Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gaston’s Best Bud

Name: Michael Fatica
Role: Lefou

Michael Fatica plays the role of Lefou in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and is today’s guest on our blog! Read on to learn more about Michael!!

Hello blog readers!! I'm Michael Fatica, also known onstage as Lefou! For those who haven't seen the movie or the show before, Lefou is Gaston's sidekick and best bud. I'm also referred to as that crazy little guy who keeps falling down throughout the story :)

We just finished a beautiful two weeks in Honolulu, followed by a week break before we venture into the fall schedule. After a week in San Antonio, we arrive in Tempe, Arizona, at the ASU Gammage Theatre! Some of the cast, crew, or musicians have toured to Tempe before and also boast that it is one of their favorite spots. One of the first things we see in each city is, of course, the theatre. We are lucky enough to play some amazing spaces around the country, and I'm sure the ASU Gammage is no different. It always adds an extra spark to doing the show in a theatre with a strong history or unique structure. I'm really excited to check out the ASU space designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and hopefully add a bit of "Disney Magic" to the Broadway Across America Season!

I have ventured to Arizona before, having visited Tucson with my family when I was in Kindergarten. Originally from Florida, I'd never seen such a dry climate and rolling landscape, and remember thinking it looked so alien. My only memories that stuck were the tragic ones: my sister fell into a cactus and had to slowly pick out the barbs, while I had an exuberant horse on a trail ride that decided to take a jaunt instead of a slow walk. I'm sure at 23 I am now more equipped to explore what Tempe has to offer. I'm looking forward to checking out the ASU campus, and to head over to Mill Avenue and see what's happening downtown.

So, while strolling through Tempe from October 19th to the 24th, keep an eye out for some extra boisterous theatre types....it might be one of the company members of Disney's Beauty and the Beast!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Replacement Experience

Name: Sarah Claire Smith
Hometown: Winter Haven, Florida
Role: Silly Girl/Enchanted Object

Sarah Claire Smith plays the role of a Silly Girl and an Enchanted Object in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and is today's latest blogger! Read on to learn more about Sarah!!

I wasn't living in New York at the time of the original audition for Disney's Beauty and the Beast in May of 2009. I was just visiting NYC, catching Broadway shows--yet with the intent of auditioning as much as possible! (I had just come out of a ten-month contract and I needed to be inspired!) Disney's Beauty and the Beast was one of the auditions I attended during my visit. Thankfully, I was called back the entire week and went through many callbacks for different roles. Still, I didn't hear anything back immediately. I was called back for another series of callbacks in September and October…again, no offer. I was called in one more time for an understudy role in February of 2010. While in the end I was not cast, it was a wonderful experience to be called back so many times. As actors do, I went on with my life--and other wonderful opportunities came about in result! They say, "When a door is closed there is always another opening." It's a wonderful lesson to learn. Now fast forward a few months...

I spent this summer in Florida performing RENT and teaching in a children's theatre program. I was in the midst of teaching middle school kids a number from Hairspray when I got "the call." The Company Manager called to find out my availability to replace a girl who was injured. This was a familiar call. I was asked to come in earlier that year but was unavailable--because I was opening a show the weekend they needed me! While I was thrilled to get another call, I was again under contract for the next 3 weeks. Thankfully, NETworks decided to wait for me and I came on board Disney's Beauty and the Beast in early August!

I joined the Dance Captain and Music Director in Kansas City for my replacement rehearsals. They taught me every aspect of my track in two days of 4-hour rehearsals! It was quite overwhelming, but the cast and crew were very supportive. In every stressful moment I just sought peace and relied on all of my good training. On my "Opening Night" we had a put- in rehearsal with the whole cast before the show. I remember feeling surprised at how calm I was. I must have understood that freaking out would only exacerbate this stressful situation--so I just took a breath, smiled, and made my entrance onto the stage! While my first show was not flawless, I felt great about my performance. It didn't actually become "fun" until a few days later, when I could relax into the role and enjoy my time onstage.

I still can't believe that I was put into the show in 3 days! I wasn't nervous--but I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone. It was intense!!!

Here I am, now almost two months into tour as a Silly Girl and spinning napkin! Touring is a wonderful and unique experience and that I am still learning from and adjusting to. Recently we were in San Francisco and Honolulu--both incredible cities. I had to pinch myself most days to make sure it wasn't a dream. I love being a Silly Girl. We cry a lot, swoon over Gaston, and have a great time every night. Getting paid to sing, dance, act and see the country is a pretty incredible gig. I am grateful to be here and be a part of a show that lifts people's spirits and brings them to their feet every night!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Behind the Musical: Carolyn Violi

Carolyn Violi, who is the Musical Director and Conductor for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, partakes in our latest blog! Here, Carolyn tells us about her love for Frank Sinatra, Beauty and the Beast and the piano!!

Name: Carolyn Violi

Role in the Show: Musical Director/ Conductor

Hometown: Indiana, PA (hometown of actor Jimmy Stewart)

What kind of music do you listen to? I love most types of music and of course, Broadway show tunes. If I'm driving a long distance, I love to listen to the standards of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, etc. That music will never go away. When I listen, I marvel that these artists recorded without the aid of auto tune.

Can you tell us about your history with Disney's Beauty and the Beast? I was teaching high school music in western Pennsylvania when a former student of mine, Brent-Alan Huffman, called and asked if I was interested in joining the national tour of Beauty that he was going to conduct. I wasn't sure I wanted to leave a profession I truly loved until I went to New York to actually see the show. I fell in love with it and said yes. It was a few months later that I would start on the road and stayed on that same tour for four years. People always ask me if I ever got tired of playing the show that many times and my reply was always never. Not once did I walk in the pit not wanting to do the show. It was also a gift to be named one of the conductors and get to stand on the podium.

 What kind of training and experiences led you here? I grew up taking dance lessons from age 3 and started playing piano by ear. My first grade teacher noticed that after music class I would go to the piano and play tunes we learned that day, so she called my parents to suggest I take lessons. My parents were thrilled because it was another activity to keep me busy since I was pretty precocious (well, actually highly energized!). Ok, let's be honest--I was a terror! I never sat still so it was almost a blessing that I would sit and practice. I kept on playing and after I got my degree in Music Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I started teaching in schools around my hometown. As the vocal music teacher I was responsible for the school musicals that I directed. I was also musical director, conductor and, oh yes, choreographer to over 20 productions. Involvement in community and regional theatres around the Pittsburgh area led me to work on another 50 or so productions, either as musical director or onstage work.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Life of an Understudy

Steve Czarnecki, who is an ensemble member in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, was nice enough to share a blog entry with us! Read on as Steve discusses some of his other responsibilities on the tour.

Name: Steve Czarnecki

Role in the show: Ensemble

Hey all!

