It may have Disney in its pedigree, but Woodbury Community Theatre isn't putting on a kids show.
Their production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," which opens Friday at the Loft Stage at East Ridge High School, embraces the dark witch-burning delirium of medieval Paris.
The musical, set in 1482, centers on Quasimodo, a deaf and deformed bell-ringer at Notre Dame Cathedral. He falls in love with a beautiful Gypsy girl named Esmeralda but ultimately can't save her from death.
The tragedy is offset by a score that includes "Rhythm of the Tambourine," "Hellfire" and the show's best-known song, "Someday." The musical is based on the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo, with songs from the 1996 animated Disney movie.
In adapting the movie for the stage, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz tossed the happy ending and rewrote the story to hew more closely to Hugo's violent, unsparing version.
"I like strong, powerful shows," director Lenore Weir said. "I did 'Le Miz' several years ago. I thought I'd never felt so strongly about a show until I found this one.
"It follows the book rather than the Disney show," she said. "It has a message that rings big bells today. It's how we take care of the poor, how we take care of people that are different from us."
Quasimodo and Esmeralda are outcasts, the former because of his hideous appearance, the latter by virtue of her ethnicity.
That Gypsies are not welcome in Paris is made clear by Dom Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame and the show's chief antagonist. But while he denounces Gypsies and foreigners from the pulpit, he'll stop at nothing to possess the beautiful Esmerelda. His unhinged lust for her sets a string of catastrophic events in motion.
As Frollo, Tom Sorenson of Hastings has the challenge of locating the humanity within this deeply flawed hypocrite.
"He is a dark and complex character," Sorenson said. "The Disney portrayal truly does not do his character justice. He is not the pure evil that everyone expects, but he's not a great guy.
"He sees the world falling apart. He sees debauchery. He sees sin everywhere except himself."
The audience can expect striking visuals, including a chorus of 22 robed singers who remain onstage for the entire show. Bells toll, Gypsies dance, cruelties are inflicted and blood is spilled.
"This is a very music heavy show," Sorenson said. "Saying that about a musical sounds ridiculous, but so much of the emotions and everything the character is going through is explored right there in the center of the song...There are no throwaway songs or gimmicky dance numbers per se. Everything is moving the story along."
Esmerelda is played by Haley Garland and Quasimodo is played by Brian Erdrich. The crew also includes Lori Sager as musical director, Mary Reimann as choir director, set design by George Juaire and costumes by Marie Wellman.
If you go:
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" runs at the Loft Stage at East Ridge High School, 4200 Pioneer Dr., Woodbury. Performances are 7 p.m. July 20-21 and 27-28 and 3 p.m. July 22 and 29. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at https://merrillartscenter.org/