Backing up ‘Hunchback’

Abington Senior High School has chosen its senior play very well, for very good reasons – and it's making the best use of it.

The school's production of the Disney property The Hunchback of Notre Dame hits the boards March 8-10. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo and featuring songs from the 1996 Disney flick and a couple of extras by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, this show is having a long, charmed life in regional theaters and high schools.

At Abington, the show's codirectors, music teacher Tim Myers and English teacher Kristen Caiazzo, along with communications coordinator Allie Artur, noticed a central theme of this tale of Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and the bell: bullying.

Quasimodo seeks acceptance, but society cannot tolerate his looks or deformity.

"We always share the show with fifth and sixth graders in the elementary schools," Myers said by phone, "but here we were asking, `This show is so dark, what can we share from it?' and as we talked, we hit on it.

"Inclusion of others, bullying, and anti-bullying, standing up not just for your friends but also for strangers – these are all things these kids think about daily. And the school system has a new initiative focusing on bullying and anti-bullying, so it hit the nail on the head."

The cast has been traveling to local elementary schools and performing a scene in which Quasimodo is bullied from the crowd but the kind gypsy Esmeralda stands up for him.

Afterward, the actors talk with students about how they, like Esmeralda, can help stop bullying. On Monday, it was Roslyn Elementary in Abington, and next Tuesday, it'll be McKinley Elementary in Elkins Park.

"We have about 130-140 students involved in some way with the production," Myers said. "I'm amazed at what they come up with. Last week, after we did the scene at an elementary school, one of our cast, Amanda Carter, said a great thing: "You can see it took one person to start the bullying, but it also took just one person to stop it – and we're all making the effort to be that person."

Theater

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    • March 8-10, Auditorium, Abington Senior High School, 900 Highland Ave., Abington. Tickets: $12 general, $8 students and seniors. Information: abington.k12.pa.us/shs,215-517-2800.