SALAMANCA — If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Paris, the chance to see inside the Notre-Dame de Paris from the comfort of the Ray Evans Seneca Theater is here.
The Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association will present its production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with performances beginning Friday and running for two weekends. This show is recommended for audience members 10 and older.
“It’s described as musical theater, but it almost borders on opera,” said director Paul Nelson. “It’s got some pretty dark themes.”
The show is a stage adaptation of the Academy Award-nominated animated Disney classic based on the novel by Victor Hugo with songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and musical score by Menken.
Nelson said the CCLAA approached him about directing a show, and “Hunchback” was one of the few they had it narrowed down to. He said musical theater usually has either a great score or a great story, but it’s rare to get one with both.
“This piece of theater has an amazing story and wonderful music, so it’s the best of that musical theater world,” he said.
The ensemble is one of the largest the CCLAA has had for a show in several years, with nearly 30 people filling out the cast, Nelson said.
“They’re real focused, dedicated and disciplined,” he said. “In general it’s a strong, young cast.”
A new director for the Salamanca-based theater group, Nelson said the production has been going well. With about a third of the cast also performing in the Ray Evans theater for the first time, he said they’ve been rehearsing for the past eight weeks.
“Most of it is sung through, so they’ve had lots of vocal work also,” he said.
Vocal director Andrew Dutko said the score is one of the more challenging ones for a musical, but has worked to bring the entire ensemble together with the chorus.
“There are 26 different songs for the chorus, which is more than the leads get,” he said. “There are four languages I had to teach them.” In addition to English and French, there are pieces with Latin for the church and a language for the Gypsies.
Dutko agreed with Nelson that the show can feel closer to opera, likening it to another French period piece, “Les Miserables,” which is one reason he was excited about the experience.
Nelson said the scale of the production has made it one of the most challenging of his career, but also the most rewarding. In addition to the music, he said the number of special effects used has stood out.
“Trying to figure out how to pour hot lead onto the entire cast,” he said with a laugh.
The original story is set in 1482, Nelson said the show opens with cast members in modern-day street clothes ascending a stage where the cathedral is in shambles after the 2019 fire. After cleaning up and repairing the set, it’s transformed into its 15th century look as the music begins and the actors don their period-appropriate clothes.
“That’s the twist we’re giving this. We start in 2019 and work back to 1482,” he said.
Although a popular and well-received Disney film at the time, the stage adaptation is not often produced. Nelson said the closest production he knows of was staged near Elmira — a two-hour drive from Salamanca.
“It’s got a beautiful story, beautiful music and it’s uplifting,” he added
Performances will be 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5, 6, 12 and 13 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 7 and 14 at the theater, 10 Main St. Tickets are $15 and available at showclix.com or at the door.