PLAYBILL ON CLOSING NIGHT: Beauty and the Beast — A Roaring Success

News   PLAYBILL ON CLOSING NIGHT: Beauty and the Beast — A Roaring Success
A "tale as old as time" reached the end of the line July 29 when Beauty and the Beast gave its 5,464th — and final — Broadway performance and at last took its leave of the Lunt-Fontanne, secure in its slot as the sixth longest-running show in Main Stem history.
Anneliese van der Pol and Steve Blanchard; Donny Osmond; Matt West, Stanley A. Meyer and Robert Jess Roth; Alan Menken; Andrea McArdle; John Tartaglia; Jeanne Lehman; Trevor Braun; Christy Romano; David deVries; Mary Stout; Aldrin Gonzalez; Ashley Brown.
Anneliese van der Pol and Steve Blanchard; Donny Osmond; Matt West, Stanley A. Meyer and Robert Jess Roth; Alan Menken; Andrea McArdle; John Tartaglia; Jeanne Lehman; Trevor Braun; Christy Romano; David deVries; Mary Stout; Aldrin Gonzalez; Ashley Brown. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

No. 6 picked up stix, too, over the years becoming a northeastern Disney theme-park and catnip to susceptible tourists, setting house records at the Palace, where it opened in April of 1994, and the Lunt-Fontanne, where it closed — a spread of 13 years and some change.

Michael Eisner, the former Disney chieftain who led his company's charge into this new and glitzy frontier of Broadway, was conspicuously present at the closing performance and at the relatively subdued whoop-up afterward at Cipriani's elegant eatery on 42nd St.

Last in the long line of Beauty and the Beast leads (begun by Susan Egan and Terrence Mann) were Anneliese Van Der Pol and Steve Blanchard, and the latter, by virtue of being the longest-running Beast in captivity (11 years, counting his three years of road work), took the microphone after his fellow players had taken their bows and introduced to the crowd some of the Disney little-people behind the scenes who made it all happen.

"Now, before we begin Act Three . . . ," Blanchard joshed (it landed well). "Thanks for spending the evening with us. You're the best closing-night audience we've ever had!"

He singled out two cast members for special bows: Donny Osmond, who came back for one performance to go out as Gaston ("I am honored to be here at this extraordinary event, and I'm so honored to be on stage with all of you guys. I really appreciate being here") and Bill Nabel, the one remaining member of the original cast of the show (he has been a corkscrew and townsperson since the show's first rehearsal in 1993). Blanchard also saluted the show's two lyricists who were not present — Sir Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman — and brought out for bows composer Alan Menken, book writer Linda Woolverton, director Robert Jesse Roth, choreographer Matt West, vocal arranger David Friedman, musical director-arranger-underscorer Michael Kosarin, scenic designer Stan Meyer, lighting designer Natasha Katz, hair designer David Lawrence and the show's lone Tony winner, costume designer Ann Hould-Ward.

With the exception of associate producer Mark Rozzano, none of the unseen moneybags who backed this production paraded across the stage — not Eisner, not Thomas Schumacher (the current head of Disney Theatrical Productions) and not Ron Logan (its prexy when the show premiered and the first to see the property as a Broadway musical).

The far-sighted Logan recognized that potential back when literally it was on the drawing boards. (It subsequently became the first animated feature ever to be nominated for Best Picture — and it won Menken two 1991 Oscars (for score and title tune) and two other nominations (for the songs, "Belle" and Disney's new signature ditty, "Be Our Guest").

Eisner's deputy, Jeffrey Katzenberg, went to Florida before the film's release, showed it to Logan and asked, from a theme-park stand-point, what could be done with the product.

"I was in charge of Entertainment at Disney World at the time," Logan recalled, "and I stood up and said, 'We should go to Broadway with that show' — at which point Jeffrey said, '‘No, that's not our thing. Critics will kill us.' But I bugged Eisner for about a year, sending him memos — and then Frank Rich wrote an article in The New York Times that said if Disney had done 'Beauty and the Beast' on Broadway that particular year, it would have won the musical Tony. So Michael called me at my house — by that time, I was in charge of Disney Entertainment worldwide — and said, 'All right, all right, what would you do? I want you to come to Aspen and talk about the characters. How about more music? How about magic? Come to Aspen. No money for presentation.' He always followed up with a card, written in red ink. I have that card still in my file, and last week I sent to him a reproduction of it in a red picture frame and I circled 'No money for presentation.'

