Paris High School drama department brings the Hunchback of Notre Dame to life on theatre stage

PHS actors ring the bells with talent


If you stand outside the doors of the Paris Center of Fine Arts and listen to conversations from audience members who just enjoyed the latest Paris Drama Club’s production – no matter if it was 10 years ago, or this past weekend – the comments will be repeated over and over.

“Where does all this talent come from?”

“How do they do it year after year?”

“Gosh, these kids!”

Anyone who attended last weekend’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” came away with a range of feelings – teary, emotional, proud and overwhelmed. It was the hot ticket in Paris – even as the Fighting Illini and Indiana State were playing basketball.

It’s no surprise the annual high school musical, which dates back to the first production of “Once Upon a Mattress” directed by Daryl VanLandeghem, is a must-see ticket for residents who may not be theater experts, but enjoy seeing the students perform and entertain.

Directors Tanner and Agnes Laughlin, fresh off the 2023 sold-out PHS musical “Les Miserables” took their time in selecting the 2024 production.

“We wanted to take out time to select the right musical for the students who were returning, (one that) also would be challenging for our students,” Tanner said, reflecting on the process before the announcement. The musical had never been done in any form in Paris, he noted.

“It is a great story and message of acceptance and inclusion.”

The six seniors not only provided leadership but an incredible work ethic, Tanner said. “They put in the work to make this a great show.”

Kalvin Rigdon, who played Quasimodo, and Aidan Creech, who played Captain Phoebus, put in extra work with vocal director Jessica Hendrickson outside of regular rehearsal because both usually sing baritone and their parts were written for tenors. 

Madison Huffman took on the challenging role of the gypsy Esmeralda, requiring dancing and singing. Olivia Keys was a storyteller and Florika. Daniel Adams was Frederic Charles and Alaina Boren was a storyteller.

Junior Eli Brinkerhoff played the self-righteous Dom Claude Frollo and sophomore Drew Templeton played as his brother Jehan. Other characters included Bryce McGrath, Farher Dupin; Caison Whitaker, Clopin Trouillefou; Noah Dundas, King Henry XI; Lindsay Colter, Madame; and Graham Templeton, Saint Aphridosisius and a storyteller.

Other storytellers were Ryne Boren, Lily Keys, Carlee Longest, Addison Martin, Piper Mitchell, Abby Sanders and Taylor Shewey.

Ensemble members were Elizabeth Alexander, Vicki Augustus, Ella Black, Natalie Burger, Aliyah Doran, Harrison Hays, Jasmine Littlejohn, Alyssa Marti,, Abi McConkey, Devin Milner, Kameron Morrison, Anna Muchow, Shae Payne, Masyn Perry, London Pruiett, Tatum Reel, Ava Shelkey, Lillian Stafford, Bella Sunkel, Ian Theirl, Adelyn Trapp, Gage Wright, Rebekah Young-Steelman and Sophie Young.

Laughlin noted the first musical he directed was “Mary Poppins” and a young Kalvin Rigdon shared the role of Michael Banks with Chance Westerfield.

As for the future, Laughlin said a strong group of junior boys and girls will step into the limelight in the spring of 2025. 

“We’re not going to rush the decision” as far as what next year’s production will be, Laughlin emphasized. “We both need to take a breath and clear our heads” he explained.

The couple credits their shared passion for music and theater as what makes their professional partnership work. 

“We also have a great support system in our parents (Phil and Mary Liz Wright and Kent and Lydia Laughlin),” he said. With two young daughters (Fern and Cely), the couple know they children are taken care of – including when the girls are attending rehearsal, where there is no shortage of students who want to play or watch them.

During senior moments before Sunday’s matinee performance, Laughlin said one of the themes that kept being repeated by the six seniors was “home.”

“It’s always been our goal to make this program a safe space for all students,” he explained, noting PHS students participating not only represent music and band but athletics, academic excellence, school leadership and the school’s vocational program.

The rose window, which was a center of the set, was made by the school’s vocational students using the CNC router. 

“That’s what’s great about the support we receive, it’s all hands-on-deck,” he said.

Laughlin also emphasized how the continued support of the Paris community continues to help the program be successful. 

“It’s not just buying tickets,” he said. “We’re also talking about local businesses and industries serving as sponsors.”

This year’s production also included something new – a community choir. “We are so thankful for the adults who volunteered to sing in the production,” Tanner said.

The Paris community is so very lucky to have the PCOFA theater – which was echoed by Michelle Azar, who directs vocal music and drama at Terre Haute North High School. That school will be presenting “Hunchback” later this spring. Azar brought her cast member to the final dress rehearsal for the Paris production. 

“There is some amazing talent and resources over there in Paris and I’m so grateful our kids got to see it and visit and make new friends,” she said.

Other members of the creative team for the musical were Jonathon Boren, orchestra conductor; Alex Elmore, lighting design; Eric Hendrickson, sound; Dave Speicher and Nolan Longest, set design; and Shayleigh Cline and Drew Bradshaw, production assistants. Stage crew included Emerson Barrett, Grayson Craffets, Lauren Kuhn and Logan Ludington.

Paris High School, Drama, The Hunchback of Notre Dame