Why “Hunchback” is still remarkably relevant, 200 years after it was written.
The structure of KVTA’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is at once both beautiful and unusual. It features a choir, somehow both a part of the story and apart from it — in many ways, observing the action in the same way the audience is.
As a member of the choir, it’s given me time to reflect. And as I’ve sat in the choir night after night listening, there’s a line that sticks with me.
It’s uttered by Frollo, a man turned evil by confidence in his own infallibility, at the very end of the prologue. And it so poignantly summarizes the core of injustice both today and in 1492’s Paris — “I’ll teach this child,” Frollo says, “to think like me.”
Almost 200 years after it was written, the story — of the hunchback who grows up isolated in a bell tower, of the gypsy girl whose looks and confidence threatens a powerful man and of the race of people marginalized because they are immigrants — bears an eerily similar resemblance to the conversations that are at the center of today’s society.
It’s impossible to miss them. In fact, certain lines seem to hit the nail on the head, so much so that they could be taken out of news headlines today.
The song “Sanctuary,” referring to the protection from military action inside the walls of the Notre Dame Cathedral, is reminiscent of men and women who have taken refuge in churches across the country to avoid deportation.
The way Frollo berates Esmeralda as immoral for being a minority, then seeks to destroy her for refusing his advances reflects the stories told about many powerful men in the last year.
The way the crowd reacts in hate to Quasimodo resonates as to how easy it is — for all of us — to fear what we don’t understand.
There’s even the character of Captain Phoebus, haunted by his time on the front lines of war, who must choose between his security and speaking out.
Suffice it to say, this musical is not the Disney version of the story, where conflict is tied up in a nice bow. More raw, it leaves the audience with a feeling of discontent and discomfort. Not just that injustice is present today, but that it was present hundreds of years ago, too.
It’s an unsettling truth worth wrestling with.
Like Esmeralda, we’re left wishing that someday, when the world’s older, “life will be fairer, need will be rarer.”
Order your tickets now for this classic work of Victor Hugo. The performances are February 10, 11, 17 and 18. You can purchase online at: http://www.kvta.org/buy-tickets