"The rest is history. I gave my ideas in Aspen. He loved them. He said, 'You got $10 million.' I didn't have to deal with backers or anything. I got the studio people together, became a team and started producing — and Michael let us do it. At one point, he said, 'You want to change the team?' I said, 'No. I don't know anything about Broadway.'" Except, evidently, what can run for light years (13, anyway) on The Great White Way.

The Cipriani is only two blocks away from the site of the show's original opening-night party — The New York Public Library (Belle had a thing for books, you may recall) — and the closing-night party was affectionately sweetened with cast members over the years.

The former Belles included Christy Carlson Romano and the current high-flying Mary Poppins, Ashley Brown. Among the ex-Lumieres were Avenue Q's Tony-nominated John Tartaglia and "All My Children" soap-star Jacob Young. The previous Gastons: Chris Hoch (bumped for Osmond's one-shot) and, late of LoveMusik, Graham Rowat.

For Rowat, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. He will, like another song, be home for Christmas — doing White Christmas on his Ontario home turf (it will play Toronto). "I'm the tallest Bing Crosby you've ever seen." His Rosemary Clooney will be Mrs. Rowat, the chronically employed Kate Baldwin. "She finishes up The Pajama Game tonight with Will Chase at Muny, and then she's going up to North Shore to do The Three Musketeers tomorrow.

"This is going to be our third year of doing White Christmas together. We've done it in San Francisco, last year Detroit, now Toronto. When I left Toronto, I was an eggbeater in Beauty and the Beast. That was the show that brought me to New York. It closed in Toronto, and there was an opening here as Gaston/Beast understudy and the glamorous role of the spatula. I left Toronto a utensil, and now I get to go back a big shot."

Tartaglia, who was also bumped from the final performance (David deVries, with more legitimate French roots, did Lumiere), confessed he had trouble containing himself as an audience member. "I was just flying in my seat," he said. "‘I wanna be up there. I wanna be up there. I miss it so much.' All the lines are still fresh in my head. I kept saying, 'Oh there's my cue.' But I feel very honored to have been part of the history of this show."

This week he goes right into production with his second season of "Johnny and the Sprites" for The Disney Channel. "We shoot through December, then I might be doing some cabarets around the country. I'm just enjoying life right now." Which is nice, too.

Young, whose three-month reign as Lumiere was amusingly remembered for a malfunctioning candelabra hand which would emit a startlingly large flame that seered the wigs around him, hopes to return to Broadway as a hyphenate: actor and co-producer.

His producing partner and Beauty's associate producer, Rozzano, cited the property as Popcorn, a 1998 play by Ben Elton based on Elton's 1996 novel about an Oscar-winning director of violent films. "We hired Laurence Boswell, who directed our play in the West End where it won the Olivier for Best Comedy," said Rozzano. "We plan on a February rehearsal, and a March-April preview and opening — at a Shubert theatre to be announced."

Osmond, who turns 50 in December, still has a very-vocal following. One closing-nighter (Janine Dudkiewicz) rushed up to him announcing, "I know every word of 'Puppy Love,'" instantly launching them both into "And they called it puppy lo-ove . . ."

He credited his one-last-shot appearance as Gaston to Rozzano. "I told Mark that I would love to do the closing show, so he eventually called me up and said, 'Would you like to be part of the closing show — because you're used to closing shows?'" (Osmond's only other Broadway appearance was a rather fleeting one — in the 1982 revival of the George M. Cohan musical, Little Johnny Jones, which opened and closed on the same night.)

A now 16-year-old Chip in the house was Nicolas King, who's speeding his way through high school, and then he'll return to the showbiz career that Beauty began: "It got me on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,' and one of the guests was Tom Selleck, who asked me to do A Thousand Clowns on Broadway with him. Liza Minnelli came to the opening and got me to be her opening act last year."

Mary Stout — who's both (merry and stout) and uses them to maximum comic effect as the 5x5 chest of drawers, Madame de la Grande Bouche — revealed a little musical footnote to the final performance. "Every night," she said, "I do my little aria, and tonight I sang in German a phrase which, in translation, comes down to: 'It's not over till the fat lady sings.' Then, when I came out at the end, I went — again in German — 'I sing.'"

She won't be heading for the employment line right away: "I'm doing the Summer Play Festival this next week, and I'm in a really nice play called Not Waving. Also, I'm trying to branch out into plays. Then, I'm doing a couple of days on a film called 'Made for Each Other,' which I have a nice little part — four lines, but it's great. Then, in September, I'll do The [New York] Musical Theatre Festival. The Boy in the Bathroom, it's called. My son hasn't come out of the bathroom in over a year. Sounds pretty sad, but there's a lot of humor in it."

The closing was emotionally rocky for her, she admitted. "It was a moving experience, I think, but it didn't really hit me until the end. Mostly, I was just having a great time."

Also smiling-through-the-tears at the curtain call was the show's Mrs. Potts, Jeanne Lehman. "I was crying up there, among everybody else," Lehman said. "Really, it was a hard night tonight. I had to keep myself going because I knew it was a great audience. Normally, I'd be crying after every number. It was hard tonight to sing 'Beauty and the Beast.' I love it so much and knew it'd be the last time. It was an exciting, electric night."

Joanne Worley, ever the Good Neighbor, came across 46th Street from The Drowsy Chaperone to see Beauty out and to cheer on her favorite Horace Vandergelder, Jamie Ross, who played Belle's dad. She was accompanied by Garland aficionado John Fricke.

The one performer who has stayed with the show from start to finish, Nabel, has no moss growing under his feet. "I've written the book and lyrics for two shows in my dressing room upstairs at Beauty and the Beast during those 13 years," he confessed. "One is called Asylum, and it's about people applying for asylum to the United States —sort of a Chorus Line treatment of that. The other is a cryogenic love story called Love on Ice. It's a comedy, complete with Ted Williams and Walt Disney. Bob Christianson wrote the music for the first show, and Kevin O'Connors wrote the music for the second one."

The evening's conductor, Michael Kosarin, also dates back to the show's first reading in 1993. "I'm one of the original creative people," he said. "I did the whole underscore of the show, and I supervised all the international companies. Disney has been fantastic in that they've let me go off and do other projects all through the years. I've been Alan Menken's musical director for everything he does these days. I've done all of his feature-animations and this Disney film, 'Enchanted,' that is a combination of action and animation. It's mostly live action. It stars Amy Adams and Susan Sarandon and will open later this year. We're in post-production right now. Stephen Schwartz wrote the lyrics. We also did Hunchback of Notre Dame, which tried out in Berlin. It's one of the best scores ever written that's not being seen. They're expanding it for the theatre."

Kosarin's immediate Next — as it is for lighting designer Katz and fight captain Rick Sordelet — is The Little Mermaid, which is now in its first week of previews in Denver. Beyond that are two other movies Menken is turning into stage musicals for Broadway: Leap of Faith (to which Hugh Jackson is said to be attached) and Sister Act.

Director Roth owned up to the bittersweetness of the occasion, but, he added quickly, "How many people get the opportunity to have a show play this long? I feel great — a little surprised but great. I'm seeing so many friends that I haven't seen in a long time, and actors who have been in the show, our stage management from before, and Michael Eisner came tonight so I'm feeling emotional about the whole thing but really positive.

"It's just wonderful to be surrounded by all these great people who are my friends, and we've shared this great experience together. You can feel it here in the room and on the stage tonight. I thought how doubly lucky I was to find all of these talented people. They've all brought something unique to their parts. For me, over 13 years, the actors who come into a show bring such new life to it and keep the show alive. They've added their own personalities, had ideas that none of us have had. The show has evolved. As we did it around the world, we just discovered a lot of new things in all areas — the costume design changed a little bit, the set design changed some, the lighting design changed — and certainly my direction changed. When actors have good ideas, they have good ideas."

In recent times, Roth has had a rock relapse: "I'm a big rock 'n' roll fan, and I directed my third Alice Cooper tour. It was designed by Beauty's designer, Stan Meyer."

Roth's next stage vehicle will be The Opposite of Sex, which he and composer Douglas J. Cohen co-adapted from the 1998 film comedy of the same name. "Don Roos wrote a wonderful movie, and he's really pleased with our adaptation. It premiered last summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and — knock knock — it'll reach Off-Broadway this fall."

Menken, too, was feeling the emotions of the evening. "I've seen the show I don't know how times over the past 14 years, but tonight brought me right back to Square One, right back to 'Oh, yeah, I remember creating that moment,'" he said more than a little wistfully. Inevitably, his thoughts went to Ashman, who died of AIDS at age 40. "Literally, we were at the Academy Awards, and he said, 'When we get back to New York, we have to talk.' That was on Sunday, and we met Tuesday or Wednesday. I was on pins and needles, and, for some reason — it must have been a mental block — I could not anticipate what he was going to say. Then I came into his living room, and he gave me the bad news. I kept thinking, 'Not Howard, not Howard, not Howard.' He passed away about a year later."

On Dec. 6 — 16 years after that death, the new Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical will hit Broadway. The Little Mermaid may keep the Lunt-Fontanne humming quite a while.

The cast of <i>Beauty and the Beast</i> takes its final bows on Broadway.
The cast of Beauty and the Beast takes its final bows on Broadway. Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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