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'Beauty and the Beast' Memories from Stage and Screen

Members of the original Broadway cast of Beauty and the Beast gathered recently in New York with voice actors from the 1991 Disney film to promote a new Diamond Edition DVD/Blu-ray set, which hit stores this week. Representing the Broadway cast were Terrence Mann and Gary Beach, the original Beast and Lumiere, respectively. Paige O'Hara and Robby Benson, who voiced the title characters in the Oscar-nominated animated movie, were also on hand.

The Diamond Edition comprises three discs, two of which are in the Blu-ray format. The DVD disc contains an extended cut of the movie as well as the version released in theaters. Extras include a new video of the title song performed by Jordin Sparks and a "Broadway Beginnings" featurette with interviews with performers who were in the stage show. 

Looking back on the lead-up to Beauty and the Beast's 1994 Broadway debut—which was also Disney's debut as a Broadway producer—Mann and Beach both remember very "hands-on" involvement by the company, including its top execs. "It was the first one of its kind. They were changing Times Square at the time," says Mann. "Disney wanted to come and have a real footprint here...make a real statement about what they were going to do." Beach notes, "They took it away from the ice-show, the theme-park element. It put us where they wanted to take it: a Broadway show, with heart."

Mann recalls that Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney's CEO and studio chairman at the time, were present during the show's out-of-town tryout in Houston. Originally, Mann's Beast costume was extremely heavy and hairy, with the mouth its only moving part. "Jeffrey Katzenberg came backstage after the show and said, 'You gotta change this. We've lost all the humanity in this guy—you can't see anything.' He got all these makeup people to come in," Mann says, "and start whittling away, and by that preview they had changed the entire head so I had mobility and there was animation in it."

Benson, the screen Beast, was best known as a 1970s teen idol prior to Beauty and the Beast, though there's much more to his career (then and now). As a child, he appeared in the Broadway musical The Rothschilds—and performed with the cast on Ed Sullivan—and he'd done quite a bit of voice work before Beast, such as singing jingles in commercials and dubbing foreign films. "I was typecast as, like, a boy next door as an actor," says Benson. "The Beast was probably the first time in my entire career from an acting standpoint that I was ever typecast for real. I, unfortunately, am probably more like the Beast than the boy next door.... It was probably the easiest performance I've ever had to give. I always thought that the Beast was funny, in a very pathetic way, and I think that helped get the job."

PostBeauty and the Beast, Benson has directed for many TV series and written two books. His novel Who Stole the Funny? was published by Harper Collins in 2007, and he has a memoir coming out soon titled I'm Not Dead...Yet! "It's about how I've survived four open-heart surgeries," says Benson, who had his first operation for a congenital heart condition in 1984 and his most recent this past summer. "It's for people who get that phone call for the first time, and it helps them navigate that path and that life." He's planning to self-publish the book as "an enhanced e-book" with music and photographs, to be available for download from his website.

O'Hara, meanwhile, has been costarring the past five years in Menopause The Musical at the Luxor in Las Vegas, where she's lived for over a decade. "I love being the opposite of Belle and being the total brat of the play," she says of her role as a vain soap star. O'Hara also is now an artist for Disney Fine Art, which produces limited-edition, high-quality paintings and prints. "My stepfather had me copying Sargent and Turner when I was a little kid," says O'Hara, who's been painting since she was 3. "When I started out in New York, I'd sell my paintings on the street." Many of her works for Disney Fine Art are scenes from Beauty and the Beast.

Gary Beach (left) and Terrence Mann reunite to share memories of Beauty and the Beast. Beach says he was one of the first cast members to sign on to reprise his role in the L.A. production, which opened in 1995, and he later returned to the New York cast. "I was having such a good time, I didn't want to leave," he says. "I ended up doing it over the years about 1,700 times." Since he played the Beast, Mann has become a father (with wife Charlotte d'Amboise) to two little girls. When the Beauty and the Beast movie comes up, "they tell their friends at school 'That's my dad,' and the kids at school don't believe them because it's not around anymore," says Mann, who's currently appearing in The Addams Family.

The actors from both the stage production and the movie say they'd always considered Beauty and the Beast a classic musical rather than a kiddie flick. Beach remembers seeeing the movie for the first time, years before it was announced for the stage. "When 'Be Our Guest' started," he says, "I was thinking, 'Why can't I have a part like this?'" Benson says that while working on the film, "I never thought of it as a cartoon. I always looked at it as if it were live-action. Actually, it felt like a Broadway show, to be quite honest." Above: Lumiere, voiced in the film by Jerry Orbach, leads the housewares in "Be Our Guest."

Paige O'Hara had already been chosen as the voice of Belle before Benson was cast (after five auditions, he says). "I felt like a fish out of water a little bit, being a stage actress and learning the film technique, which Robby of course already knew," she reminisces. They recorded their parts together. "It really helped with the chemistry and spontaneity," she says. "They encouraged us to ad-lib and have fun. There wasn't a time clock, where you had to do everything in one day; we [worked on it] off and on for two years." Today, says Benson, "we're like brother and sister."

"This is a true classic that will remain a classic," O'Hara says. "It was one of those films where everybody had the same vision, and the chemistry was perfect. The whole thing came together; it was just so right. You look at it now, it still holds up. It's a great story, great cast, great animation."

For the Diamond Edition, the film was restored and adapted for Blu-ray, with high-definition picture and 7.1 digital surround-sound. The set is loaded with extras, including games, music tracks, deleted scenes and making-ofs. A new standard edition two-disc DVD will be released in November.

Film stills and Diamond Edition box cover: © Disney. All rights reserved.

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