You may know me as an ensemble member in the current national tour of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. However, I thought I would talk a little bit about my other responsibilities in the show. I am the understudy for both the Beast and Gaston. Each of the main characters in our production has two people understudying them, and many of the ensemble members like myself, understudy two parts--which can be both exciting and nerve racking.

From L to R: Nathaniel Hackmann (Gaston) with Steve Czarnecki and Jeff Brooks

To date we have performed the show somewhere around 220 times. And of those I have performed as the Beast thirteen times and as Gaston twice. Preparation for all of this began around day one of rehearsals in January. The understudies and I would frantically write and rewrite staging as it was given to the principals. Of course, we would do this only when we had the free time away from learning all of our own ensemble responsibilities. It was definitely challenging as things would change from rehearsal to rehearsal and you had to adjust your notes "on the fly." However, there was the comfort of knowing that after we opened in February we would begin to have our own understudy rehearsals!

Finally the day came where I was going on for the first time. Now THIS was a situation that made me more nervous than perhaps any other performance I've ever given. We had just had our first understudy rehearsal a few days before and now it was time for me to go on as the Beast. Many, many things run through your head as you perform. First and foremost, your lines!! You've gone over them a million times but now, for the first time, you are doing them with the rest of the cast! Furthermore, you want to make the audiences experience of the show the same as they would get seeing the "normal" cast of the show. You have to keep up the integrity of the character that the other actor has established. It is scary but also wonderfully exciting! The energy of your cast mates giving all their love and support and the experience of putting yourself into a new part is thrilling. Being an understudy is one of the most important jobs in the theatre, it can be very challenging, but more importantly it can be the most fun you'll ever have!

The whole cast after rehearsal at Gateway Playhouse!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Robyn DeGuzman: Aloha!

Robyn DeGuzman, who plays Silly Girl #3 in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, is our latest blogger! Robyn shares some neat facts about herself, the tour, and life in Hawaii!

Name: Robyn DeGuzman

Role in the show: Silly Girl 3

Aloha from Honolulu, HI! I'm Robyn DeGuzman and I play "Silly Girl #3". Though I also dance in the ensemble as a fork, plate, and napkin, you probably remember me primarily from my constant fainting - I can't seem to keep it together when Gaston's around!

Constantly collapsing during our eight show weeks isn't always easy, but I've adopted a few tumbling tricks of the trade. When we started rehearsals, our fight director, Rick Sordelet, advised me to start off slowly. I experimented a lot and found which falls I was most comfortable with, and I gradually became faster and faster at falling, and even more importantly, getting back up! The movement reminds me a lot of judo, which I trained in when I was younger. I also use utilize my modern dance training from college.

As for life on the road, it isn't always easy, but we're in HAWAI'I! Snorkeling, horseback riding, visiting Pearl Harbor, hiking, and skydiving are only a few of the things our cast has experienced here! I personally am enjoying Waikiki's beautiful beaches for relaxing and surfing and trying a lot of the local cuisine, which is an awesome blend of different cultures that makes it distinctly Hawaiian. Try a plate lunch from the Diamond Head Market and Grill or some Saimin from the famous Like Like Drive Inn!

Mahalo (that means thank you) for reading. See you back on the Mainland!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Q&A with Jen Davis

Jen Davis, who plays one of the Silly Girls in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, is our latest blogger! Here is Jennifer’s Q&A blog entry.

Name: Jennifer Davis

Role in the show: Silly Girl 1

What led you to a life in theatre?
My first major obsession was the original Annie movie. My parents got to hear my charming 9 year old voice belting out "Tomorrow" and "Maybe" non-stop 24/7. It wasn't until high school, just after I started dance classes, that I decided to teach myself how play the guitar as a vehicle for singing popular songs. I played the flute in middle and high school and started dance when I was 14. High school is where my real practical application started and I realized music, dance, and drama didn't have to just be a hobby. I went to school and became heavily involved in Community Theater. My first major musical was Crazy For You. I've done it many times again since, and still love it :)

What other shows/roles have you toured with?
My first tour I traveled through Japan and the U.S. with 42nd Street as ensemble understudying Maggie Jones. Secondly, I was the Steam Heat girl on The Pajama Game and now I am a Silly Girl on Disney's Beauty and the Beast!

Do you have any insights or advice for young students pursuing musical theatre?
Do it because you love it. Give yourself a well-rounded education and don't be afraid to ask questions! There is so much more to this business than just being on stage, and I find it not just beneficial, but fascinating to learn it all... backstage knowledge as well as practical applications like music and dance therapy, etc.

What are some of the pros and cons of touring?
You get to see parts of the country, and sometimes the world, that you never would otherwise. I feel very grateful to have experienced what I have thus far. Though, it isn't always easy to live out of a suitcase and travel in close quarters with the same people day in and day out... the fact is, if you keep looking at the bright side and see that you get to see parts of the country like California and Hawaii for FREE... you can deal with it. ;)

What are your favorite hobbies on the road?
Ha! Well I've adapted the nickname "Buttons" on tour for my MANY uses of buttons in my crocheting projects. I make scarves, hats, gloves, etc. and incorporate buttons as functionally as possible into all them. I've even started to make my own buttons (with help from my mom) out of coconut and shell pieces.

Do you have any dream roles you'd like to play in the future?
Well, I feel QUITE fortunate to have already played a few but I have yet to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret or Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Funny that they're both leading ladies because the wise-cracking sidekicks always to turn out to be my favorites! ;)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On the Road with The Beast: Justin Glaser

Justin Glaser, who plays The Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on tour found some time to sit-down with us for a Q&A! Here is Justin’s blog entry.

Name: Justin Glaser

Role in Beauty and the Beast: The Beast

What procedure do you take to get ready for the show?
My call to go to make-up and wigs is at an hour and a half before curtain. Ideally, though, I like to get to the theater at least two hours before curtain. I like to have the extra half hour to use my personal steamer, have a cup of throat coat tea, listen to some classical vocal or jazz music, do some stretching, and focus on relaxed, supported breathing. I also use this time to think through my last performance and make myself aware of things that I feel could be improved. Then, at an hour and a half I go to make-up and wigs. This process takes around 35 minutes. Afterwards, I go back to my dressing room and get myself into as much of my costume as I can on my own. Around 45 minutes until top of show, I begin my vocal warm-up. I sing the same basic exercises each day, which makes me aware of how my voice is feeling that day. At 15 minutes before the top of the show, my dresser comes and helps me into the rest of my costume, which takes about another 5 minutes. I do some last minute stretching and vocalizing in full costume, and then it's time to go to places for the top of the show.

What is your favorite song/scene in Beauty and the Beast?
My favorite sequence in the show is the title song, Beauty and the Beast, and the scene that immediately follows it. Our Mrs. Potts, Sabina Petra, sings it so beautifully and simply. It's a wonderful moment.

Any memorable tour moments (on or offstage) you can share?
Traveling the country, playing a role I love, in an enormous costume, has provided me with many, many memorable moments.

