Disney's Beauty and the Beast started its fourth year on Broadway, Apr. 18. Now the show is celebrating another landmark anniversary: On July 7, the musical gives its 1,762nd performance -- making it the longest-running show ever at New York's legendary Palace Theatre.
The Palace started as a vaudeville house, B.F. Keith's Palace, and "playing the Palace" was synonymous with achieving the pinnacle of vaudeville fame. The Palace was renovated as a legit theatre in 1966, reopening with the original Sweet Charity. Other shows at the Palace have included The Will Rogers Follies (963 performances) and previous champ, La Cage Aux Folles (1,761 performances by its Nov. 14, 1987 close).
Deborah Gibson (the Funny Girl tour) currently stars as Belle, as she has since she took over for Kerry Butler back on Sept. 24, 1997. She leaves on June 28 to be replaced by Kim Huber, coming from the Beauty and the Beast touring company. Chuck Wagner co-stars as the Beast.
Gary Beach, who played Dorothy Loudon's philandering hubby in City Center's "Encores!" edition of Sweet Adeline, returned to Broadway Mar. 12, 1997 in the Tony-nominated role he originated on stage -- Lumiere, the Chevalieresque candelabrum. Other cast members in Beauty And The Beast (as of Apr. 15) include Harrison Beal (LeFou), Tim Jerome (Maurice), Gibby Brand (Cogsworth), Steve Blanchard (Gaston), and Beth Fowler (Mrs. Potts). The show, which opened Apr. 18, 1994 at the Palace Theatre and recently played its 1650th Broadway performance, currently has a national tour, as well as international productions in Germany, the UK, Mexico City and two theatres in Japan. The London mounting won an Olivier Award for Best Musical.
Previous theatrical ventures for actress Gibson include the London mounting of Grease! (as Sandy) and Broadway's Les Miserables (as Eponine). Gibson has sold ten million albums and is working on her own musical, Skirts. That show is based on a screenplay that almost, but didn't quite, get made. Since that screenplay was by Richard LaGravenese -- author of the Streisand film hit, The Mirror Has Two Faces -- and since Gibson is receiving engineering and production help on the project from Steve Skinner, the burner under Skirts seems to have been turned up a notch. The New York Post reported that Kenny Ortega, who was to have directed the film back in 1989, has been mentioned as possible director of the show.
Gibson's spokesperson David Salidor told Playbill On-Line (Apr. 15) the actress hopes to concentrate more on readying Skirts for 1999, but after Beauty she's also in talks to go into another (unspecified) currently running Broadway musical.
Skirts has overtones of West Side Story and 1980's hip-hop films. It's about a girl from Scarsdale who helps girl-gangs settling their differences via a huge dance contest.
Spokesperson Salidor told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 1997) that Skirts should eventually come to Broadway, though it may not start there. "She's been working on it nine years, we're not gonna rush it now. Originally Dawn Steel, when she was running Columbia, approached Gibson to appear in the movie, which was a strongly green-lighted project."
When Steel left the company (which had been bought by Sony) the project went into turn-around, but Gibson continues to work on it and has over 35 songs written to date.
A Playbill On-Line reader attended seminars Gibson gave at the Learning Annex and said the actress performed a song from Skirts called "Dance the Dream," "which the character Bernadette sings in a subway. Deborah's character is Betty Bonatello." Gibson also told seminar attendees she'll be appearing in, and writing the score for, the film, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend.