Entertainment & Arts

Lionel Bart musical Quasimodo to premiere in 2013

Lionel Bart
Image caption Lionel Bart's greatest stage success was the musical Oliver!

A little-known Lionel Bart musical about the hunchback of Notre Dame is to be staged for the first time, some 50 years after it was written.

Quasimodo will have its world premiere at north London's King's Head Theatre in March 2013.

Bart, who died in 1999, wrote Quasimodo around 1963, but the musical was never staged in his lifetime.

The composer is best known for his stage musical Oliver! - the film version of which won several Oscars.

"Quasimodo is a very serous work," Adam Spreadbury-Maher, artistic director of the King's Head, told the BBC.

"Lionel referred to it as operatic in nature. It's very dark and sexual. It's very honest as well, as he had sometimes identified himself as a kind of Quasimodo character, an outsider."

It is the first musical at the fringe venue since Spreadbury-Maher took over in 2010. The show will be directed by Robert Chevara, who approached the Bart Estate for the rights to perform the work.

"Quasimodo was never really in a book-ready form and there was no cast album," explains Spreadbury-Maher. "What it needed was a group of producers and actors to look at it again and take it forward."

Based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris, Bart's musical is set in 15th Century Paris and tells the story of the love between the deformed bell ringer and the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda.

The tale was famously adapted by Disney for a 1996 animated film, voiced by US actor Tom Hulce.

The closest the Quasimodo show came to the West End was a workshop for industry insiders in the mid-1990s.

The 1995 performance featured Tony Award-winning Frances Ruffelle as Esmeralda and Ray Shell (who currently appears in new West End musical The Bodyguard) as Quasimodo. A recording exists with Bart playing the piano as part of the band.

But the project never progressed and Bart died from cancer aged 68 four years later.

In an interview with The Independent during rehearsals for the workshop, Bart said he'd been fascinated by the story since he saw Charles Laughton as the hunchback in the 1939 film version.

"I was inspired by the story of this marvellous soul within a monstrous body. The simple premise of the piece, when I wrote it, was the question, 'What is ugly?' I hoped that you could realise, when you left the theatre, that the guy at the end of the row wasn't so ugly after all."

He added: "It's a tragic story, but about being free to change, free to renew oneself. In a way I became the hunchback. It's a great release and a catharsis for me to put it all in this work."

Bart also confided that he sent the script to English playwright and composer Noel Coward, who responded. "Brilliant, dear boy, but were you on drugs when you wrote it?"

Since 2008, Spreadbury-Maher has developed a reputation for staging world premieres and first time revivals of work by playwrights such as Edward Bond, Arnold Wesker and Tennessee Williams.

His company's production of Puccini's La Boheme, staged by OperaUpClose in a pub theatre in Kilburn, won the best new opera production prize at the 2011 Olivier Awards.

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