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The bells of Notre Dame come to BHS for fall production

BEMIDJI—As Quasimodo rings the church bells this fall during Bemidji High School's production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," the cast and audience will have the chance to look at the story in a slightly new way.

The show will open on Nov. 2, with subsequent productions on Nov. 3 and 4. The musical, which is expected to be about 2-1/2 hours long, will be a new challenge for the Theater Department both logistically and musically, as it takes the audience to the streets of Paris.

In spite of those challenges, director Holly Nelson said the school has the talent to make the new rendition a success.

"We probably have no business doing this as a high school, but I think we have some really good things going here that make this pertinent to us," Nelson said. "It's a huge undertaking."

Part of the challenge is the sheer number of participants. Between the cast, the choir, the stage crew, the tech crew, the orchestra and all the other hands involved, there are about 125 students involved in the production.

Bemidji High School will be one of the first to undertake the musical, as the rights were just released last spring. Because of that, the local performance will be the third production and the first high school production of the show in Minnesota. While the audience may be familiar with the story, Nelson said they wouldn't necessarily be familiar with the musical.

"I think Victor Hugo would recognize this as his work even though there's some stark differences," Nelson said. "We kind of get to set the bar, which is exciting."

Nelson said although there were a few productions they thought about undertaking, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" came through as a clear choice. Aside from being a fresh take on the classic story, Nelson said the story's overall message would be impactful beyond the mere entertainment value.

"The overarching question is 'What makes a monster and what makes a man?' and that is so pertinent to everything you read in the paper, everything you see in the news, (and) everything you see on social media" Nelson said. "It's kind of cathartic to have kids embody the answer that we all have strengths, we all have challenges."

If you go

What: BHS production of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’

When: 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2, and Friday, Nov. 3 and 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4.

Tickets: See Bemidji High School Theatre on Facebook or go to

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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