Since The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published in 1831, it has been adapted into more than a dozen films, six plays, five ballets and five television dramas. One of the most popular is the 1996 animated musical from the Walt Disney company, which itself was adapted for the stage in 1999 for audiences in Berlin, Germany and titled Der Glockner von Notre Dame. Few American audiences have seen it—the live musical has only been staged in five U.S. cities. Starting Friday, June 29, however, it was six, when the Idaho Shakespeare Festival rang the bells of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which features songs from the Disney film plus new tunes by Oscar winning composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, and stars Corey Mach as Quasimodo and Keri Rene Fuller as Esmerelda. We spoke with the stars just before opening night.
With familiar songs from the Disney film and the occasional singing gargoyle, families should have a grand old time, but The Hunchback of Notre Dame has some very serious themes. For instance, many of the characters audiences relate to would most probably be homeless in today's society. Most importantly, this show reminds us how often we exclude those who don't look or act like us.
Mach: When you think of Disney movies, you think of princes and princesses.
Fuller: And happily ever after.
Mach: That's not to say kids won't definitely enjoy this show, but there is some serious stuff happening.
Fuller: Absolutely. No spoilers, but the stage musical doesn't end the way the Disney film does. I really admire that, but this production is a lot more faithful to the novel. There is a deep, deep human connection in this show.
Corey, let's talk about wardrobe, specifically the prosthetic used to give you a hunchback.
Mach: There is evidence of a real-life Quasimodo who worked in Notre Dame. Plus, we looked at a good many of historic photos of people with hunchbacks. Our amazing costume department went into great depth to create something authentic.
Can I assume wearing the prosthetic has widened the lens you look through for your performance?
Mach: Quasimodo knew only one person in his life until the day he convinced himself to step outside the cathedral, but he picked the wrong day to do that. It was the Festival of Fools, when one person in Paris is picked to have the ugliest face.
Esmeralda sees something different in Quasimodo.
Fuller: She's a gypsy; she has wandered her entire life. She yearns for a human connection, so she feels a deep need to be loyal to Quasimodo. I think, even today, that's such a powerful message: seeing humans as they are and not as how they appear.
Are you jittery or anxious about getting this show in front of audiences?
Mach: Not at all. I'm thinking, "Let me at this." This show is so good. I really had no idea of the magnitude of the show. This is the biggest set we've ever seen at the festival.
Fuller: And the biggest orchestra; and this cast... Wow.
It's my understanding your production will use three separate choruses of local performers.
Fuller: That's right. They'll switch off performances. Each is a chorus of 16 singers. This show is even bigger than our production of Les Miserables. It's the biggest cast we've ever had.
Corey, how physical is this show for you?
Mach: The most I've ever experienced.
Are you swinging a good deal?
Mach: Swinging from the ropes? Oh, yeah. There's the ringing of the bells and a lot of stairs in the cathedral.
Talk to me about folding your physical frame into this character.
Mach: I'm 6' 1". I think I'm the tallest in the cast. Quasimodo is described in the book as tall as he is wide, which means he was extremely short and kind of pudgy. That doesn't matter much until you realize you can't have a hunchback who's just a tiny bit hunched over and taller than everyone else. I'm in physical therapy twice a week just so I can ... contort my body in a way that is believable.
The novel was huge source from which I could grab detail. The majority of my work has been performing in musicals based on movies. And I never, ever watch the movie. I just don't want any of that to influence what I'm doing on stage, but in the case of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, well, this was a major exception.
The ultimate question posed by this story is: What makes a monster...
Mach: ... And, what makes a man? That's the big question.
That's a pretty good question in 2017.
Fuller: I've been thinking about that a lot every time I sing that question. My answer for now is: Spirit.
Mach: I think it's happiness.
That's in short supply right now.
Fuller: It really is.