Tina Arena goes centre stage in new musical

[London, March 1] - Australian star speaks of her empathy with Esmerelda in "Notre-Dame de Paris."

Tina Arena has been talking exclusively to World Online about her role in Notre-Dame de Paris, the musical which opens this spring in London.

Arena has the starring role of Esmerelda in the musical, which is based on Victor Hugo's novel "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame."

The musical, which is sponsored by World Online, opens May 23. The soundtrack is already on sale, and it features the show's centrepiece ballad "Live For The One I Love," which will be issued as a single by Columbia, March 20.

Notre-Dame de Paris is based on Victor Hugo's novel about the hunchback Quasimodo and his love for the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda.

Arena says she identifies strongly with Esmerelda. "She's passionate, relatively fearless, extremely intuitive, and a lot of people misconstrue that intuition as being overly sexual," says Arena.

The London show is an English-language version of a musical which has proved to be a phenomenon in France. It features songs originally written in French with lyrics translated by Will Jennings, the author of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."

Most UK music buyers know Tina Arena as a recording artist: her single "Chains" stayed in the Top 10 here for a month in 1995. However, her first forays into the music business were as a performer, first on TV after she appeared on a talent show, then on stage as a solo artist and with Australian bands. She's also narrated in the Australian cast version of "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat."

So moving onto the stage is something of homecoming rather than a career change for Arena "People don't really look at diversification as an attribute, it's almost seen as a hindrance" she observes. "But in the 30s, 40s and 50s unless you were versatile, you weren't employed."

"Notre-Dame De Paris" opens in London's Dominion Theatre on May 23, while previews begin on May 15.

French career takes her higher

And while the musical which opens in London is entirely in in English, Tina has already carved out a career in France with two French-language songs on Columbia Records, which are unconnected with the show. "Aller Plus Haut (Take Me Higher) spent six weeks at No. 2 in the French charts, and her version of the Edith Piaf song. "Les Trois Cloches" (the three bells) hit No.4.

For her, singing in French "came very naturally" she says, even though she "failed miserably" in the language as a teenager, she says. "At school I was more interested in making paper planes and making my friends laugh." Yet she already had a grounding in Latin languages; she grew up speaking Italian as a result of her family history, something which also helped her when she switched to singing in Spanish. Yet she still said she was taken aback when French record label execs asked her to sing in their language.

"They asked me if I sang in French. I said it would be a challenge but I've never really thought about it. And they said 'we think it could work.'"

When she finally got into the studio to record the songs, "It was like a dream come true" she says.
Close ties with Sony Music France, which marketed the "Notre-Dame..." soundtrack in France, led to an interest in the musical, which to date has been seen by more than two million people in the French-speaking world. Many of the members of the French cast are in the UK production including Daniel Lavoie, Bruno Pelletier and blues singer Garou.

Tina: "Leave your preconceptions at home."

Despite such impressive statistics, the music and entertainment industries are often sceptical about the prospect of such projects which are transplanted from one culture to another, especially when an overseas production is launched in the hyper-critical UK market.

There was the potential that the show could have suffered in translation, says Arena: "The French language [allows] such an incredible play on words. Those guys have boundless space to be able to play with stuff. We in the English language don't have that luxury." Yet the move to English hasn't stood in the way of the show's appeal, she says. "With the translation, I don't feel anything has been lost, and that's why I'm a part of it."

With all musicals there is a certain amount of anticipation, she concedes. After the success of "Notre-Dame" in French, there are certain expectations placed upon the English version of the show. Arena says these prejudices should be left at home.

"The beauty of Notre-Dame de Paris is that it's real" she says. "Don't have any expectations. Just go and see it. If you want to make a judgment, make it after you've seen it."

[World Online UK]