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Will ABC soap stars help improve attendance levels at Broadway's "Beauty & the Beast" ?

Will ABC soap stars help improve attendance levels at Broadway's "Beauty & the Beast" ?

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Photo by Nancy Stadler

Okay. Sure. When people talk about Disney & theater, the news on everyone's lips these days is "Tarzan." More importantly, what Disney Theatrical is going to do to help its newest musical overcome the rather mixed reviews it received last week. The hope is that DT can turn "Tarzan" into a long-running (and hopefully profitable) production for the Disney corporation.

Make no mistake. If there's one thing that Disney Theatrical is really good at, it's carefully nuturing a long-running hit. Take for example the show that's right across the street from "Tarzan," "Beauty & the Beast."

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Now in its 12th year of performances in NYC, Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" is the sixth longest-running show in Broadway history. Only the still-running "Phantom of the Opera" and the now-closed "Cats," "Les MisĂ©rables," "A Chorus Line" and "Oh, Calcutta!" have each racked up more performances than "Beast."

"And how has Disney kept 'Beast' running for so long?," you ask. Well, part of this show's longevity can be attributed to the Mouse's marketing might. And nobody does a better job at promoting a Broadway show than Disney Theatrical.

Another key component of keeping a long-running hit popular with ticket-buyers is making sure the show's cast remains fresh & strong. Disney Theatrical's been particularly diligent about this aspect of "Beauty & the Beast." They regularly bring in new performers to help freshen up this musical.

The role of Belle is a good example. Over the past 12 years, a wide variety of name performers have pulled on that 30 pound gold ballgown and gone for a twirl on the dance floor with the Beast. These actresses including Susan Egan, "B & B" 's very first Belle; Andrea McArdle, Broadway's original Annie; R & B recording artist Toni Braxton, pop singer Deborah Gibson as well as "Kim Possible" 's Christie Carlson Romano.

And these name performers have all provided a necessary boost at "Beauty & the Beast" 's box office, making it possibly for this long-running musical to keep chugging along. But just recently, Disney Theatrical decided to vary their formula a bit and do something a little different to keep "B & B" fresh.

So, rather than bringing in an established singer or performer, someone with some significant Broadway stage experience to help liven up "Beauty & the Beast" -- Disney Theatrical went another way. They opted to bring in an ABC soap star -- Jacob Young, who plays JR Chandler on "All My Children" -- to play a supporting role in this long-running musical, Lumiere the candelabra.  

Photo by Nancy Stadler

I have to admit -- what with being an ABC soap fan and all -- I was somewhat intrigued by this decision on Disney Theatrical's part. Would Young really have what it takes? Would this soap star, even when he was dressed as an oversized candlestick, still have what it takes to light up a Broadway stage?

To get an answer to that question, I went down to NYC last Tuesday night to catch Jacob's very first public performance in the role of Lumiere.  And after spending a very pleasant 2 1/2 hours in the Lunt Fontaine theatre, I have to say that Young did a pretty good job with the role.

Mind you, what really helped here was that Jacob was supported by one of the strongest casts that I've ever seen in Disney's "Beauty & the Beast." Ashley Brown (Who will soon be leaving the Broadway version of "B & B" to begin getting ready for the title role in "Mary Poppins") was flat-out wonderful as Belle. She was able to put her own unique spin on the character and nailed every song in the score. Including the often daunting "A Change in Me," which was added to "Beast" 's score back in 1998 when Toni Braxton assumed the role of Belle.

Steve Blanchard also did an admirable job with the Beast. Of course, given that Steve now has the distinction of being the actor who has had the longest run on Broadway in the role of the Beast, it's not really a surprise that Blanchard now "owns" this part. That he knows the best way to sell the show's songs. Particularly, my favorite, the beautiful first-act closer, "If I Can't Love Her."

As for Jacob's performance?  I have to say he didn't quite own the part of Lumiere. To be fair, I did see his very first public performance in the role. Which perhaps explains why Mr. Young seemed somewhat tentative, as if he were still feeling his way. I'm sure that - in the weeks ahead - Jacob will grow more comfortable in this part and eventually become the suave, show-stopping Lumiere that Disney Theatrical hopes that he can be.

I'll say this much, though. At least one aspect of bringing Jacob Young on board at Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" seemed to have worked out according to plan. ABC soap fans turned out in droves to see their favorite "All My Children" hunk in his Broadway musical debut.

After the curtain fell last Tuesday night, Jacob's fans quickly lined up at the stage door, eager to get a glimpse of their favorite ABC soap star.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

As he exited the theater, Young was immediately greeted with screams of "JR!" He graciously posed for pictures as well as signing all of the souvenir programs that were thrust at him.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

As he signed & posed, Jacob was also willing to answer a few questions. When asked about how long he had been in rehearsal, Young admitted that he had spent three weeks getting ready for the show but did have opening night jitters. When asked if he thought that playing a singing & dancing candlestick was different than playing JR Chandler, Jacob smiled broadly and said "Just a little bit." I give him a lot of credit for taking on not just a completely different character role, but a singing one at that. It's a gutsy way to stretch his acting wings and make his Broadway debut all at the same time.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

After signing all of those autographs, Jacob stepped in a limo and was whisked away. Given that he was due on the set bright & early Wednesday morning to shoot another episode of "All My Children," he was presumably headed back home to get some sleep.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Speaking of which ... due to Jacob's commitment to this ABC soap, Mr. Young will not be appearing in any of "Beauty & the Beast" 's Wednedsay matinees. But beyond that, Jacob is expected to appear in this Broadway show for the next nine weeks. His next performance is scheduled for tomorrow night at 7 p.m.

