Tony Award-winning Broadway actor Gary Beach, who brought Lumiere to life in the Broadway premiere of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and earned a Tony Award for his show-stopping, Judy Garland-tinged take on The Producers’ Roger De Bris, died July 17 in Palm Springs, California. He was 70.
His death was confirmed to Playbill by his agent, Steven Unger.
Beach, whose career on Broadway was primarily dedicated to musicals, actually tried to sway himself away from going into the theatre. “I convinced myself political science is what I wanted to do. So I went to Old Dominion in Norfolk, VA for a year — the liberal arts thing. But then I found out about a new school: North Carolina School of the Arts. I auditioned and was admitted into the drama department. For the first time I became serious about studying and becoming an actor. And it was the best thing I ever did,” he said.
Beach began his Broadway career in 1969 as the understudy for the role of Edward Rutledge in the original Broadway cast of 1776 (he later assumed the role full-time). Beach’s next Broadway outing was the short-lived musical Something’s Afoot, which ran for 61 performances in 1976.
Beach was a replacement during the original run of Annie, taking over the role of Rooster. In 1981, he played nearly two dozen roles alongside Jeff Goldblum, Judy Kaye, and Tim Jerome in The Mooney Shapiro Songbook—which opened and closed on the same night at the Morosco Theatre. His next project would be the 1983 Liz Swados musical Doonesbury, based on the comic strip.
He traveled to Los Angeles to headline the West Coast engagements of Beauty and the Beast, The Producers, and Les Miserables, in addition to appearing in Lend Me a Tenor and Closer Than Ever.
His greatest roles came later in life, originating the Chevalieresque candelabra Lumiere, who beckoned Belle to "Be Our Guest" in Beauty and the Beast—the lavish musical that ushered Disney to Broadway, opening at the Palace Theatre in 1994. Beach earned his first Tony Award nomination for his performance.
"We were the first Disney show, before 42nd Street changed. Before the theatre district was made safe for families," he recalled. "Sometimes, with Beauty, the community looked down on us a little bit. That's all gone now. Being the first, everyone was a little frightened: what are the Disney people going to do, ruin Broadway? I think they've just broadened the appeal."
His biggest triumph was director Roger De Bris in Mel Brooks' 2001 hit The Producers—a role Beach imbued with the dedication of an old-fashioned, heart-on-his-sleeve show queen who finally got his moment in the spotlight with "Springtime for Hitler."
"I didn't audition," Beach recalled. "It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I was at home in L.A. and my agent called. He said [casting director] Vinny Liff wants you to fly east and read Roger De Bris in a reading. I thought for 10 seconds...and packed my bag. I already knew Nathan Lane was doing Max. And for a person of my generation to be in a room for a week with Mel Brooks, no matter what happens, you don't say 'no' to that. And this was the part of a lifetime."
His performance won him the 2001 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. It was a role he reprised in the 2005 film adaptation alongside fellow original Broadway cast members Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
That same year, he also returned to the role in the Broadway production, becoming the first time a star has appeared concurrently in the same role in the Broadway and film versions of the same property.
Beach mined musical theatre diva-dom for the role. While some first noted that the pose DeBris strikes before launching into his big number when he takes over the title role on opening night of Springtime for Hitler was meant as his tribute to his Beauty and the Beast’s Lumiere, Beach was quick to point out, “It isn't true. Actually, I'm doing the pose that Angela Lansbury did on the Mame posters. It was very theatrical."
Beach's show-stopping numbers from Beauty and the Beast and The Producers were both constructed by Tony-winning arranger Glen Kelly, who built each number to an ecstatic finish. "I think they're the two biggest, most expensive production numbers in Broadway history, and we're both in them," Beach quipped at the time. "In one I'm a candlestick, and another I'm Adolf Hitler."
Beach continued to appear on Broadway, returning as Albin the 2004 revival of Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles, and as Thénardier in the 2006 revival of Les Misérables.
Gary Beach was born October 10, 1947, in Alexandria, Virginia. He was a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts. Beach is survived by his husband, Jeff Barnett.
Flip through photos of Gary Beach on the stage below: