Earlier this week, with the help of my usual theatre companion Suzanne and her young friend Ella, I presented a review of the current touring company of Disney‘s Beauty and The Beast. As the show’s Nashville stop draws to a close with four remaining performances this weekend, what follows is a very special presentation of my recurring interview segment RAPID FIRE 20 Q. Instead of the usual 20 questions for one celebrity, I chose to break down the Q&A into two sets of ten each, one set of ten questions for Beauty herself, Liz Shivener and the other set of questions for The Beast, Justin Glaser.
RAPID FIRE Q&A WITH LIZ SHIVENER, BELLE IN DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
JONATHAN PINKERTON: OK, I gotta start by asking…As a girl growing up in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, did you ever imagine you’d be traveling across the country playing a Disney Princess in a musical that features dancing dinnerware?
LIZ SHIVENER: I certainly never thought it would happen. Especially because I didn’t start theatre until high school, so it wasn’t even until then that I found out there was even a stage version.
JP: Speaking of your hometown, it’s known as the Birthplace of the Tomato. When’s the last time you made it home for their annual Tomato Festival?
LIZ SHIVENER: I haven’t been to the tomato festival since high school, I think. We used to go every summer, I remember. And I had friends that participated in the Tomato Queen Pageant.
JP: With nearly 20 year’s of Disney‘s Beauty and The Beast fans out there, what’s different about your Belle? As the song says, are audiences in for “something there that wasn’t there before”?
LIZ SHIVENER: I would like to think that my Belle is more real, more grounded than ones in the past. It’s serious stuff that Belle goes through, so I wanted to make sure her stakes were high. She’s a real person on the stage, so it wouldn’t have been fair to the character to simply waltz around the stage with nothing but doe eyes and a smile on her face. There is more to Belle than that.
JP: I understand you recently celebrated your birthday while on the road with the tour. What have you found to be the biggest challenge for a Princess on the road?
LIZ SHIVENER: Yes! I celebrated my Birthday in Scranton. It takes some getting used to, living out of a suitcase. And living in a hotel is something that I have just now accepted as a part of my life. The pro’s far outweigh the cons with travel, and that gets me through it.
JP: If you could play any Disney villain, who would you choose and why?
LIZ SHIVENER: I may want to be Captain Hook or Gaston. I think because there is something still very playful and childlike about them. They are always smiling and jovial when they commit their terrible deeds. There is an innocence to them, so you can’t help but love them.
JP: I’ll admit it, I’m a huge Beauty and The Beast fan. I own the animated movie on DVD, VHS and yes, even laser disc, or as my nephews used to call them, big DVDs. I’ve seen the Broadway musical, the previous national tour and even the theme park stage show. Among my favorite moments is the very first time we see Belle walking through the town on way to the bookshop. Is there a moment in the show that excites you night after night?
LIZ SHIVENER: The wind-up for Be Our Guest is always exciting. The anticipation builds up because I know what’s about to happen and the audience does too. Lumiere (Merritt David Janes) does a great job of sort of seducing the audience and getting their attention. Kids will sometimes scream out the lyrics before he has time to because they are looking forward to it so much.
JP: The musical adaptation includes a number of new songs. Of those, I absolutely love Belle‘s solo on Home. Whether it’s your own, or someone else’s, what’s your favorite musical number in the show?
LIZ SHIVENER: Human Again. Hands down. It is a great moment in musical theatre. The song is well written and meaningful, and takes place at a great time in the story. I love that it starts off as this simple little song and evolves into one of the larger production numbers in the show. Our ensemble is really showcased here as well and they sound incredible. It is my favorite.
JP: Before taking on the role of Belle, you starred in numerous regional productions including My Fair Lady as Eliza and The Sound of Music as Maria. So you’ve played a dreamer, a student and a teacher. With which role do you most identify?
LIZ SHIVENER: I would say that I am most the dreamer and the student. A lot of my life is spent dreaming and aspiring for greater things which, currently, I am in the middle of experiencing. But with this great fortune, I am learning an incredible amount; about this business, and the world, and people and most of all, myself. I think it is important to never loose the student quality.
JP: Much of Beauty and The Beast revolves around Belle‘s positive effect on The Beast, which, SPOILER ALERT: eventually reverses the spell and reveals his true identity. Who in your own life, do you credit for encouraging you to reach your own potential?
LIZ SHIVENER: Any success that I come across in life will be attributed to my parents and the teachers that I have had. I was lucky enough to be given parents that supported me though everything and allowed me to follow my own path. I also have had incredible mentors in my schooling. My high school drama teacher and two of my college professors stick out in my mind. They each helped me grow as a student, an artist and as an individual.
JP: When I attend Beauty and The Beast Saturday night during its Nashville run at TPAC, counting myself, we’ll represent three generations of fans, as I am bringing my niece and her young daughter. From what I know, you, yourself watched the animated film numerous times as a kid. In the four months you’ve been with the tour, do you have any stories of young fans and their reaction to your portrayal of Belle?
LIZ SHIVENER: There is no one particular moment, because to me, they are all special. It is a bizarre thing to mean so much to so many people, but I sort of understand because Belle meant a lot to me when I was little. Whenever I am tired or just can’t imagine doing one more show, I think of the kids. I owe it to them, to their ideas and memories of Belle.
