Storybook magic has come to the Ogunquit Playhouse with the New England premiere of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The new musical has a passionate score, vivid characterization, a 32-member gothic choir and a breathtaking set that features massive bells swinging from the rafters.

During Friday’s opening night performance, the tragic tale of the deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo, and the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda, leapt to life as the story unfolded through narration and song that stirred the imagination.

The ensemble cast wove a masterful story of 1482 Paris as they slipped into the various roles of congregation members, gypsies, soldiers and sagacious stone gargoyles. Along with driving the narration, the ensemble were literal movers and shakers, delivering lively dance choreography from Connor Gallagher and performing set changes with synchronized grace that was a mesmerizing dance unto itself.

Actor F. Michael Haynie transformed into Quasimodo before the audiences’ eyes, donning a hump with the assistance of the cast, then devolving into a stooped, contorted creature. His jawline sagged to the right and his normally cute facial features became deformed, as if his face were made of wax, melting under the hot stage lights.

As Quasimodo, Haynie’s speech was also distorted, just as though the cathedral bells had deafened him, and his words delivered in halted and stuttered spurts. His grotesque portrayal provided a poignant contrast with his clear tenor vocals on such songs as “Heaven’s Light,” highlighting the beautiful soul trapped beneath the creature exterior.

At the heart of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” lies a cautionary tale about judging a book by its cover. Broadway veteran Bradley Dean drives home this message as Quasimodo’s uncle, archdeacon Claude Frollo. The handsome actor looks pious in ornate white robes designed by Martha Bromelmeier, but the character’s heart is stained with blackness.

Dean embraced his character’s dark side Friday night, delivering an unforgettable rendition of “Hellfire.” His rich vocals seethed with unquenchable lust as his face, bathed in red light, contorted in anger. The emotional scene culminated in Dean striking a dramatic pose, as if martyred on a cross. As Captain Phoebus de Martin, Christopher Johnstone straddles the line between good and bad, ultimately risking prestige and safety for the lovely Esmeralda, played with a winning combination of spunk and sweetness by Sydney Morton. Johnstone is dashing, lending alluring tenor vocals that harmonized beautifully with Morton’s soaring soprano vocals on “Someday.”

The exceptional cast also features standout performances by Matthew Amira and Michelle Rombola as Quasimodo’s parents, Jehan Frollo and Florika; Paolo Montalban as the gypsy leader, Clopin Trouillefou; and Neal Mayer as the beheaded Saint Aphrodisius.

A 32-member choir adds to the overall grandeur of Alan Menken’s moving score, enhancing the powerful orchestration. Striking stained glass backdrops by scenic designer Adam Koch backlight the choir members, perched in a balcony above the stage.

The Ogunquit Playhouse captures the dark beauty of Victor Hugo’s novel with this spellbinding rendition of “The Huntchback of Notre Dame.” Under the direction of British director Shaun Kerrison, the theater transports the audience to the 15th century and into the heartbreaking world of Quasimodo’s Notre Dame de Paris.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ahboyle