Once more with feeling

By Andre FroisEvents - 06 December 2013 12:00 AM

Once more with feeling

Having been translated into a variety of languages including Russian, Korean and Japanese, the hit French musical ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ will play again in Singapore this December, in English this time.

The vivacious sparkplug Alessandra Ferrari, who is Italian, plays Esmeralda, while prominent French-Canadian musician and music producer Matt Laurent reprises his role as the lovelorn hunchback Quasimodo.

inSing meets the two leads at Marina Bay Sands and picks their brains about the most challenging and majestic musical roles of their careers.

How different is this project from your previous musicals?

Matt Laurent (ML): Notre Dame de Paris is vocally very challenging. Conveying the music (written by decorated multilingual singer-songwriter, composer and musician) Riccardo Cocciante to the audience is harder than the songs for my previous roles in ‘The Little Prince’, ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Dracula’. ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ really tests my vocal range.

Alessandra Ferrari (AF): One has to be mentally prepared. I find that I have to push myself hard to tell this story through its music. And furthermore bring you, the audience, into the story and emotion – it’s no easy task.

How is the story of the hunchback told differently this time round?

ML: This musical is based on the novel and not the Disney movie, so it has a not-so-nice ending. You have to see the spectacular way the show ends with all its music and songs to understand what I mean. Instead of Quasimodo, the story this time revolves around the journey of Esmeralda. Unlike Broadway and West End-style productions, this musical tells its entire story through songs and Riccardo Cocciante’s articulate choice of notes, and involves no talking.

What was it like working towards finding that chemistry between the two of you?

AF: It was hard but very important – good chemistry between the male and female leads is the basis of a good performance. We built it over time, and were just talking about it. We’ve been working a lot at our chemistry every day from morning to night, ever since our first shows together in Moscow. Only when a real chemistry is present will the audience feel that we are being honest with them.

ML: We have to be really true with the audience, as well as with each other. This stems from respect for the other artiste and a stronger sense of respect for their art.

Matt, is it hard to act and express through the Quasimodo makeup?

ML: My makeup is not very thick, and takes only half an hour to be applied on me, about as long as Alessandra’s Esmeralda makeup. However, it does do the job and makes my face look different, deforming it in the ways that I want with the different expressions that I make.

Is this musical also physically challenging?

AF: I spend a good part of the musical suspended! (Laughs)

ML: Of course. I hiked down a wall in one scene. This production is quite athletically demanding, so we have a physiotherapist following us and checking on us, besides having to do our own stretching.

From your stage experience, what are the key ingredients to making a good musical great?

AF: Good music and professionalism. The taste of the director also plays an important role in guiding the show.

ML: Songs are like the foundation of a house, and we’ve great songs. ‘Belle’ was declared song of the century and song of the decade in some countries. The job of the performers is to make you feel the story.

What do you think audiences will remember most vividly after watching ‘Notre Dame de Paris’?

ML: I think it will be the music. It’s truly a beautiful show to see. It looks great and our previous audiences have shared that they became very attached to the characters. In South Korea, we were greeted by 50,000-strong fan clubs.

However, what left the strongest impression with me was seeing people in wheelchairs, and even real hunchbacks, come to watch us. For some of our terminally ill attendees, seeing our performance was their dying request. I was very touched to be able to help our very sick child audiences have a good time. For that short duration, I was grateful that I could help them not think about their illnesses.

AF: I think our audiences find parts of themselves in the play’s characters. I particularly remember our Japanese audiences, some of whom looked so happy. Some of them looked as if they had lived something unusual, as if they had dreamed for two hours. I was glad that we could take them to that far-away place for those two hours.

‘Notre Dame de Paris’ | Date: 17 December 2013  to 5 January 2014 | Time: 8pm (Tue-Fri); 2pm, 8pm (Sat-Sun) | Venue: Mastercard Theatres | Address: Marina Bay Sands, 1 Bayfront Avenue | Tickets: $55-$175 from Sistic