‘Lucky, fun’ Disney gig
“I expect that the audience will love the show and that my cast will be treated well in your country,” said famed Broadway director Rob Roth of the latest adaptation of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which began its Manila run at Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City on Jan. 9.
In a chat in October, on the night that “Beauty and the Beast” premiered at Zorlu Center PSM in Istanbul, Roth told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he wasn’t sure he’d join the group in Manila. The all-American cast began arriving here on Jan. 5 without Roth, who was at the time busy directing an off-Broadway show called “Disenchanted.”
“I needed to go away for a while, then come back with fresh eyes,” he explained his absence. Working on “Beauty and the Beast,” he added, was “all at the same time challenging, exciting and difficult—with ‘difficult’ being the least.”
He stressed: “The challenge for me is to make sure the heart of the show—the story—is clear, because that’s what has made the show successful. All the beautiful scenery, the costumes, all the spectacle, help. These things are enjoyable, but they’re all in service of telling the story.”
Roth received a Tony nomination for his Broadway direction of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1994. He has gone on to direct the show all over the world, winning many awards for himself and for the show as well.
He directed the inaugural production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida.” He continued his collaboration with Sir Elton on “Lestat,” based on Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles.” He has directed concert tours by such artists as Cyndi Lauper, Alice Cooper, Steve Miller and KISS. His new play, “Warhol Capote Strange Dents,” will open on Broadway later this year.
For Roth, “Beauty and the Beast” is about “seeing past someone’s exterior, into his or her soul.” He elaborated, “It’s about finding the goodness in people. That’s a beautiful thing to put into the world, and I’m very proud of that.”
As director, Roth said he was lucky to be working with “fantastic people whom I trust, who are great artists, and who want to have fun. I know it’s a job—there’s a lot of money involved—but ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is also pretty fun.”
“Beauty and the Beast,” which ends its run on Jan. 25, is headlined by Hilary Maiberger as Belle, Darick Pead as the Beast, Hassan Nazari-Robati as Lumiere, Adam Dietlein as Gaston, and Charlie Jones and William Poon, who alternate as Chip.
Ovation Productions has tied up with foreign companies Broadway Entertainment Group and NETworks Presentations to bring the Broadway hit musical to Manila.
You are a creative artist. How does it contribute to your sense of satisfaction, all these people doing so well in portraying their characters?
It took me a long time to [assemble] this cast. I looked all over America. I knew they were talented when I hired them, but what I didn’t know was how nice everyone was. That makes going to work every day so much fun. They’re “nice” in the sense that they want to work, that they’re responsible people and not just goofing off. I don’t have to “discipline” them. They [have the desire] to bring their best to the show, which they have done. When everyone [in the production] does this, you feel that you’ve accomplished something great.
And that’s what matters more to a creative guy like you?
It is, actually. The ultimate satisfaction for me is when the show—I’ve seen this happen all over the world—elicits joy from the audience in the end. It fills up the room. That’s the best thing for me.
My favorite part is a very quiet scene in
Act 2, where the Beast lets Belle go. The audience is often silent and there’s total suspension of disbelief. When you can create that for 2,500 people, make them live in the world of imagination even for just a short time, that’s the best feeling.
Are you a strict director?
If you mean “strict” in the way that I want the show performed the same way every night, that’s being professional, not strict. Professionalism is when [we] work and create something together. This show is different from the other “Beauty and the Beast” productions because these actors are different. They bring their own humanity to it. I encourage them. Yes, I expect them to be honest and perform well every night.
How about “strict,” as in mean?
That’s not me at all. I don’t think you get the best creative work out of someone by being mean. I told this cast when we started that we had a lot of work to do, that we were going to have to focus, but that we would also have fun. I wanted to have a great time. I can honestly tell you that I did.
What do you consider the best way to motivate your actors?
I show them how passionate I am about my work. It’s my life. I devoted a big chunk of my life to “Beauty and the Beast” and I care about it. I want the audience to experience that suspension of disbelief and that much joy.
I make the actors feel that I’m honest with them. For me, some of these scenes are about me and my mother. I told them stories about how my mom and I would have arguments then go to the kitchen to have a heart-to-heart talk—that’s Belle and her dad Maurice. I think being personal brings out the best in people, too.
I also think that the tone of the show comes from its leaders. Matt West (choreographer) and I are leading it. If we treat each other with respect and kindness, it would filter down to everybody. I think that’s important. We have a good relationship. The creative team and I have been doing this for more than 20 years, and we love each other like family.
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