Chatting with Stars of 'Beauty and the Beast'
It's been twenty years since it first appeared on the Broadway stage, and Beauty and the Beast is touring the country, bringing the tale as old as time to the Wharton Center this week.
I spoke with cast members James May (Cogsworth) and Roxy York (Madame de la Grande Bouche) prior to opening night about the perseverance of the popular story, special rituals of the cast, and how long it takes to get ready with those elaborate costumes.
STEFANIE POHL: The musical first debuted twenty years ago and the film will celebrate its 25th birthday next year. What do you think it is about the story that continues to engage the audience?
ROXY YORK: I think it's just such a timeless story. What's so surprising about it is you can watch it when you're five, when you're 15, when you're 50, when you're 150, and it's still going to have something for you in that time of your life. It's never going to get old for you, and have that magical moment. It's infinite.
JAMES MAY: It's a theme that is present in so many different stories. There's different versions of the Beauty and the Beast parable, from "Edward Scissorhands" to "King Kong" to even "Twilight." It's present in a lot of different storytelling. But this is the most true to its form. A tale of two people who are misunderstood, and finding love.
SP: Why do you think Disney films work so well as stage adaptations?
JM: I think part of it is just that the initial films themselves already feel like Broadway musicals. With "Beauty and the Beast," I believe there was a theater critic who said the best opening number on Broadway right now is not on Broadway. The best opening number this year in that movie Disney made. So I think there's always been a theatricality to these stories. With "Frozen," they cast an almost all-Broadway cast. It's almost inherent in the film, so it's an easy jump to the stage.
SP: You play some of the enchanted objects in the show, an armoire and a clock. What is it like getting ready and maneuvering in those costumes?
RY: From the start of my show, it takes me about 45 minutes to do my makeup. I use a think called tattoo paint, so I'm not doing a regular stage makeup. I'm using actual paintbrushes and putting makeup on my face. By doing that, I start to feel more like the character. I start to think 'I am an opera singer. I am an armoire.' My costume is very large, and it's about 30 pounds. It's like wearing a large but beautiful piece of furniture. It's the most beautiful costume I've ever worn. So while it's a challenge to be carrying around the weight of it, and I can't get it on myself, being in the costume just sets all of it. It's the best.
JM: I have it so much easier than Roxy. I have it much easier than the original Broadway Cogworth too. This production is being done by the same team, but there are different choices from the first tour. There was literal glass and wood and doors for his costume, but I have it so much easier. It sits comfortably on my shoulders and I can sit. I don't have it too bad, comparatively.
SP: Do you have any pre-show rituals that you do either individually or as a cast?
RY: We have a ton of rituals in this show, and they just keep happening. Right before "Be Our Guest" happens, one of the ensemble members, Cory, comes over and we do a giraffe hug when we wrap our necks around each other. If we don't do it, I get really anxious, like 'Oh man, we really should have done that giraffe hug.' And Hassan who plays Lumiere will come off before I enter, and we happen to pass each other, and I always high five his candlestick. It's a way to connect and say we're all here, we're all working hard, and we're all having this good time.
SP: People will come into this show already being familiar with the story. What sets the musical apart from what might already be expected?
JM: What sets the show apart, especially from the film, is an element that Linda added in to make sense of why the [objects] are human-sized and adds dramatic depth is that the spell is a slowly moving ongoing thing. At the end, it would mean our deaths. In our show, the spell is cast, and maybe we didn't even notice it at first. It acts as a cancer. We have a deadline. I wouldn't just be a cute clock running around, I would just be a clock. It's a much more dramatic angle than the film.
RY: I had seen the show on Broadway and I had also seen this tour when it came to Boston. I couldn't get over how funny it is. While it's high stakes and things have to happen, it's so funny. The fact that every night I try not to laugh at what they're doing - it's all about that light and darkness.
There's still time to see "Beauty and the Beast" at the Wharton Center this weekend, through February 23rd. Click here for details.