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Gary Beach and Terrence Mann remember "Beauty and the Beast" 's trip from the screen to the stage

Gary Beach and Terrence Mann remember "Beauty and the Beast" 's trip from the screen to the stage

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For Tony Award winner Gary Beach, his association with "Beauty and the Beast" pretty much began the way the rest of ours did. In a movie theater.

"I was living in LA when Disney premiered the film at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. It was a really big deal. They had a stage show before the movie," Beach recalled. "So I went and I just loved it. I mean, almost ridiculously."

"So I'm sitting there, watching 'Beauty and the Beast.' And of course - from the opening number on - you know that it's a great musical," Gary continued. "And in the middle of 'Be Our Guest,' Jerry Orbach's singing the hell out of that song and I'm sitting there thinking 'Now why can't I get a part like that?' "

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

 Now jump ahead two years and Beach is working with Carol Burnett. They're in the final phase of rehearsals on a new show that's trying out in Los Angeles. Working 12 hour days to get this show ready for its opening night.

"And then I get this call from Jay Binder. He's still a casting a director here in New York. And at that time, Jay was casting the workshop version of 'Beauty and the Beast,' " Gary said. "And Jay asked me if I'd come out to New York and play Lumiere in this workshop."

But because he's already committed to doing this show with Burnett, Beach feels like he has  to turn Binder down. But Jay is really persistent. He keeps calling and calling. So Gary finally decides to discuss this unique opportunity with Carol.

Gary Beach and Tim Conway pay tribute to Carol Burnett back in 2003 as part of
the 26th annual Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts.
Photo by Tony Esparza / CBS Photo Archives / Getty Images. All rights reserved

"So I tell her about the workshop. And she tells me that I have to go do it," Gary said. "And the next thing I know, I'm onstage with Heath (Lamberts, the actor who played Cogsworth in the original Broadway cast of "Beauty and the Beast'). And as I strike the classic Lumiere pose ... It just felt so right."

Mind you, it wasn't always easy being playing this courtly candelabra. Beach recalled one night under those hot Broadway lights where things got even hotter than usual onstage.

"There's this scene in the first act of the show where (Terrence Mann, the original Beast in the show) is sitting in his throne and we're all begging him to do something. I'm standing there with my arms up in the air. And Terry's looking at me and his eyes get very big," Gary laughed.  "And he keeps giving me this (furtive head nods). So I finally look over and see that my hand's on fire."

(L to R) Tom Bosley, Heath Lamberts and Gary Beach in the original
Broadway production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And it wasn't supposed to be," Mann chimed in.

"And I'd been assured by the people at Disney that all of this stuff was flame-retardant," Beach continued.  "So I think I just stop and blow the flames out."

"And the audiences then thinks:  'Oh, that must be part of the show," Terrence smiled.

Terrence Mann in the original Broadway production of Disney's
"Beauty and the Beast." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Both Beach & Mann had to deal with problematic costumes during the years that they spent appearing in Broadway's "Beauty and the Beast." Terrance likened his Beast outfit to " ... wearing your heaviest winter coats, three or four of them, and then get three or four Angora cats and gaffer taping them to your head and then running around the block 10 or 12 times."

Gary had a similar sort of analogy when it came to describing the physical challenges he faced while playing Lumiere. He compared holding up those two propane tanks that he wore on the ends of  each hands during every performance to " ...  picking up a couple of Hormel Hams and then walking around the grocery store with them for 2 ½ hours."  

But Mann insisted that Beach was always extremely smart when it came to the way that he approached playing this part.

Gary Beach strikes a familiar pose back in April of 2004 at the 10th
anniversary celebration of "Beauty & the Beast" 's Broadway opening.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"We had a long rehearsal process with 'Beauty and the Beast.' We were in Houston, we were out of town for a while, and then we went back into rehearsal once we were back in New York. Disney was constantly refining everything associated with this show," Terrence explained. "But Gary - being the smart man that he was - he carried around weights the whole time that we were in rehearsal. So slowly but surely Gary built up his stamina. Other people who came into this part after him quickly developed shoulder problems. But not him."

Of course, Mann & Beach weren't the only ones who worked hard on "Beauty and the Beast." These two Broadway vets were quick to praise Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter of the original animated feature who then went on to write the book for the stage musical version of "Beast."

