Starting Friday, students will be transforming the Amarillo Little Theatre Academy mainstage into a cathedral and bell tower from the late 1400s to tell the story of Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Claude Frollo.
The Amarillo Little Theatre Academy will be performing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” July 19-21 at its mainstage theater, located at 2019 Civic Circle.
The work explores what makes a monster and what makes a man. Jason Crespin, the director of the academy as well as the artistic director for the show, said this is what stands out to him most about the work itself.
“That’s such a beautiful message, that the aspects of life and the aspects of a person aren’t necessarily told by how you look,” Crespin said. "Through the show, you discover this beautiful person, this beautiful soul, that happens to be in a body that looks different from the rest of us. That message of acceptance and tolerance and feeling that everyone should be treated equally, gosh, with what’s going on in our world … that message is huge to be brought on in a theatrical format by kids."
Crespin said this is the second time the academy has chosen to do a show in the summer. Last year, the academy performed “Into The Woods.”
He said because of the challenging nature of the play itself, as well as the darker subject matter, it was a great piece to put on in the summer.
“The great thing about doing it in the summer too is we have time,” Crespin said. “The kids don’t have homework. They don’t have to run to other rehearsals that they might have during the school year. We are really getting the chance to delve in these characters, delve into the music and really challenge them. We are blessed. We have amazing, talented students … We set a bar and they always meet it. So, every year, we keep raising that bar.”
Crespin said due to the darker themes, academy students who were in sixth grade and older could participate in the auditions for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” ALT needed 27 students to be cast in the performance, as well as a 20-person choir, consisting not only of students from the academy, but local high school students who sing in choir as well as some alumni of the academy.
With the time of putting this production on during the summer, Crespin said students got the chance to be involved in all parts of the production, such as learning fight choreography as well as spending time helping build the wooden set for different scenes, which includes the bell tower that Quasimodo is in.
Bradley Hurt is the actor who plays Quasimodo in this production. Crespin said this is a different kind of role for Hurt, who is usually more of a comedic actor. But in his audition, he showed his dramatic chops.
Hurt said whenever he receives any role, he sinks into it and becomes the character.
“It’s a slow process, but I definitely feel connected to Quasimodo in a way,” Hurt said. “I feel connected to him because I can relate to him in a way about trying to fit in. I think every kid can (relate.)”
It has been more challenging for Hurt to play Quasimodo than any other role, he said, because of the character’s hearing problem. Participating in this play has given Hurt a new perspective on committing to a character, as well as a new perspective on theater in general.
“I’ve grown more of an understanding for roles,” Hurt said. “I’ve grown a new perspective on theater because the Disney film turns out much nicer than this one does. It just puts a new perspective on how such beauty can come from such disaster.”
Kayden Burns, the actor who plays Claude Frollo in the production, said this has been his dream role. Burns has loved this play as long as he can remember.
To prepare for the role, Burns said he watched interviews with the original actor in the play and tried to embody how he portrayed the dark role, different from the happy-go-lucky roles Burns has portrayed in the past.
Burns said playing Frollo has helped him grow as an actor.
“It has helped me grow a lot because typically, I have been on the other side of the good vs. evil fight,” Burns said. “Now that I have taken on a character on the opposite side, I kind of see where they are coming from, although sometimes it’s very hard to. You have to take on that character and embody that character so well that you actually believe their beliefs slightly.”
Crespin said Burns’ performance is going to be one that the audience will be talking about after the production is over.
Approaching the role of Esmeralda, Alexis Bodkin said she had a lot of experience with the work itself.
“I grew up watching 'Hunchback,' ” Bodkin said. “I always loved Esmeralda because she was one of the only Disney princesses who looked anything like I did. I always loved her.”
But coming into the play, Bodkin said she thought she did not have a chance to get this role because of her being younger than other people auditioning.
But her mentality during her callback helped Bodkin stand out, Crespin said.
“That was her (auditioning like) she didn’t have anything to lose mentality,” Crespin said. “She came and brought it in those callbacks. Her vulnerability with the character, but also the toughness, that kind of chip on her shoulder, really stood out in the callback.”
Bodkin said this is the biggest role she has ever had and because of that, she has had to work with others closely and think more about how her character thinks and feels.
Bodkin said her character is relevant to what is going on in the world today.
“It’s so much about the beauty within,” Bodkin said. “My character, Esmeralda, her family, the gypsies, move around all the time because people don’t want them. They don’t appreciate them and don’t appreciate their culture, which I think is really relevant now.”
Burns said theater is an escape from everyday life, and that is why people should come and see “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
“You sit down in an audience and you are going to watch a show and you get completely invested in these characters, and you start being emotionally connected to these people who you have never known before,” Burns said. “For two hours, you forget everything else going on around you.”
Crespin said he hopes the message that the audience comes away with seeing this play is one of acceptance and tolerance for anyone, no matter what you look like on the outside.
“When (audiences) come see our show, they are going to be, not only amazed by what Amarillo youth can do in our city and the talent that our kids have, but the show is so beautiful, the music is so beautiful, the story is a touching story,” Crespin said. “I think they will leave empowered and look at our world a little differently.”
The performance is rated PG-10 and will be presented at 7:30 p.m. July 19, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. on July 20 and 2:30 p.m. on July 21. Tickets for the general public are now on sale. They can be purchased by calling the box office at (806) 355-9991 or by visiting the Amarillo Little Theatre’s website.