hugo’s dark turns than to his Disney counterpart, says Summer Stage spokesperson Lauren Stevenson Yacina: “This is not a fairy tale.” This Hunchback explores complex themes, relationships, characters, and passions.

The story follows Quasimodo (Patrick Walsh), 15th-century bell-ringer of Notre Dame cathedral, hidden because of his unusual shape and held captive by the nefarious and lustful archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo (Chris Monaco). Escaping one day into a festival, Quasimodo finds cruelty and one heck of a love quadrangle when he, handsome Captain Phoebus, and Frollo converge on the kind and beautiful Roma girl Esmeralda (Sierra Wilson), who needs Quasimodo’s help.

The Upper Darby show, running July 28 through August 5, boasts a three-story set (the program’s largest ever), with lavish production and sound thanks to a massive crew of technicians and performers. “It’s amazing what people who love what they do can achieve,” Yacina adds.

Jeff Dietzler directs, alongside choreographer Jenna Rogalski and music director Gina Giachero. The professional design includes costumes by Mary Folino and sets by Martin Dallago.

After 42 seasons of shows and educational programming, the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center’s Summer Stage program has some notable alumni, including Arden producing artistic director Terrence Nolen and managing director Amy Murphy. Others who launched careers there include producer and actor Monica Horan-Rosenthal, a regular on TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond; Tony Award nominee and Broadway and national tour veteran Josh Young; and writer, actor, and SNL comedy icon Tina Fey.

Upper Darby Summer Stage’s Hunchback of Notre Dame is coming to the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center (601 N. Lansdowne Avenue in Drexel Hill) July 28 through August 5. The show runs two and a half hours. Tickets ($13 to $17) are available online or by calling 610-622-1189.