Justin Glaser‘s Beast is the proverbial gentle giant
RAPID FIRE Q&A WITH JUSTIN GLASER, THE BEAST IN DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
JONATHAN PINKERTON: As the Beast, in Disney‘s Beauty and The Beast, you play both Heavy and Hero. Kinda the male equivalent of a hooker with a heart (Can I say that in a Disney interview?) What’s the best part of such a multifaceted role?
JUSTIN GLASER: I really love playing the Beast. The character undergoes a tremendous transformation before any technical special effects come into play. It’s fun to play a character that can be vicious, funny, heart broken, and warm throughout the course of a two and a half hour show.
JP: From what I’ve read about you, you did your homework when landing the role of the Beast by familiarizing yourself with previous incarnations of the story. While today’s audience is obviously more familiar with Disney‘s 1991 animated film, another of the more memorable versions was Jean Cocteau‘s decidedly darker 1946 La Belle et la Bete. Are there aspects of that portrayal present in your interpretation?
JUSTIN GLASER: In the Jean Cocteau version, as well as in many versions of the classic fairy tale, the Beast is portrayed as being very sensitive. He also really loves the Belle character, desperately. From the French film and the children’s books I took permission to make my performance more sensitive. This approach was also encouraged in my audition and in rehearsals by the creative team.
JP: At 6’5′ you fittingly tower over many of your co-stars. At the crux of Beauty and The Beast is the lesson of looking beyond the physical to find the inherent good in people. I suspect you yourself went through an awkward growth spurt as a kid. Have you been able to incorporate any of those feelings into the role of the Beast?
JUSTIN GLASER: Yes, I definitely understand what it’s like not to fit in because of looks. I was very awkward, physically, from about the age of 10 until the age of 20. It took me awhile to grow into myself and the way I look. I certainly use that in my performance.
JP: You grew up in neighboring Kentucky, right? Have friends and family from back home in Ft. Thomas been you in the role, or will Nashville be their chance to come down and see you as the Beast?
JUSTIN GLASER: Yes, I grew up in Kentucky, just outside of Cincinnati, OH. Most of my family actually came to see me when we were in Lexington last month.
JP: On the subject of your hometown, I hear its nickname is Cake Town? What’s that about?
JUSTIN GLASER: Ha! I don’t remember exactly. I think that neighboring towns considered my home town to be snobbish.
JP: Prior to playing the Beast, you toured the country with with supporting roles in the musicals Annie and Jesus Christ Superstar as well as having been featured in a few regional productions. When did you first become interested in the theatre?
JUSTIN GLASER: I was very interested in theater from an early age. I lost interest near the end of grade school and didn’t regain interest until late in high school. I didn’t start any sort of acting or vocal training until college, though.
JP: Have you ever wanted, just for one night, to swap roles with Nathaniel Hackmann, who plays Gaston? I mean, come on, the musical number, also titled Gaston is one great number.
JUSTIN GLASER: Yeah, Gaston is a great role. When I heard that this show was going out I wanted to be seen for both Gaston and the Beast. Nathaniel‘s perfect for the role, though. I don’t think I could play it as well as he does.
JP: Speaking of great numbers, the Beast has one of the musical’s most beautiful numbers, If I Can’t Love Her, which was added for the stage version. It’s a powerful, almost operatic ballad and one of the few chances to show the Beast‘s sensitive side, considering throughout a large portion of the show, the Beast lives up to his name, what are some of the challenges in “winning over the audience” with only a few scenes in which to do so?
JUSTIN GLASER: The Beast starts the show in a very dark and angry place. As the show progresses, the Beast‘s true nature is gradually revealed through his interaction with Belle. Playing with humor and revealing his insecurities and warmth help. Ideally, the audience ends up liking the Beast because of who he is, not because the story says that they should.
JP: The transformation sequence is right up there with the helicopter in Miss Saigon; The chandelier in Phantom or any number of Mary Poppins rooftop floating sequences, as truly magical theatrical moments. Have you run into any snafus during the quick-change so far?
JUSTIN GLASER: The transformation goes off without a hitch 97% of the time. On the rare occassions that it hasn’t, we’ve always been able to finish the show.
JP: To close my interview, I’ll ask you a slightly modified version of the question that began my Q&A with your Belle, Liz Shivener…As a young boy, growing up in Ft. Thomas, Ky, did you ever imagine yourself in a musical that features dancing dinnerware?
JUSTIN GLASER: The animated movie wasn’t released until I was well into highschool, and the stage version came out when I was entering college. The concept of a musical with dancing dinnerware hadn’t even been invented when I was growing up!
Dancing dinnerware, Belle and the Beast continue to enchant TPAC‘s Jackson Hall this weekend as Disney‘s Beauty and The Beast concludes its Nashville run with four remaining shows. Today, June 19, there’s a Saturday matinee at 2pm and an 8pm curtain Saturday night. The show concludes the Nashville leg of the tour with two shows on Father’s Day, Sunday June 20 beginning with a 1:30pm matinee then a final Father’s Day evening performance at 6pm. For tickets or more information, CLICK HERE.
To check out the touring company’s official site or for future tour dates and cities, CLICK HERE.
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