The musical takes from the book mainly the love and tragedy that befalls the intriguing Esmeralda and the repression that the guards impose on the "cour des miracles."
The show is narrated by Gringoire, a poet and minstrel who tells the audience of recent events in this Age of the Cathedrals.
The Gypsy Esmeralda has been under the protection of Gypsy Leader Clopin since the death of her mother. The Gypsies are chased out of Paris by the King's soldiers after they try to claim sanctuary in the cathedral of Notre Dame. In the struggle, Esmeralda catches the eye of the Captain of the Guard, Ph?bus de Chateaubriand, who is already engaged to his 14-year-old cousin, Fleur-de-Lys.
At the Feast of Fools, the hunchback bellringer of Notre Dame Quasimodo is watching Esmeralda, whom he loves, when he is dragged centerstage and crowned King of Fools by Esmeralda. Frollo, the priest of Notre Dame, tears Quasimodo's crown off and warns him away from Esmeralda, and outlines his plan to have Quasimodo help him kidnap Esmeralda (with whom Frollo is secretly obsessed) and imprison her in one of the cathedral towers.
Gringoire is following Esmeralda through Paris when she is accosted by Frollo and Quasimodo. Ph?bus, keeping watch, protects her. Frollo remains unnoticed, but Quasimodo is arrested. Esmeralda refuses Ph?bus, but accepts an assignation with him at the cabaret Val d'Amour for the following evening.
Gringoire sneaks into the Court of Miracles where he is caught and condemned to death unless one of the gypsy women will marry him, making him one of them. Esmeralda accepts at the last moment, saving Gringoire. He offers to make her his muse, but she is only interested in knowing more about Ph?bus.
When Quasimodo is put to the wheel for attacking Esmeralda, Frollo joins in the general condemnation, but Esmeralda gives Quasimodo a drink of water when he begs for it, and he invites her to take refuge in the cathedral whenever she wants. Having her within reach drives Frollo wild with lust, and he follows Ph?bus to his rendez-vous with Esmeralda, where he stabs Phoebus with Esmeralda's knife, leaving him for dead, and her to be accused of the crime. Ph?bus, meanwhile, returns to his jealous fianc?e Fleur-de-Lys without a backward glance.
Clopin, Quasimodo and Frollo all wonder where Esmeralda has disappeared to, and Gringoire reveals that she is awaiting trial at the prison La Sant?. Frollo, acting as the judge, accuses Esmeralda of witchcraft, prostitution, harassment, and wounding Ph?bus. She denies the accusation but, under torture, confesses that she does love Phoebus, for which she is condemned to death by hanging the following morning.
In the dark hours before dawn, Frollo goes to Esmeralda's cell, confesses his love and offers her freedom in exchange for sex. When she refuses, he attempts to rape her. Meanwhile, Quasimodo has released the imprisoned Gypsies, who rescue Esmeralda. They all take refuge within Notre Dame. The guards attack the cathedral to evict the Gypsies, and Clopin is killed. The Gypsies are exiled, and Frollo turns Esmeralda over to Ph?bus who orders her to be hanged immediately. Quasimodo finds Frollo watching Esmeralda's execution, and Frollo confessed to having set Esmeralda up because she refused him. Quasimodo kills Frollo by pushing him down the cathedral tower steps, and dies of a broken heart with the dead Esmeralda in his arms.
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