I take my job seriously, so I never intentionally mess around on-stage during performance. However, when unexpected things happen with costumes, sets, or from audience response, I do get the impulse to laugh. Most of the time I'm able to control myself, and I can use the impulse to turn an involuntary smile into the Beast gritting his teeth. Everyone on stage can see it in my eyes, though, which then makes it more difficult for all of us. Most of the time the problem arises from the eyebrows which are glued to my forehead. When a venue is particularly hot, I'll sweat a lot, and the eyebrows will begin to slide down onto my eyelids. Sometimes I'll be rendered immobile when someone is unknowingly standing on my tail. Sometimes my tail will get stuck in the West Wing set piece, which is always unfortunate, because if The Beast is in the West Wing, something dramatic is going on. Frequently things go wrong during the staging of the Beauty and the Beast number. At this point, Liz Shivener, who plays Belle, and I are both in enormous, lacy costumes. Our costumes and wigs get stuck to each other, we step on each other, her feet get stuck in her dress, and I trip over and step on my tail. We've sort of developed different ways to play the scene depending on what's going on costume-wise, and how our characters have grown together during a particular performance. Sometimes we act the number more playfully and just have fun, and sometimes we take a very serious, passionate approach to it. Both work, but if we're having a particularly difficult time, costume-wise, nine times out of ten the scene will be done more playfully.

One time I had a very difficult time keeping it together during the Beauty and the Beast scene. Near the top of the song there's a sequence where The Beast mimics Belle's actions at the dinner table. Right at the top of this sequence the bow fell out of my wig. I did my best to keep up with the business at the table, and at the most opportune moment, I quickly grabbed the bow off of the floor and put it on the table. However, when I went to pull my arm away from the table to continue the business, I couldn't. The lace on my coat sleeve had gotten stuck to something on the table and I couldn't get it free. Just then, Liz got up to come to me for the dance. Panicking, I pulled my arm away from the table as hard as I could and heard something rip. I looked down at the table, and where my arm had been stuck, was now just a strip of velcro. Very confused, I looked at my arm. There was a fork dangling from my sleeve. In order to keep it from moving during the set change, the fork had been attached to the table by velcro. By this time Liz had made her way to me and asked me to dance. I continued with my dialogue, while trying to free my sleeve from the fork, but had no such luck. She pulled me center stage to dance and I was swept over by a feeling of overwhelming dread and embarrassment. My mind raced as I imagined myself doing the entire number with a fork dangling from my sleeve. How would Liz react when she saw it? What if it were to fall onto the stage where one of us might step on it or trip over it? What if it were to get loose from me and attach itself to Liz? Or her wig? I'd never be able to keep it together and play the scene with a fork stuck in Belle's hair! It was too much for me. Just as we reached center stage to set up for the dance, I quickly turned my head upstage, let out a brief burst of laughter, and returned to do the scene as best I could. By the end of the number, I realized the fork was no longer attached to my sleeve. I didn't see it on the floor, either, so I just went about doing the scene. Later, I found out that it had fallen onto the table just as I'd gotten up to do the dance. That was a rough one.

What do you like to do when you're traveling between tour stops?
On travel days, I mostly just listen to music on my iPod or read.

What are six items you can't live without while on the road:
1) My phone: Used to keep in touch with my family and closest friends, this reminds me of my life outside of the tour, which I'll return to once this amazing experience is over.
2) My computer: Used for staying up to date on email, watching movies, and keeping up with what's happening in the movie industry.
3) My tour DVD collection/ Netflix account. I'm a huge movie buff. With the exception of the show, Mad Men, I watch no TV, so movies are my number one source for entertainment.
4) My iPod. For those long travel days.
5) My Beauty and the Beast actor work book. This is a book I made to prepare for the role. It's full of quotes that inspire me, character notes, show notes given to me by the creative team and stage manager, and many images of people, characters, animals and places. I revisit this from time to time if I ever start to feel stuck in a performance.
6) My friend, Keith Kirkwood, "Cogsworth." Though he's not an item in real life, he does play one on stage. He is my confidante on this tour and supplies me with endless hours of witty banter. I also count on him to tell me when I'm wrong or overreacting to petty issues.

What have you learned from your entire experience with Beauty and the Beast?
I have learned much from my experience with this show. I tend to be a bit reclusive, by nature, and made somewhat anxious when in large groups of people. My involvement in theater over the years has really helped to bring me out of my shell. Specifically on this tour, playing a role that puts me in front of thousands of people each week, and dealing with weekly interviews with the media, has forced me to relax considerably under these circumstances.

I read reviews of the show, regularly. Many people in the performance industry have just as many theories on why one should or shouldn't read reviews. However, what keeps me interested in performing is the fact that I feel that I've not even come close to realizing my full potential as a singer or an actor. Most of the reviews for this show have been very positive, but we occasionally do get mixed or negative reviews. I know that the creative team is pleased with this production, as a whole, and with my performance. I am mostly pleased with my performance. Audiences respond favorably to the show, and to my performance. When we get a review that is completely negative, I can immediately dismiss it. Sometimes a reviewer won't like something about my performance that I've been specifically directed to do. I can dismiss those, as well. The reviews that discuss my abilities as an actor are the ones I pay closest attention to. I think about what they have to say, and if it's something I've been criticized for by a director or a teacher in the past, I really reflect on it and try to think of ways that I can improve the issue in the future. I can't please everyone, but just because I'm pleasing most doesn't mean that I can't keep improving and growing.

I've also learned a great deal about my voice on this tour. Through all of the growling and yelling that I do over the course of the show, I've learned what it can withstand, or maybe more importantly, what it cannot withstand over an 8 performance show-week. Though one of my goals for each time that I step onto the stage is to deliver a perfect vocal performance, I've learned not to let myself get too down when unavoidable vocal mishaps occur. I've learned the importance of a full night of restful sleep, to avoid alcohol entirely, and not to drink caffeinated beverages on performance days. I can take all of these lessons with me and apply them to each show that I do in the future.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Q&A with Erin Elizabeth Coors

Elizabeth Coors plays the role of Babette in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and was nice enough to be this week’s Q&A participant! You can read Erin’s entry below.

Name: Erin Elizabeth Coors

Role in Beauty and the Beast: Babette

What city are you currently in? San Francisco

What tour stop has been your favorite so far and why?
Chicago. There was so much to do and the show was really well received. It was also our first two-week sit down so we had our first golden day!

Which upcoming tour city are you most looking forward to visiting? HAWAII!!!

What music are you currently listening to?
I've been listening to a lot of “beachy” stuff... Jack Johnson, Gavin DeGraw, Eric Hutchinson.

Name one item you can't live without while on the road:
My computer. It keeps me connected to my friends and family and allows me to know what’s happening in the biz in NYC.

What do you like to do when you're traveling between tour stops?
I like to read, listen to music and watch TV shows on my computer. I was heavy into Dexter at the beginning of the tour and have now moved on to Sex and the City and Weeds.

What is your favorite song/scene in Beauty and the Beast?
"Human Again." The energy onstage between all the actors is really intense and that always radiates out to the audience. Everyone expects "Be Our Guest" to be a show stopper, but "Human Again" catches you by surprise and really gets to the heart of the story.

Any memorable tour moments (on or offstage) you can share?
Soooo many! Just last night Lumiere's candle sticks got caught in my costume and we were stuck together during a musical number. Merritt, the actor who plays Lumiere, and I have worked together a lot so we were lucky that we know each other well enough that we could cover and the audience never even knew!

Name one reason why people should see Beauty and the Beast.
It's really a beautiful show. There are amazing costumes, the set is gorgeous and the dancing and singing are also wonderful! There is truly something for everyone. It's an incredible experience to be part of something that reaches children and adults at the same time.

What made you decide to do theatre?
I always loved singing and dancing, but had TERRIBLE stage fright (I still kind of do). I had some wonderful teachers and mentors along the way that gave me the confidence to at least try out for college programs. I auditioned thinking "if it's meant to be, it's meant to be." I've been very lucky in this business so far, but above all it's been the support of my parents that have really fueled me. Without them I'm not sure I'd be where I am today.

You've played Barbie and now Babette. What's the ugliest role you've ever had to play?
Last time I did Beauty and the Beast I played the Hag/Enchantress! (I was also a Napkin.) I absolutely loved the show and really was interested in the role of Babette, so I was really excited in auditions when I was given the opportunity to read for Babette.

How did you prepare for your audition?
I was really nervous auditioning for such an incredible creative team. I spent a lot of time with vocal coaches finding a great song, "Speaking French” from Lucky Stiff. I thought it was a brilliant selection. Until I heard another girl right before me sing it for the role of Babette as well! But that's how the business goes. So I just tried to really stay in the moment and listen to the creative teams' direction and take their notes. They knew what they wanted. I just tried to tap into that.

Don't miss Erin Elizabeth Coors' Babette as NETworks presents Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

For tour dates, click here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Q&A with Jeff Brooks

Jeff Brooks who is part of the Ensemble in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast talks about staying in shape on tour and the one item he just can’t live without on the road! Here is Jeff’s Q&A blog entry.

Name: Jeff Brooks

Role in Beauty and the Beast: Ensemble

What city are you currently in?
San Francisco

What are you most looking forward to in this city?

What tour stop has been your favorite so far and why?
Kitchener, ONT - I got to go on as Gaston!

Which upcoming tour city are you most looking forward to visiting and why?
Honolulu. Easy answer.

What music are you currently listening to?
Gotan Project

Name one item you can't live without while on the road:
XBOX 360

What do you like to do when you're traveling between tour stops?
Watch movies and sleep!

What is your favorite song/scene in Beauty and the Beast?
Rooftop Battle!

Name one reason why people should see Beauty and the Beast.
People need to see this production of Beauty and the Beast because it's brand new!!

What is your favorite musical and why?
Damn Yankees: it was the first Broadway show I ever saw (age 12).

What is your favorite aspect of touring?

How do you stay in shape on tour?
Any way I can. Plus, "Be Our Guest" and "Gaston" are a decent cardio workout :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

On the Road with Jen Bechter

Jen Bechter who plays the role of Madame De La Grande Bouche in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is our latest blogger! Here is Jen’s Q&A blog entry.

What city are you currently in?
Fayetteville, AR

Which upcoming tour cities are you most looking forward to visiting and why?

Kansas City...because all of my family is coming.
San Francisco...because I’ve never been to the West Coast. (Look out Napa, Here I come!)
Hawaii...need I say more.

What tour stop has been your favorite so far and why?

I haven’t seen much of the U.S., so each city we go to is a new state to see! I really enjoyed Florida. I’m a sucker for the beach. Visiting Dallas last week felt the most like my home town in Kansas.

What music are you currently listening to?
Currently I’m in a jazz mood, so my iPod is playing Jane Monheit.

Name one item you can’t live without while on the road:
Ahhhh...my computer!!! It keeps me up to date with all the ones I am away from.

What do you like to do when you’re traveling between tour stops?

What is your favorite song/scene in Beauty and the Beast?
I really like the letting go scene after Beauty and the Beast. It shows real humanity and heartbreak from all the characters in the scene. We’ve all been there and it is so relatable. It really touched my heart the first time I saw the scene.

Any memorable tour moments (on or offstage) you can share?
I think the most memorable moment happened in the audition room when they told me I got the part. (Yaaaahoooo!!!!)

Name one reason why people should see Beauty and the Beast.
Everyone has seen the Disney animated movie, but to see it live on stage you feel the emotions of the characters, witness amazing singing and dancing, as well as great scenery. It is an experience you’ll never forget!

What inspires you?
I get inspiration from several things. The first being other actors. Watching someone who is passionate and puts in the work to their craft is amazing. It inspires me and reminds me of how much I love the gifts I have. It also motivates me to continually work harder to be the best I can.

Second, I am inspired by my family. We have come through some hard times and yet we always persevere no matter how hard the obstacle. With my mom battling MS and my father in remission from cancer, my sister is really my rock that keeps me strong. We don't take any days for granted and make each one count. My family's strength is my inspiration.

What are your dream roles?
One of my dream roles is to play miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas or Doralee in 9 to 5. I have always been an admirer of Dolly Parton. I grew up listening to country music and her songs take me back to fun childhood memories. The characters aren't too bad themselves. I would also include evil characters like Ursula or ones that are larger than life, such as The Queen of Hearts. I’d also love to do anything by Kander and Ebb.

What is a typical day like for you on tour?
If we are talking about a one show day where I have time to myself, I would wake up around 10 to get around and go to the gym. I am on a new motivational kick (we'll see how long it lasts!). Then, I usually go back to the hotel to cook lunch and dinner. I might read a book or watch The Tudors or True Blood. At 1 1/2 hours to show I do my regular voice warm ups before I head off to the show to get ready. If we have two show days or are driving into a show....well, that's a horse of a different color!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Q&A with Terry Halvorson

Terry Halvorson

Role in Beauty and the Beast:
Musician; Reed 2 (Oboe/English Horn)

What city are you currently in?
Fayetteville, AR

What are you most looking forward to in this city?
The Walton Art Center is a great venue, plus the city has some great bike trails, coffee shops and restaurants.

What tour stop has been your favorite so far and why?
I actually enjoyed our weekend in Grand Rapids, MI because I got to hang out with some good friends of mine and because it's a really nice area.

Which upcoming tour city are you most looking forward to visiting and why?
Well, duh! Honolulu! :) I have never been to Hawaii and it will be my 50th state to perform in!

What music are you currently listening to?
I’m currently listening to the soundtrack to Crazy For You because I will be playing it for five weeks this summer--and because it's Gershwin!

Name one item you can’t live without while on the road:
My iPhone (again, duh!) :)

What do you like to do when you’re traveling between tour stops?
If it's a bus trip, I generally sleep the morning away and watch the bus movie after lunch. If it's a plane day, I like to read a book and watch TV shows that I download on my ever-present iPhone.

What is your favorite song/scene in Beauty and the Beast?
My favorite is probably Beauty and the Beast for three reasons:
1) I have a nice oboe solo leading into it :)
2) It features Mrs. Potts--and I am a sucker for a beautiful contralto voice!
3) It's just a beautiful scene.

Any memorable tour moments (on or offstage) you can share?
One of my favorite moments actually happened at the very first orchestra rehearsal in Providence. As we started playing through the book, I realized that THIS orchestra is a truly incredible group of musicians and that it is going to be an *AMAZING* 17 months making music with them! When we had the cast join us--the magic really happened! :)

Name one reason why people should see Beauty and the Beast:
Well, I don't really have only one reason, but a combination. First, it's Disney and everyone knows that Disney knows how to tell a great story! Add to that the incredibly talented cast, orchestra and crew who give 200% every show, and there you have it! :)

What is your musical experience?
I have been a touring musician for 4 1/2 years; Will Rogers' Follies, 2 tours of The Producers, The Wizard of Oz, Annie, and Disney's Beauty and the Beast. For all of my tours previous to this, I played combinations of clarinet, flute, saxes, oboe and English horn--usually 5-6 instruments. Playing only oboe and English horn for this show is a nice thing, but also presents its own challenges.

What kind of training have you had?
I studied the various woodwind instruments (oboe, clarinets, flutes, saxes and recorders) in school as well as privately and I have been to master classes for most of these instruments (as well as others).

What can you offer, share and discuss with students across the nation who are considering music as a career choice?
Wow, this one is tough... Music can be a difficult career choice as it requires 4-5 years of college along with hours and hours of daily practice. Teaching jobs are getting harder and harder to find (but not impossible). Getting a job as a performer is even more difficult, as there are steadily less and less jobs--yet there are still a lot of talented musicians getting college degrees. To get a performing job, it is good to network with as many other musicians as possible, starting in high school and college and continuing through every gig you play. No matter how small the gigs may be, getting more work is as much who you know as how well you play.

What teacher had the most impact on your career choices and success?
My first high school orchestra director, Mrs. Rita Wilcox, had a huge influence on me. I was playing cello at the time and the high school nearest me did not have an orchestra. Mrs. Wilcox petitioned the school board and got me an inter-district transfer to the high school she taught at across town and drove me to school for my first three years of high school! I still visit Mrs. Wilcox every year when I visit my family around Christmas.

I am also tremendously grateful to my high school band director, Mr. Bud Behrens who pushed me on every instrument I played in his band. I made county honor band two years on oboe and one year on bassoon as well as state honor band my senior year on clarinet. He also encouraged us to form small ensembles for local competitions.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Video Blog by Jeremy M. Brewer

Jeremy M. Brewer (French Horn) has been touring for the last 10 years playing horn across the US, Canada, Japan and even India. Originally from Fort Walton Beach, FL, Jeremy graduated from Florida State University in 2000 with a degree in Music Education.

One of my favorite things to do while traveling with Beauty and the Beast is to grab my camera and take a lot of pictures and video of each city. It's always a great souvenir to have so I can look back in 20 years and remember all the great places I was lucky enough to visit. Instead of writing about all the places we've been so far, I thought I'd show you a few...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Q&A with Cliff Lyons

1. What are your roles in the show?
I play a few roles. I play the Bookseller, a Knife, a Salt & Pepper, and I am a member of the court in the show’s finale. I also understudy three roles in the show. I cover Cogsworth, Maurice, and Monsieur D’Arque. So even when I’m offstage, one ear is paying attention to what is happening on stage! It’s exciting stuff.

2. What are some of the Bookseller's favorite books?
Oh! The bookseller has quite a few favorites! He loves all kinds...especially spy novels. Still, nothing beats a good fairy tale! His favorite: Beauty and the Bookseller. (It’s not widely known...)

3. Can you tell us about your audition process for Beauty and the Beast?
My audition began in front of the casting director for the role of Cogsworth. He had me sing and read from a side. (A side is a small scene that you are given to read in an audition.) The casting director asked me to come back about a week later to read and sing in front of the Associate Director. I returned as requested and was told “Thank you.” Sometimes “thank you” means that they’re not interested, but they thank you for coming in. I left believing that I probably wouldn’t be cast in the show, but felt confident that I had done a nice job.

About a month later, I was at work serving tables. You can imagine my surprise when I received a call from the casting office. I wasn’t allowed to be on the phone at work; so naturally, I ran to the restroom and hid in the stall! Apparently the team had an ensemble track that they were casting at the last minute, and they decided I might be right for it. I agreed to a 10 a.m. appointment for the next morning. I was lucky--appointments are rare! However, I was supposed to open the restaurant the next morning at 8 a.m. I BEGGED people to take the shift, but no one was interested. Finally, I had to bribe with money. I paid another server $50.00 to take the shift.

I went to the studio the next morning to sing, read, and even move for the team. They asked me back for one more callback later that afternoon--to meet the Director Robert Roth. Later, I did it all again for Rob and then went home. The next day, I got the call that I was being offered the show!!!

Best $50.00 I ever spent.

4. What have you learned from your experience with Beauty and the Beast?
This is a tough question to answer. I’m still learning every day. Here are the top 3 things that I’ve learned...so far!

1: Be on time--no matter what. If you’re not, then you could throw an entire group of people off.
2: Patience! When you travel as a group, things rarely happen in your own time. (See answer #1)
3: Teavana at the end of the day will fix almost anything!

Cilff Lyons on Teavana? "They're Grrrrrreat!"

Click here to read Cliff’s bio.

Friday, July 23, 2010

On the Road with Reese Sebastian Diaz

Young actor Reese Sebastian Diaz, who plays the role of “Chip” at certain performances in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, has also filled out a blog Q&A while on the road!

What city are you currently in?
Dallas, Texas

What are you most looking forward to in this city?
I’m excited to see my family here and go to Six Flags and Hurricane Harbor

What tour stop has been your favorite so far and why?
Scranton, Pennsylvania because it is the closest we came to my hometown. I had lots of fun seeing my friends and family. We even had a big party in between 2 shows on Saturday.

Which upcoming tour city are you most looking forward to visiting and why?
San Francisco, California. I’ve never been there and I have family there too! We’re also renting a house with some cast members and I think that will be fun. Robyn (Silly Girl) is taking me to the Jelly Belly Factory and we are also doing a cabaret in San Francisco.

What music are you currently listening to?
LES MISERABLES! I have 3 different versions and I listen to all of them all the time!

Name one item you can’t live without while on the road.
My computer! I like to go on Facebook and Club Penguin! I also can’t live without my iPOD touch…. Oh, and my mom!

