MEET BEN MCCORMACK

Talk to us a little bit about your character and what he/she brings to the story.

Though Esmeralda is more central to the book (the one stage adaptation written by Victor Hugo was an opera called La Esmeralda) Quasimodo became a focal point in modern adaptations, due in no small part to his integration into the mythology of Notre Dame since the book’s publication. The cathedral itself was a major figure in the novel (Hugo wrote the novel in part to agitate for the preservation of old Parisian architecture) and Quasimodo’s physical nature seems to me to have been intentionally tied to the architecture of the cathedral – a hunch as an arch, wide arms like buttresses, and a face half-normal and half-deformed to suggest the blending of different architectural periods in the cathedral itself (Gothic and Romanesque). He works in the book as the bridge between this theme and Hugo’s other passion – the issue of power, its abuses, and the people left in its wake, for which he and Esmeralda are as much poster children as Jean Valjean, one of Hugo’s other iconic protagonists.

In the musical, I see Quasimodo less as a main character and more as a mirror for the society he enters into. In breaking his lifelong isolation at the start of the story, he experiences an emotional maturation, complete with naïveté, rebellion, love, disillusionment, indifference, and resolution, in a very short period. The audience, to a greater degree than any other character, is along for this ride with him.

Were you familiar with The Hunchback of Notre Dame prior to this production? (Disney, Novel, etc.)

I always loved the Disney film and from a young age imagined it as a stage show, but hadn’t started to read the novel until the Paper Mill production in 2015 was released on CD. I only found a good modern translation and finished it recently, and since have been watching other film adaptations. I’ve particularly taken a liking to Charles Laughton’s 1939 take on the character.

What is the biggest challenge you face in this role?

Keeping myself vocally and physically in shape. I’ve spent the last three months training, dieting and working on my high range.

What is your favorite song in the show?

The opening number is my favorite song in the show. It’s one of the strongest openings Menken has written, and its use of Renaissance-era harmony techniques ties it back perfectly to its 15th-century setting. It’s a perfect opening to a show that seems to draw influences from anything from medieval chant to Wagnerian operatic structures to modern musical theater. The arc of the show follows an interesting tonal structure – beginning in D and ending, down a step, in C – and this number does a brilliant job setting the ball – dramatically and musically – in motion.