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Meet  Janaya Mahealani Jones, Moonlight's Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame 

By Marcia Manna
Digital Content Writer

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” isn’t the sort of lite summer musical that leaves you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. This one makes you think.

The upcoming Moonlight Stage Productions’ show, playing Aug. 15-Sept. 1, is both poignant and gutsy, an engrossing tale that inspires an examination of conscience.

The story ponders the complexities of love and the personal and social consequences of succumbing to us-versus-them thinking. And though “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is set in 15th-century Paris, it mirrors today’s divisive political climate.

The stage musical incorporates original text from Hugo’s novel, the 1996 Disney film score by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell), along with new songs (written for stage) by Menken and Schwartz.

When the show premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in 2014, it won three San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Craig Noel Awards.

This epic production includes a company of nearly 60. Cast members supported by a 22-member choir perform on a stage that has been transformed into an imposing Gothic cathedral.

“The choir is just above us on the second level,” said Janaya Mahealani Jones, who plays the role of the beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda.

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Janaya Mahealani Jones
photo by Ken Jacques

“They sound amazing. Musical director and conductor by Elan McMahan is a goddess when it comes to crafting sound. So instead of song after song of big choral numbers, we have subtle and aching moments. There are so many colors she puts into this music.”

Every character in this profound love story is multidimensional, displaying contrasting personality traits.

Esmeralda, a gypsy girl with raven hair and bare shoulders, can twirl a skirt and work a tambourine. She’s confident but also compassionate and unaffected by status or looks.

Three men are captivated by her beauty.

There is Captain Phoebus de Martin, played by Patrick Cummings, who feels torn between love and duty.

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Patrick Cummings
photo by Adriana Zuniga

The archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo (Lance Arthur Smith) takes on the responsibility of caring for Quasimodo (David Burnham) his deceased brother’s deformed child, yet he’s hell bent on eliminating the city’s gypsy “vermin” and his uncomfortable lust for Esmeralda provokes his cruelest tendencies.

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Janaya Mahealani Jones and Lance Arthur Smith
photo by Ken Jacques

Quasimodo grows up to be a lonely bell ringer but he also becomes empowered by Esmeralda, the one person who treats him like a human being.

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David Burnham and Janaya Mahealani Jones
photo by Ken Jacques

“This cast is unlike anything I’ve been a part of,” said Jones.

“Everyone cares so much about this story and they want it to be told in the right way.”

Now 25, Jones grew up with the animated Disney version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and even as a little girl, she was impressed by Esmeralda. She said it was one of the movies that always made her “feel better.”

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The Rhythm of the Tambourine. 
Photo by Adriana Zuniga

“I’m a mix of African American, Hawaiian and Portuguese,” Jones said.

“Esmeralda is sympathetic to a lot of different people, regardless of how they look. She’s so independent, loving and caring. Now that I’m an adult and looking at the life I have lived and the challenges I’ve faced, it couldn’t be a better time for this show to come back into my life.”

 

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