Springfield Catholic High School, 2340 S. Eastgate, does a big musical theatre production every fall and spring. This year’s autumn production is "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," a musical comedy based on the Victor Hugo novel using Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken’s songs from the 1996 Disney animated film adaptation. Father Lewis Hejna, director of Springfield Catholic High's theater program, and Pastor at St. Agnes Cathedral, visited “Arts News” with two of his student actors, Beau Crockett and Quinton Hanna. Father Hejna said the fall high school production is usually the bigger of the two… “except this year it may be just as big in the spring!”
Disney’s “Hunchback” has been called a "teaching play" on numerous levels, as Father Hejna explained. “It’s taking place in the 1400s, when the handicapped, or soldiers coming back from war with one leg, one arm, they were kind of shunned or ostracized by society. Single women. The Romani—the gypsies. Anyone that stood out from any difference.” When they shipped the scores and scripts for “Hunchback” to Springfield Catholic, they enclosed teaching materials, to allow teachers to “explain to the students, work with the students on how all of those (people) were looked at by society—as well as by the Catholic church. And then, to do somewhat of a comparison to today: where is society today, five or six hundred years later? Hopefully,” he added, “we are improving. And we can see that around town as we see sidewalks being improved for wheelchairs; wheelchair accessibility in the restrooms; and so forth. So it’s a comparison.” The story’s main theme is simple: not to judge others by their appearance.
Father Hejna directed a cast of 36 students onstage, and there’s an orchestra of around 14, conducted by Audrey Smith.
Beau Crockett plays the title role, Quasimodo the hunchback, so there’s something of an extra burden on him to get the show’s message across. “As Quasimodo, I have to act as if I’ve known one person my entire life. And all of a sudden I’m thrust into this outside world where people aren’t necessarily going to be nice to me, because I’m ugly, I’m deformed. So it is kind of a challenge to try and balance the kind nature of Quasimodo with all the hurt he has to take in.”
Quinton Hanna plays the King of the Gypsies, who have their own “outsider” status to overcome. “During that time, with all the gypsies being discriminated against, I kind of act as the gypsies’ leader, and act out and rebel—I want to be myself, and we all are wanting to express our personality and opinions, and kind of go against the society at the time.”
The Springfield Catholic High School theater program has built relationships with Drury and MSU to bring area professionals and college students to the high school to conduct workshops for the students. “Through Ann Marie Coleman, who graduated from Drury University, the knowledge of some of the professors that she knew, we have been able to bring in different instructors for workshops, here at MSU as well.” Last summer an MSU theater student demonstrated to the high schoolers the art of using swords for stage combat. A former Drury art student designed and built the gargoyles for the "Hunchback" set, much of which was constructed by Father Hejna himself, who is a skilled carpenter. He called it the biggest set he’s designed and built, “because it has two towers, and the students are in both levels of the towers. And the towers go almost to the ceiling of the theater. And then there is the stained glass window that is the centerpiece of the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ musical. And so all of those things are—they’re not easy to build!” He in fact did most of the construction himself. “I needed people to help hold as we put together 12-foot, 14-foot two-by-fours and layers of plywood.” For safety’s sake, he said, “If I’m doing it, I make sure that I have enough screws in it and enough support. I’m not relying on anyone else, I’m relying on me.”
Performances are Thurs-Sat Nov.14-16 at 7:00pm, and Sunday November 17 at 2:00pm. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 for students all the way up to college age. They’re going fast—Father Hejna said the Sunday matinee is sold out, and only 35 tickets left for Friday the 15th. Tickets are available by calling Springfield Catholic High School at 887-8817 or the St. Agnes parish office, 831-3565. For information visit https://sta-cathedral.org.