What do you like to do when you’re traveling between tour stops?
Every time we fly, I watch “Golden Girls” with Michael from our Merchandise department. He has all the seasons on DVD! When we ride the bus, I sleep a lot and watch movies. I like the bus, it’s like a big sleepover with a bunch of friends! We all have blankets, pillows, and snacks!

What is your favorite song/scene in Beauty and the Beast?
My favorite song is “Gaston”! It’s really fun to watch because of the choreography of the clinking mugs. “Be Our Guest” is my favorite song that I am in because it’s a lot of fun and has a lot of energy. There are streamers and lots of cool surprises.

Any memorable tour moments (on or offstage) you can share?
In Baton Rouge, I ate alligator at a restaurant and I liked it! Once on stage I tripped and fell. I was really embarrassed but the cast was really nice to me about it and told me all of their stories from when they’ve fallen or messed up their lines so it made me feel better.

Name one reason why people should see Beauty and the Beast.
It’s just a really cool story. Kids like it, adults like it. There are a lot of good songs and dances. Plus it has a happy ending!

Click here to read Reese’s blog!

Click here to read Reese’s bio on www.beautyandthebeastontour.com.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On the Road with Jeremiah Frank Burch III

Young actor Jeremiah Frank Burch III, who plays the role of “Chip” at certain performances in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, has filled out a blog Q&A while on the road!

What city are you currently in?
Dallas, Texas

What are you most looking forward to in this city?
The Aquarium and “Which Wich” the best sandwiches ever

What tour stop has been your favorite so far and why?
I enjoyed Daytona Beach because we could watch the sunrise over the ocean!

Which upcoming tour city are you most looking forward to visiting and why?
San Francisco ~ getting some fresh clam chowder, seeing my family and the Golden Gate Bridge

What music are you currently listening to?
I love show tunes, right now I am playing “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

What are six things you couldn’t live without on tour?
iPod Touch, Computer - all my electronics, really!
My Friends on tour
My Razor Scooter
My Cash
My Sleep
My Mom!

What do you like to do when you’re traveling between tour stops?
Play my DS and IPod

Jeremiah as the Cowardly Lion
What made you decide to do theatre?
I enjoy theater because it’s live! The audience is real and new every night! I always enjoy all music.  Musical theater is positive and makes me feel good inside. I like having a live orchestra -- anything can happen. To me, that’s exciting.

What can you offer, share and discuss with kids across the nation who are considering musical theatre as a career choice?
For any kid considering theater, if you don’t get the part you have to KEEP TRYING! God will provide another/better part for you. Start small and try out for every school play and talent show you can find. If there’s not one in your town, start one! Do what you love for as long as you can. Work for free until the money comes. If you truly love what you do, the money will come. You have to be committed to YOUR DREAM!

What teacher had the most impact on your success? Why?

The Teachers that influenced me the most were:

1. Alexis Grausz worked in an after school program in Manhattan called “Broadway Bound.” She taught us things we needed to know about theater, such as terms (stage right/stage left), lighting and sets. She also cast me as JoJo in Seussical.  From there I got the confidence and skills to perform in small New York productions.

2. Nathan Warner was the music director at Geneva School and helped me develop my musical skills.

What is your favorite song/scene in Beauty and the Beast?
My favorite song is “Gaston” and my favorite part is the transformation, when I change into a little boy again!

Any memorable tour moments (on or offstage) you can share?
Seeing all the great local Zoo’s and getting to meet kids at the Children’s Hospital

Name one reason why people should see Beauty and the Beast.
Because I am in it! lol seriously though, it is “the BEST Disney Musical”…., there is something for everyone, romance, adventure, timeless songs, dancing and the most beautiful costumes you have ever seen!

Click here to read Jeremiah’s bio on www.beautyandthebeastontour.com.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Swing, Swing, Swing, Swing! Tony Howell is Male Swing!

For my blog, I thought I would introduce readers to what I do! Often when I tell people I'm the Male Swing on Beauty and the Beast, they say "I don't remember that character in the castle!" :)

Essentially, as Swing I am an on-call actor. If someone can't do the show (due to illness, injury, or conflict), I fulfill their performance, or track. My job is to cover the eight tracks of the male ensemble. I was also hired to understudy Lefou. In an emergency situation, I also cover the eight female ensemble tracks in the town scenes! 

Swinging requires a person to be very organized and detail oriented. There are different vocal parts, blocking, choreography, acting intentions, and set changes for each track. This also includes costume changes, prop shifts, entrances and exits.

While it took a while to obtain and memorize all the information, many performances I am exempt from the show. Therefore, I also am an Assistant Company Manager. I find gyms for our company to stay in great shape, prizes for an internal rewards program, and recently started organizing company blogs and dance classes!

I really enjoy my job because every day is different! Doing the same thing everyday in a long run has its advantages and disadvantages. However, Swinging Beauty and the Beast has taught me things about myself and theatre that I would not have garnered if I didn’t get to observe and do so much!

Hanging out at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE.
A typical day backstage: playing Bananagrams!!!

Visit Tony’s official website at www.tony-howell.com.
Click here to read Tony’s bio on www.beautyandthebeastontour.com.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Silly Girls Shout Out – Beauty and the Beast National Tour.

Check out the newest behind the scenes video clip “Silly Girls Shout Out” from the Beauty and the Beast National Tour.
Click here to view the video.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Backstage Blog: ZACK'S GOT YOUR BACK

Brendan Lemon

David Zack is the production stage manager of the "Beauty and the Beast" tour, which means he's a point person for the day-to-day needs of the show's artists. As a boy, did he sit around dreaming about managing a group of creative people as they traversed the country?

"No," Zack confessed to me recently between Saturday shows in Waterbury, Connecticut. "I grew up in Los Angeles, but I never really thought of stage management as a career until college. I enjoy being around talented people, and my work allows me to do that. My job is to be sympathetic to people's needs, but at the same time to make sure the show is maintained at a high level."

Zack's job also requires him to "call" the show - direct a constant stream of cues at actors and tech people -- from offstage during a performance. Zack says that "Beauty" is not the most complex show he's ever called: "That would probably be the 'Blue Man Group' that I did in Vegas." With "Beauty," he continued, "there's probably never been a show where no problem arose during the course of a performance. But it's never been anything we haven't been able to solve right there and then. It's never been something an audience would notice."

Except for one two-year break, Zack has been working pretty steadily on tours for the past decade. "I like life on the road. It's a constant adventure, and I don't have to pay rent anywhere, which allows me to save some money."

Like all veterans of touring, Zack has compiled a list of favorite restaurants around the country. (Where to find food that isn't pizza or McDonald's is a constant preoccupation for everyone on the road.) One of his favorite eateries is Flying Saucer, in Nashville. (There are also Saucers throughout Texas, Tennessee, and the Carolinas.) "They have dozens of beers and something called the Bratzel, which is part bratwurst and part soft pretzel, covered in cheese." Zack added: "They're delicious, but not exactly low-cal. Lucky for me, unlike the actors I don't have to fit into a costume."


