The most memorable hunchback of all time is at the heart of Sunrise Players' new production.
Sunrise Church's longtime drama ministry will present "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" on Thursday through Sunday.
"We're in our 10th year," said director Kim Castellanet, founder of the theater group. "It's all volunteer. It's an amazing production team. They go all out and make me look really good. It's my dream child, I suppose. It's grown into something much larger and better than me."
In the musical, set in Paris in the Late Middle Ages, hunchback Quasimodo is locked in the tower of Notre Dame Cathedral, where he spends his days ringing the bells. During a chance encounter, he meets the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda and falls in love. But his cruel guardian, Frollo, is also enraptured by her, and Quasimodo must do whatever he can to keep her safe from Frollo's evil ways.
The musical, based on Victor Hugo's 1831 Gothic novel, made its debut in 1999 in Berlin and ran for three years but never made it to Broadway. The 1996 Disney film version featured a more optimistic ending than the book and musical.
Since forming a decade ago, Sunrise Players has mounted more than two dozen shows. That's roughly two major productions every year - mostly musicals - and sometimes a summer music review. While open auditions attract an all-volunteer cast of church and community actors, shows mostly feature talent from outside the church. The current performance is stacked with folks ages 13 to 70-something. The musical accompaniment is also homegrown and made up of church members, community members and professional musicians.
Most striking about Sunrise Players, though, is its origin. With zero theater experience to her name, Castellanet started holding an improv group for children at the church. Soon enough, she realized there weren't any theater offerings for teens or adults and set out to rectify the situation. The group's first musical, "Godspell," went up in 2007, and now about 800 people attend the run of a show.
"I'm mostly self-taught," Castellanet said. "I liked theater, and I liked to go see shows, so I brought a lot of that to the table. I've had 10 years of experience, all here. We've evolved some of our processes. It's very collaborative and a lot of fun."
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM