Interview With… Hiba Tawaji

The singer and actress  spoke to Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon about bringing Notre Dame de Paris back to London for the first time in twenty years. 

Jay and Hiba Tawaji (c)Patrick Carpentier. 

Hi Hiba, thanks so much for talking to me. Can I ask how did you become involved with the production in the first place? I have been involved with this production since the official come back happened two years ago in Paris. They wanted to do an official come back for the show, so the producer, the author and composer of the show saw my performance on The Voice France as they were trying to find their new Esmeralda. They discovered what I did by going on YouTube and doing a bit of research into me and then called me and suggested that I audition for the show and they then handed me the role.

I was super happy because its a role that was a dream role for me for many years – like a childhood dream! I knew the songs by heart and I used to listen to the songs with my friends back in Beirut. It’s like a dream come true.

Had you seen the musical before or were you familiar with the show simply through the soundtrack ? I had watched it on DVD but I had never seen it live. So for me to be a part of this is magical.

Could you tell me a little more about Esmerelda – what is she like to play? Esmerelda is a beautiful young woman, a gypsy who lives on the streets of Paris. She is sort of a refugee and she is a girl who wants to get involved in the culture and be accepted for who she is and break all of the boundaries between herself and the other characters. She has a lot of values she is a rebellious woman and she is a strong character but she is also very fragile as well because she is young and vulnerable. She has plenty of charisma, her strong personality makes all the men fall in love with her and she is the victim of the love of three men: Frollo, Phoebus and Quasimodo. It’s really a story that speaks about a lot of things but mostly about love.

So how excited are you about bringing the show to London? It’s the first time the show has been in London since the original version in French which is the best version in my opinion! Being here in London is a big dream because it is the place to be for these kind of shows and I’m really excited – a beautiful adrenaline – I really wanted it to be here and have been waiting for this to happen!

From the presentation we have just seen it looks amazing. Could you tell me a bit more about how the production looks on stage? It’s really epic. The costumes, the set, the choreography makes it a big production. Visually it is  really impressive but mostly it is an emotional show and you can hear it through the music, the interpretation and you can see it through  the choreography and the lighting . The French lyrics are just so powerful and I think it makes everything visually stand out.

Have you a favourite song or a favourite moment in the show?  I love all the songs I get to perform but I love all of the other characters songs as well! Sometimes I dream about being Frollo because I love his songs and I love Quasimodo’s songs. But I think the duet between me and Quasimodo is my favourite part and there’s an Ave Maria part that I get to sing that I also really like. I mean I like it all!

So are you still performing elsewhere before coming to London in January? We have just come back from Canada having done a three month tour. We did sixty five dates there and before that we were in Russia, Turkey, France – so we have done roughly one hundred and fifty dates!

How have audiences been reacting to the show in different countries? Is there a different response according to where you are at the time? Totally different because each country has its own culture and audiences react differently to the show according to their culture. Sometimes you can have an audience who is particularly expressive  and on another occasion an audience who really enjoys it but is more disciplined, more introverted. But wherever we go we always have standing ovations at the end. We have had tears and people singing along with us – its really a huge international hit.

How is it performing with the rest of the cast? Particularly given the amount of travelling around you do which must be quite exhausting! I think the ambiance of the troupe makes it more interesting for us because the personal relationships we have created with each other helps us to be positive. We are like a big family  and enjoy being together both backstage and onstage and I think that this is what makes the chemistry onstage  really apparent. 

By Emma Clarendon 

Notre Dame De Paris will play at the London Coliseum from the 23rd to the 27th January 2019. To book tickets click here

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