Beauty and the Beast, the Alan Menken– Howard Ashman/Tim Rice– Linda Woolverton tunefest, will give its 5,464th — and last — Broadway performance on July 29, sailing off into the history books as not only the sixth longest-running Broadway show of all time but also the longest-running production at the Palace and the Lunt-Fontanne Theatres.
To mark the milestone, Disney threw a birthday bash to end 'em all (literally, alas), inviting back to its stage castle for a photo shoot all 250-plus who've trod Beauty's Broadway boards in those 13 years. Some 135 showed, and after, they adjourned to Sardi's Eugenia Room for good fellowship and a festive repast.
The room was lit flickeringly with Lumieres. There were tinklings of Belles here and there and a host of household utensils yearning to be "Human Again" (clocks, teapots, chipped teacups, salt shakers, spatulas). But there was only one Beast in the room, the once and current Beast, Steve Blanchard, and he received a caricature as The Beast. (The only other actor that Sardi's has caricatured in character is Michael Crawford as The Phantom of the Opera.)
You'd think, at run's end, Broadway's longest-running Beast (eight years, plus three more on tour) would reveal how he makes that startling, magical switch at the end from Beast to Prince. Well, think again. "Belle's love makes me do it," Blanchard replies with a steely smile. Which is what Terrence Mann, the original Beast, said. "See?" Blanchard grins. "We're all programmed alike." It was a kick for him to be onstage with co-stars past and present: "'This Is Your Life,' à la Beauty and the Beast. It's been the most wonderful theatre experience." Blanchard, who graduated from Gaston to this long-running Beastly assignment, owes the job to the show's longest-running Belle, Andrea McArdle. "It's the longest run I had on Broadway — two years: a year at the Palace, a year at the Lunt-Fontanne — a year longer than Annie," she notes. "What was so special about the theatre change was our company got to go into a six-week rehearsal period so they could downsize. I actually demanded they give me Steve. Jim Barbour was just waiting to get out of his contract to do Jane Eyre, and I said, 'Listen, you can't let me set my show with an understudy for two months.' So they gave him to me, and he's still there."
Beth Fowler originated the role of Mrs. Potts (who does a pristine delivery of the show's Oscar-winning title tune) and played it for seven years. "I didn't do it continuously, but I was always happy to go back because it was a lovely place to work and there were always lovely people there. Rob [director Robert Jess Roth] tends to cast nice people. He likes to work with nice people. I like that, too. And I got to sing that great song eight times a week. It never ceased to touch my heart. When I sang it, people would just glow, like you're singing 'Ave Maria' or something."
Jeanne Lehman, who's singing it now, seconds that motion: "Omigod! I can't tell you how much I love that song. I know it touches not only the audience but the people onstage as well. I melt the minute I hear the intro and know there's something to share."
Burke Moses — the show's first Gaston, Belle's narcissistic suitor — is still swiping heroines (currently as El Gallo in The Fantasticks, understudied by ex-Lumiere Stuart Marland). "It seems like 13 years!" he begs to differ. "At least my back thinks so."
"I'm still in Beauty and the Beast — can you believe it? — and I'm going to close it, too," pipes up a peppy Mary Stout, the show's Madame de la Grande Bouche. "A few months ago I was wondering if I'd have the wherewithal to stick it out — and then I found a laugh. . . . It started me thinking, 'I could do this forever.'"
The original Tony-nominated Lumiere, Gary Beach, who now has his own house to master in Les Miserables, is proud to have left his particular imprint on the role. "I think all of the original cast had quite a bit of input. Rob Roth, the director, was very happy to let us bring in stuff. I always thought Lumiere was a hood ornament on an old Pontiac or something, and that's sorta gone down through the ages as the way Lumiere stands."
In one case, at least, the show marked back. "At the end of my run as Belle, I got the rose tattooed on my ankle, with the petal falling off," confesses Deborah Gibson. "It's such a magical show, and it carries into your life offstage."
Sarah Uriarte Berry has practically done The Ages of Man with Beauty and the Beast. She and the original Belle, Susan Egan, were college roommates, and when Egan left the show, Berry stepped in for all of 1995. Then she left, got married, had a little girl and came back to do Belle last Christmas with Donny Osmond. "I did three months, and my little girl came to see the show over and over and over. I had a whole new feeling about it. It was so wonderful to do the same show and see it all through her eyes. It was great."
"People really love this show," says the Lumiere from Avenue Q, John Tartaglia. "It's a show with heart. You can be dazzled, you can be exhilarated, but if you've been moved in some way, that's the most powerful kind of theatre. To see people leaving the theatre from 99 to 4, all of them moved by the same experience — for me, that's just so very gratifying."