Although Walt Disney Theatricals will present the world premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a stage adaptation of its animated musical film, in Berlin, Germany, the show will begin its rehearsals in Manhattan in spring 1999. Larry Katen, U.S. spokesman for Stella Ag, the German production and entertainment company which will stage the musical, told Playbill On-Line (Nov. 9) Hunchback will begin six weeks of rehearsals in New York in late February 1999. Director James Lapine and composer Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz will all be in attendance.
The musical will go through a rather unorthodox rehearsal process. Katen said the international cast, which numbers 42 people in all, will learn the piece in English. Hunchback will then be translated into German and taught to the actors phonetically. The musical's premiere will take place June 5, 1999 at the new Musical Theater at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.
The opening date was announced at a Nov. 5 Berlin press conference attended by Stuart Oken, vice-president of Disney Theatrical Productions; Michael Pinkenton, artistic director of Stella; and Guenter Irmler, the head of Stella.
As first reported by Playbill On-Line, the cast will feature Drew Sarich as Quasimodo and Judy Weiss as Esmerelda. Weiss is a young singer from Berlin who recently had a hit with Italian Tenor Andrea Bocelli called "Vivo per Lei."
Also in the cast are Jens Janke (as Clopin), Valentin Zahn (Victor, Gargoyle), Tamas Ferkay (Hugo, Gargoyle), Yvonne Ritz Andersen (Laverne, Gargoyle), Fredrik Lycke (Phoebus) and Carlo Lauber (Archdeacon). The cast features actors hailing from the U.S., Canada, England, Hungary, Sweden, Philippines, and Germany. The show will reportedly run roughly two and one-half hours.
Stella Ag has already worked with Disney in bringing the German language Beauty and the Beast to London and Stuttgart. Stella generally brings in Broadway shows (in German) to German cities; this is the company's first world premiere.
Alan Menken has written nine new songs to go along with the existing tunes from the film. Stephen Schwartz has penned the lyrics, while James Lapine is in charge of the libretto. Schwartz's works include Children Of Eden, Pippin and Godspell.
Disney spokesman Chris Boneau confirmed in January 1998 that discussions are underway to bring the show to Broadway with Lapine directing. Lapine's latest directorial assignments, The Diary Of Anne Frank and Golden Child, opened last season.
Based on Victor Hugo's novel about a misshappen man with a beautiful soul who yearns for the world beyond his belltower and falls in love with a gypsy girl, the film was directed by Kirk Wise and Garry Trousdale. Another Hugo novel, Les Miserables, was the source for the long running stage musical.
-- By Robert Simonson and David Lefkowitz