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Meet the Wardrobe, Babette and Cogsworth- Beauty and the Beast National Tour.

Check out the video clip “Meet the Wardrobe, Babette and Cogsworth” from the Beauty and the Beast National Tour.
Click here to view the video.

Friday, March 26, 2010


By Brendan Lemon

The other day, when I ask Carolyn Violi, the music director and conductor for the "Beauty and the Beast" tour, to name her favorite song from the musical, she hesitated for a moment. "I never get tired of playing the show," she explained to me backstage after a recent matinee, "because it's so beautifully written, which makes picking a favorite almost impossible. Still, if I'm pressed I guess I'd say 'A Change in Me," Belle's number about going in a new direction. In our lives we all go through these changes. I certainly have."

Perhaps the most dramatic of Violi's own personal shifts occurred about a decade ago.

For more than 20 years, she had been teaching music in public schools in the Indiana, Pennsylvania area, a place where she grew up and which claims Jimmy Stewart as a native son. "One of my former students was conducting 'Beauty' on Broadway," she says, "and he asked me to come out on the first tour."

So, from 1999 to 2003, the tour's duration, Violi worked her way up from keyboardist to assistant conductor to associate conductor. "There's so much music in the show, and that may help people advance in it, if they're committed."

So much music? "There's only one relatively quiet scene," Violi says, "and it involves Cogsworth and the key, that doesn't really have the orchestra.

That's about 5 minutes, and it's our longest break during the show. 'Beauty' uses a lot of underscoring; the orchestra barely stops."

Because the new tour itself almost never stops, I ask Violi about life on the road. "I'm not sure I would have gone on tour when I was younger," she replies, "but when the opportunity came along, I was ready for it."

Violi, who leads a band of ten players (including herself) in the "Beauty" orchestra pit, says she loves teaching, and has gone back to it when she is not touring. "So many of my students Facebook me, and they see me pursuing my dreams."

Even with all the satisfactions of teaching, Violi says that it doesn't always provide the kind of reward that happened during a performance of "Beauty" in Paducah, Kentucky. "One little boy came forward to peer over the orchestra pit. He said, 'All of ya, I just got one thing to say: You all are the best orchestra in the city of Paducah!' The kid couldn't have been older than 10. That kind of moment means a lot."


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Meet Lumiere – Beauty and the Beast National Tour

Check out the newest video clip “Meet Lumiere” from the Beauty and the Beast National Tour.
Click here to view the video

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hello from Belle and Ensemble - Beauty and the Beast National Tour

Check out this great behind the scenes video clip of Belle and Ensemble from the Beauty and the Beast National Tour.
Click here to view the video


Brendan Lemon


"Beauty and the Beast" has two fantastic young actors sharing the part of Chip: Jeremiah Frank Burch III and Reese Sebastian Diaz. If I focus on Reese in this posting it's only because when I met the boys backstage the other evening, in Waterbury, Connecticut, Jeremiah was getting ready to go on, and I didn't want to distract him too much. I must say, however, that he is super-talented, and anyone who wants to follow him on the tour and in his career can go to Facebook and type in Jeremiah Frank Burch III. He and his mom, Kory, will be happy you did!

Talking to Reese and his mom, Karen, I learned a few things that are on his online home, www. ReeseSebastianDiaz.blogspot.com: He has been acting, singing, and dancing for more than two years. Among other shows, he's been in "Oliver!" at Philly's Walnut Street Theatre and "A Christmas Carol" at Civic Theatre of Allentown (Pa.), a city which is the Diaz family's home base. Finally, Reese is in the fourth grade.

How, I asked Reese's mom, does her son continue his education while on the road? "I'm home schooling him," she replied. "We get his program online, and we work our way through all the exercises." Reese added: "I'm studying math, science, social studies, history, language skills, and literature." At least twice during the academic year, the company manager of "Beast," Deborah Barrigan, will bring in outside officials to test Reese and Jeremiah on their academic progress.

How did Reese get cast in the show? "He did two auditions this past December," Karen replied. "The boys couldn't be taller than 50 or 51 inches and needed to be at least 8 years old." (Reese is 10.) Reese continued: "Jeremiah and I were the first two boys at the audition. We became friends right away."

The role of Chip requires singing, not much dancing, but a fair amount of stamina: throughout most of "Beauty" we see only the boy's head, because he's inside a cart that gets pushed around the stage. "It can get a little hot in there," Reese says, "but nothing too bad." (To keep all the demands on the boys manageable, they alternate the role day by day; if it's a two-show day, the boy who's on that day will do both of them.)

I asked Reese if he had a favorite show he'd seen on Broadway: "'Mary Poppins,'" he said, "because I learned to spell 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.'" When I ask him to mention a favorite character in "Beauty," he replies, "I like Lefou, because he gets punched a lot. I like Gaston, too."

As much as both Reese and Jeremiah love the characters in "Beauty and the Beast," they may like their portable Nintendo DS players even more: when they're not doing schoolwork, their backstage life includes a lot of DS gaming.

Another of Reese's favorite things: his mini-dachshund, Yocco, who was named for a restaurant in the Allentown area that serves a mean hot dog. "When we play Scranton (Pa)," Reese announced, "I'll get to see Rocco again, because he's not on the road with us." In Scranton, Reese will also get to see some of his school friends from home. "That will be great, too," he told me.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Video: Gaston & Lefou Shout Out from Beauty and the Beast National Tour

Check out this great behind the scenes video clip of Gaston and Lefou from the Beauty and the Beast National Tour.
Click here to view the video

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Brendan Lemon

The Disney version of "Beauty and the Beast" is by far the best-known of the many versions of this classic tale. But, as he was preparing to play the Beast on the current tour, Justin Glaser consulted some of the others. One was the 1946 French film, "La Belle et la Bete," directed by Jean Cocteau.

"I'm a big movie buff," said Glaser, "so I'd seen the Cocteau version a long time ago. But I saw it again more recently. It's a beautiful, passionate story. So is the Disney version, just in a different way."

Glaser, who got his B.F.A. in theatre from Northern Kentucky University, mentioned that he had read an interview with Cocteau where the filmmaker said some people were disappointed that the Beast turned into a Prince. Glaser points out, however, that in the movie there's an exchange that such critics should remember.

"It goes something like this: the Prince says to the Beauty, 'Do you like the way I am now?' And Beauty replies, 'It will take me a while to get used to it.'

The point, Glaser said, "is that a person's image changes over time. In the fairy tale, the hero transforms suddenly from a beast into a prince. But, in real life, people's appearances change more slowly. If you love someone, you love them as they evolve."

