A company of actors emerges, intoning a Latin chant (“Olim”) with the onstage Choir. As “The Bells of Notre Dame” echo throughout the cathedral/theatre, the Congregation narrates the dawn of the Feast of Fools, a day when all – even criminals (or worse, gypsies) ¬– are free to roam the streets of Paris without fear of reprisal. From the pulpit, Dom Claude Frollo, the most powerful cleric in Paris, warns his flock against the wickedness of the festival. In flashback, the Congregation reveals the archdeacon’s backstory. Frollo and his brother, Jehan, were taken in as orphans by the cathedral priests. Whereas Frollo thrived under the strict rules of the Church, the much wilder Jehan eventually took up with gypsies and was expelled. Many years passed, during which Frollo ascended through the ranks of the Church until he was summoned one day to his estranged brother’s deathbed. Although Jehan rejected Frollo’s offer of sanctuary, he did ask his brother to care for his gypsy baby. In grief, Frollo reluctantly agreed to do so and named the deformed child Quasimodo (“half-formed”). Frollo kept Quasimodo secluded in the cathedral bell tower for many years….
Now grown, Quasimodo is the lonely, but staunchly obedient, bell-ringer at Notre Dame. Frollo continues to offer him “Sanctuary” within the confines of the cathedral, but Quasimodo longs to be “Out There,” and so he drums up the courage to defy Frollo and sneak out of the tower to attend the Feast of Fools. Down below in the square, Clopin leads the gypsies in their annual takeover of Paris (“Topsy Turvy”) just as Captain Phoebus de Martin arrives from the battlefront to assume command of the Cathedral Guard. Looking forward to some “Rest and Recreation” first, Phoebus is disappointed to find himself taking his new positon early and reporting to the reproachful Frollo. Both men are instantly captivated by the arrival of the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda, as she dances in public to the “Rhythm of the Tambourine.” The frenzied crowd then joins together to crown the King of Fools (“Topsy Turvy – Part 2”). They choose Quasimodo for the mock honor, but, as Frollo predicted, the people treat him with remarkable cruelty when their celebration of his deformity turns to contempt. Hostilities rise as the mob surrounds Quasimodo, ties him up and beats him while Frollo looks on in cold silence. Esmeralda rescues Quasimodo from the abuse, enduring frustrated taunts from the crowd before she disappears in a flash of smoke amid exclamations of witchcraft. Frollo steps forward to collect a chastened Quasimodo, who promises to never again leave the tower (“Sanctuary II”).
Concerned about Quasimodo’s welfare, Esmeralda ventures into the cathedral (“The Bells of Notre Dame – Reprise”), where Frollo, still overwhelmed by her beauty, offers her sanctuary and spiritual guidance. While she ponders this opportunity (“God Help the Outcasts”), Phoebus happens upon her, and they duel flirtatiously. Eventually, Esmeralda finds Quasimodo, who shows her the view from the bell tower (“Top of the World”). Frollo finds them there and confronts Esmeralda with his offer but, when she refuses, he has Phoebus escort her from the cathedral. He encourages Quasimodo to forget about the unclean gypsy.
However, Frollo cannot stop thinking about Esmeralda and roams the streets in the shadow of darkness. One night, he comes upon a tavern where the gypsies spiritedly sing and dance (“Tavern Song – Thai Mol Piyas”). Inside, a charmed Phoebus seeks out Esmeralda, and their flirtation escalates, climaxing in a kiss. The spying Frollo, enticed and horrified, runs off. Back in the bell tower, Quasimodo remains smitten by Esmeralda’s beauty and kindness (“Heaven’s Light”). Meanwhile, Frollo convinces himself that Esmeralda is a demon who has been sent to tempt his very soul (“Hellfire”).
The next morning, Frollo convinces King Louis XI to put out a warrant for Esmeralda’s death, and a search commences (“Esmerelda / Act I Finale”). Frollo targets a brothel that he suspects has been harboring Esmeralda. When Phoebus refuses a direct order to burn it down, Frollo has him arrested. Esmeralda appears from the crowd, and a fight breaks out. Frollo stabs Phoebus and blames Esmeralda, who escapes with the injured Phoebus. Frollo continues the hunt while Quasimodo watches the burning chaos from above.
The Choir sings the “Entr’acte” in Latin.
In the bell tower (“Agnus Dei”), Esmeralda implores Quasimodo to hide the wounded Phoebus until he is stronger. Quasimodo agrees to help, and she offers him an amulet that will lead him to where she hides. Envisioning himself as her savior and protector (“Flight into Egypt”), Quasimodo lies to Frollo when asked if he knows where Esmeralda might be (“Esmerelda – Reprise”). Frederic interrupts to reveal that the soldiers have found the gypsy lair, and Frollo declares that they will attack at dawn. Quasimodo and the injured Phoebus use the amulet to find Esmeralda before Frollo does (“Rest and Recreation – Reprise”).
Arriving at the gypsy lair, Phoebus and Quasimodo are captured by Clopin and the gypsies, who sentence them to death (“The Court of Miracles”). Esmeralda intervenes, and the two men warn of Frollo’s impending attack. As the gypsies prepare to flee, Phoebus decides to go with Esmeralda. She consents and matches his commitment to a life together while Quasimodo watches, heartbroken (“In a Place of Miracles”). Frollo barges in, sends Quasimodo back to the tower and arrests Esmeralda and Phoebus (“The Bells of Notre Dame – Reprise II”).
In prison, Frollo confesses his love to Esmeralda and attacks her (“The Assault”). When Esmeralda refuses him, Frollo threatens Phoebus’ life, as well, and then has him brought into her cell so she can rethink his offer. Esmeralda and Phoebus spend their final night alive together (“Someday”). Now, bound in the tower, Quasimodo believes that he is the only one who can save Esmeralda (“While the City Slumbered”), but Frollo has made him doubt himself (“Made of Stone”).
In the square the next morning, Phoebus watches from his cage as Esmeralda is tied to a wooden stake (“Judex Crederis”). Frollo again offers to save her if she will be his (“Kyrie Eleison”). Her steadfast refusal enrages him, and he lights the pyre himself. Witnessing the horror from above, Quasimodo gains courage, breaks free of his bonds and swoops down to free the badly injured Esmeralda. He then enters the cathedral with her in his arms, claims sanctuary, bars the doors and returns her to safety in his tower. Violence breaks out in the square as Phoebus and Clopin rally the crowd against Frollo. When the Cathedral Guard breaks down the church doors, Quasimodo’s last defense is to pour molten lead down on them, which ends the attack.
Quasimodo returns to Esmeralda, who declares him a good friend before she dies in his arms (“Top of the World – Reprise”). Frollo enters and tries to comfort the distraught Quasimodo (“Esmerelda – Frollo Reprise”), but he finally sees the archdeacon for the monster he is and throws him from the tower to his death (“Finale Ultimo”). Phoebus arrives, weak and broken from the battle, and collapses on Esmeralda’s body in grief. Quasimodo comforts him before picking up Esmeralda and carrying her into the square, where the Congregation has gathered to mourn.