"I've never been in a show where a writer worked harder than (Linda) worked. she was there every day all day long," Gary remembered. "Always open to any suggestions or requests that the actors might make. Not always acquiescing, mind you.  But Linda was always willing to listen to us."

"Beauty and the Beast" screenwriter & book author
Linda Woolverton. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

But even with all this talent, it was still touch-and-go for a while there. Michael Eisner & Co. took quite a while before they finally decided to go forward with production of the Walt Disney Company's first really-for-real Broadway show.

"Back in the old days, when people would decide if they actually wanted to go forward with production of a particular Broadway show, you'd wind up onstage performing in front of 6 or 8 people. Who'd be sitting out there in the dark," Mann explained.

"But when we had that final audition for Disney management, we performed in front of this theater full of people on 42nd Street. It was all these Disney bigwigs and the secretaries," Beach recalled. "Thank God that they liked it. Because Disney then gave us the go-ahead to do 'Beauty and the Beast' on Broadway."

42nd Street during the Summer of 1998. After The Walt Disney Company had spent
tens of millions of dollars to revitalize this long-decayed Broadway neighborhood.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And because Disney came to Broadway and then fixed up the New Amsterdam on 42nd Street, that then led to Times Square being fixed up. Which changed the face of Broadway forever," Mann said. "And all of this because a show that - let's be honest here - is kind of a glorified piece of children's theater."

Well, Disney's first Broadway musical may have been based on an animated cartoon. But that didn't mean that Gary, Terrence and the rest of the cast didn't then take their job seriously.

"That was the challenge every night. Keeping things fresh. Making sure that what was happening up there onstage always felt like it was happening for the first time," Mann stated. "Because while you may have played this same role dozens - if not hundreds - of time before, this is probably the first time that the audience has ever seen this show. Which is why you really owe to them to practice your craft, try and make your performance seem new each night."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Gary echoed Terrence's statement, saying " ... the experience of live theater should be just thrilling. If it is, then it's great. And if it's not, then why are you doing it?"

And Mann & Beach felt that the people who working behind-the-scenes on Disney's first Broadway musical had the same level of passion when it came to this show. For they were always looking for new ways to make "Beast" better.

"I was with the show, on and off, for at least three or four years. And during that time, even though this show was already open and running, the people at Disney kept working on Lumiere's hands," Beach said. "They must have changed the design, improved those things like three or four times. Each time making them lighter and easier to operate."

Gary Beach as Lumiere in the original
Broadway company of Disney's "Beauty
and the Beast." Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So once Disney's technicians swapped out Lumiere's hands, did Gary ever think to take one of the old ones home to keep as a souvenir?  Sadly, no. Though Mann did admit that - somewhere stashed in one of the closets at his home - he does have the original costume for Broadway's Beast.

"I called it the exoskeleton. I haven't looked at it in years," Terrence admitted. "I bet - by this point - it's probably all rotted away, fallen apart."

Well, that may be the case. But at least these two still have their memories of working on Disney's first-ever Broadway musical. And if you'd like to learn more about the stage version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," then you may want to consider purchasing the Diamond Edition Blu-ray of this Academy Award-winning film. For among the Special Features included on this 3-disc set is "Broadway Beginnings." Which is a special featurette that includes interviews with veteran stage performers like Beach & Mann who appeared in the original Broadway company of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

Gary Beach and Terrence Mann at last week's press event for the  Diamond
Edition Blu-ray of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Photo by Florence Doyle

For if you like the stories that were featured into today's JHM article ... Well, there's dozens more where those came from.

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  • .Let us not forget that Beauty and the Beast (after the animated movie) started as a stage show at the Disney/MGM Studios.  I really do not think that cast ever got the Kudos they deserved.

  • Near as I could tell watching it, there's nothing at all from the original Broadway cast on the new Blu-Ray release special features.  There are no interviews with Beach or Mann, Susan Egan or anyone other than the pseudo-celebrities who filled the roles years later on stage.  The original cast is not mentioned.

  • This was my favorite movie ever since I was little and it is STILL my favorite. It was a touching story on Broadway just as on film! The new songs were AMA-zing the costumes just a great and so were the sets! I started to cry at the end of it all! I will remember this show forever!

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