That can be hard to do in today's world, observed Glaser, who only started singing seriously once he was in college and who, when he first moved to New York, worked in a brokerage firm. "We live in a consumer-driven society, and perfect celebrity images are put in front of our faces everyday. We're told what type of appearance we should like and be attracted to." He added: "Although 'Beauty and the Beast' has a fairy-tale ending, with a prince, it also says: If you give a chance to someone whose appearance didn't grab you at first, you might be surprised at how your feelings about them can change."

Glaser said that his own feelings - not about a loved one but about his country have evolved since he did his first national tour, of "Annie," earlier this decade. (He's also toured in "Jesus Christ Superstar.") "Touring is an amazing way to see the country. Before going out on the road, I had never been to California. I was surprised and stunned by how beautiful much of that state is." He continued: "But the country has many other beautiful sections.

It's great to get to work in front of so many thousands of people all over the place who appreciate what you are doing."


Friday, January 29, 2010


Brendan Lemon

Gaston is the unbearably conceited stud in "Beauty and the Beast," and I think it's fair to say that for Nathaniel Hackmann, who plays him, the role's not a stretch. Just consider some of roles he's played in a still-young career fairly equally divided between opera and musical theater: Lancelot in "Camelot," Belcore in "Elixir of Love," the title role in "Don Giovanni."

"In my last bio," joked Hackmann, "it said, 'Other egomaniacal, misogynistic antagonists' I have played are..."

In the opera world, it's standard for a baritone to be the bad guy, or, at least, the personality with the shady past. But in the musical theater the baritone is just as often more heroic, a fact illustrated by digging deeper into Hackmann's roster of roles: Emile in "South Pacific," the Pirate King in "The Pirates of Penzance."

Hackmann only completed his schooling (a Master's in Music from Central Michigan University in December 2006) a few years ago, but his back-and-forth between opera and musicals is second-nature. He explains: "During the entire time I was a student, I was putting myself through school by doing professional theater on the side. I'd rehearse opera during the day and do musicals at night."

For Hackmann, who grew up in Arizona, in a very musical family, juggling the two art forms can be a challenge. "It can be complicated to work out the scheduling," he admitted. "Operas will often cast two or three seasons ahead of time. Jobs in musicals happen more quickly." He said that for the "Beauty and the Beast" tour he had to ask for release from three of his upcoming opera contracts.

"It's worth it," he explained. "Everything about rehearsing for this tour has been amazing. The cast are incredibly giving, and the creative team is so deep in talent that you can always find someone to give you just the help you need."

For Hackmann, such a support staff is a luxury compared to the previous times he played Gaston. He did the part last year at the Cumberland County Playhouse, in Crossville, Tennessee, and in 2005 in summer stock in Findlay, Ohio. "Findlay was good experience," he said, "but I'd be singing and at the same time have to turn the set. For this new tour I can concentrate on performing."


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


by Brendan Lemon

Officially, auditions for the “Beauty and the Beast” tour began last year. Unofficially, they began fifteen or even twenty years ago: it’s just that the auditioners were performing not for judges or casting directors but for the bedroom mirror, as the “Beauty” DVD played on a TV, or for a parent or family member, who was playing a Disney songbook on a piano.

Consider Liz Shivener, who is the tour’s very talented Belle. “I was four when the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ movie came out,” she says, “but I didn’t get really obsessed with it until I was eight or nine. Like a lot of little girls, that’s the age when I wanted to be a princess.”

Shivener, who’s from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, outside of Columbus, says it wasn’t just “Beauty” that she used to perform around the house for her family. “There were four big shows in my repertoire then,” she jokes. “They were: ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘The Sound of Music,’ ‘My Fair Lady,’ and ‘Cinderella.’”

I don’t think that Shivener has yet had the chance to perform in any of them besides “Beauty.” (With her lovely voice and onstage charm, I have a feeling she will.) She has, however, been in “Bye Bye Birdie,” which she auditioned for at 14, as she was getting started on a high-school experience that included half-days in a performing-arts program at a local career center.

At Otterbein College, from which she earned a B.F.A. in musical theater and from which “Beauty” cast member Steven Czarnecki also graduated, Shivener appeared in such productions as “Hello, Dolly!”, “Company,” and “Nine.”

As for her work so far on “Beauty and the Beast,” Shivener says she’s been especially grateful to director Robert Jess Roth and choreographer Matt West for their insights into Belle. “They’ve helped me understand the back story about Belle’s relationship with her father, which is key to the character.”

Was there anything Shivener wanted to share about her own family relationships? “There’s something I can say about my mother,” she answered. “When I got cast as Belle, I said to her, ‘All my dancing around the house singing those songs as a kid was totally worth it!”


Monday, January 25, 2010


by Brendan Lemon

Some rehearsal rooms resemble group therapy: the director and the actors explore deep emotions. Others are more like a college seminar: the director and the actors excavate the play’s text. But I’m happy to report that the rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast – I visited one last week -- are more like summer camp for grown-ups.

Rehearsals began early this month at the Gateway Playhouse, in Bellport, Long Island. The family that founded the theater in 1941 (and still runs it) took a page from the Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musicals of that era and literally started putting on shows in their barn. Such can-do spirit permeated the air when I observed a rehearsal: director Robert Jess Roth and choreographer Matt West alternately surveyed the actors on stage from a makeshift table set up in the audience and went up on stage to work with them on a run-through of the first act.

“We’re very lucky to be rehearsing on an actual stage” Roth told me. As we talked his three year-old black lab Dash (“I’ve always wanted to have a dog come to rehearsals with me; it helps keep the vibe friendly”) rested his nose on the director’s legs (“He thinks he’s a lap dog”). “Usually, you rehearse in a big rehearsal room in New York and don’t have a chance to see how things look on an actual proscenium until you start the tech rehearsals. We’re a step ahead by doing things here on Long Island.”

Choreographer West seconded Roth’s comment. “The kind of stuff that you might not be able to correct until tech rehearsals is stuff we can start to work on here.”

And make no mistake about it: the cast was working hard. Numbers like “Belle” came to life onstage even though the cast had only basic scenery and was without the production’s sure-to-be spectacular costumes.

But the actors were also clearly enjoying themselves. As part of the summer-camp feel, they not only live, breathe, and sleep “Beauty” but they also live together: not in rustic cabins but in a nearby hotel. “ We’re not sick of each other yet!” said ensemble member Steven Czarnecki with good spirits as I rode with him and other cast members from their lodgings over to the theater in a van that had been christened “Martha Washington.” (I tried to extract a colorful story about that designation, to no avail.)

All the van passengers agreed that it was humbling to be doing the show with its original
Broadway creative staff at the helm. Brandon Haagenson, who was at the wheel of
the van, said that the animated Disney Beauty and the Beast had been “one of my first experiences in the movie theater.” Others – Jen Bechter (Madame de la Grande Bouche), Heather Russell (ensemble) – added that the movie had also played a part in their younger days.

“I used to drive my mother crazy with how often I played the DVD,” said another passenger, Liz Shivener, who plays Belle and to whom I will devote a separate blog entry.