So what do you folks think? Would putting some of your favorite ABC soap stars in Disney musicals make you that much more likely to buy tickets to the shows? Is this experiment something that Disney Theatrical should try & continue?

Your thoughts?

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  • I think the one thing that people seem to be missing about the whole Tarzan thing is...quite simply it's no Beauty and the Beast. Nor is it a Lion King. I didn't have any big problems with Tarzan, but in my mind the film, the songs, the play has a long way to go to compete with Beauty and the Beast. The film, being such a landmark, stays with people. I love the Tarzan film, but ask my 65 year old mother, for example, she would barely know the film exists, but she knows Beauty and the Beast. The songs are some of the most loved in Disney history. That's why it's the 6th longest running play on B'way. It will continue to run, no matter who they stick in the cast, because, once again, quite simply...it's that good. I teach high school, and every year kids are still going to see Beauty and the Beast, even at their jaded age. It's become an icon.  Despite its history in novels and films, Tarzan just doesn't have the same clout.
  • Seeing the line of soap opera fans lined up for their "dreamy" star, it did begin to suggest those gushy Harlequin/soap-opera moms who used to keep "Jekyll & Hyde" running for its hunk-of-the-month star--
    IOW, not your prime discerning theater-community audience, but a cashflow if you're desperate.
    (Ten bucks on when "Lestat" starts playing up the "name value" card.)

    B&tB seemed like it never *was* about "who starred in it" (how CAN you tell who's inside the Candle Suit, and would it matter?), and Disney's attempt to use ABC synergy and "Jeckie" pandering to keep a franchise going--not to mention to help pay off some of "Tarzan"'s debt--pretty much confirms what we suspected about DT to begin with...They ain't from around town.
  • I think it is a great idea.  As a soap geek, I would go and see my favorite actors.  Less than a month ago, there were rumors that Jacob Young's contract with ABC is up in less than a year and would he re-sign?  Soaps have a problem with actor continuity, which hurts ratings. If this is an additional incentive for the stars to stay on their current soaps and benefits the theater, it is a win-win situation.  In addition, some of us soap opera moms are also the discerning theater community audience, and through our word of mouth we pull in the non-soap fans.  I loved Aida so much that I convinced two other of my co-workers to go, who convinced their friends, etc.  I think it is a great idea.  
  • Personally, I've never heard of the guy, but I agree wholeheartedly with the theory. A name actor will always draw a bigger crowd than a cast of unknowns. I also think they should do whatever they can to keep Beauty alive and kicking, 'cause I don't think the Tarzan Musical is going to be around very long.
  • Perhaps in the theater, where actors are already used, a certain degree of curiousity will arise when a soap opera star is employed-- you are capitalizing from his sex appeal, I would think, more than anything, as soaps are not exactly the peak of artistic achievement. But doesn't your audience _already_ consist largely of uncultured, middle aged, middle class women? That would make the so-called strategic use of this star redundant. Although I am sure he makes a fine candelabra nonetheless…

    As for the same strategy pertaining to animated film, I disagree completely. I feel this trend has resulted in an increasing decline in the quality of characterization in animated film. And for the record, I could not sit through the Tarzan animated feature. I found it agitating for various reasons too lengthy to describe here.
  • I think the whole thing makes perfect sense.  At least three actresses from ABC soaps moonlight in Broadway shows such as Hairspray and The Color Purple.  It seems like a great idea to use actors already working for Disney/ABC and possibly draw in soap fans at the same time.
  • While it may make sense from a strictly business point of view, artistically this idea of "parachuting" in name actors from TV or movies is killing the integrity of musical theatre. When you have so many young performers graduating from the many fine college theatre programs, each one of them with hopes and dreams of someday making it on Broadway, is it really fair to cast key roles with name actors who have virtually no training or experience in the art of musical theatre? I don't believe it is. There's few enough jobs in musical theatre today, without having even more taken away from hugely talented people who are as yet, largely unknown.

    Furthermore, I felt that Disney's animated "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" benefitted tremendously from casting Broadway performers like Jodi Benson, Samuel Wright, Paige O'Hara and Jerry Orbach in roles that required great singing ability. (I'll even add in a bravura performance from Jonathan Freeman as "Jafar" in "Aladdin" too) Of these performers, only Orbach would have been known outside of the theatre world, though this was well before his regular stint on "Law and Order" made him a household name. None of these roles would have been better played by TV or movie stars, in my opinion.

    I just really resent "stunt casting" - placing some recognizable star in a role just to attract the unsophisticated masses.
  • That's such an ironic comment, Britt because Jacob's only in the show for a short time (I just saw the show again and he's great).  Meanwhile Ashley Brown, the current Belle, is exactly the kind of young actress you describe.  Disney took a chance on casting her as Belle and she's got an amazing voice.  The program notes state that Ashley is making her Broadway debut as the lead in Beauty after recently graduating from school in Ohio.  And I read online this past week that she's been cast as the lead in Mary Poppins for this Fall.  So Disney Theatrical seems to be capable of casting both up and coming new talent as well as solid performers like Jacob from time to time who might bring in a new audience -- and if those folks enjoy theatre and see more shows, well that makes sense to me.
  • By the way, I just clicked on the "buy tickets" site above and it leads to stubhub.com which is a ticket broker and not the official box office for Beauty and the Beast.  Stubhub and others like it sell tickets well over their face value.  They are the ones who rip off unsuspecting masses.  (I wonder if JHM gets money from them for advertising on here???)  Anyway, buyer beware because I got great seats at regular price online from the official site and it was easy to do so there's really no need to use broker sites.
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