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BWW Interview: Nicholas J Pearson of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

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Join Belle and the Beast for a tale as old as time at Dutch Apple opening June 3

BWW Interview: Nicholas J Pearson of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

Beauty and the Beast, the tale as old as time, is based on a French fairytale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot in 1740. It has seen numerous retellings and reimaginings. One of the most well-known versions is the 1991 animated Disney movie. The movie was adapted for the stage by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. It opened on Broadway in 1994 and continues to engage the imaginations of audiences years later. Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre brings Beauty and the Beast to their stage June 3-July 31. Nicholas J. Pearson portrays the Beast in the upcoming production.

BWW: Tell us a little bit about the very first performance you ever did.

Pearson: This is a fun one. I was that kid who would jump around in front of the TV. I loved TV jingles. When I was around 2, McDonald's had a parody of "Mack the Knife" in their commercials-"Mack the Night", with a mascot that was a crescent moon with sunglasses. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. At my grandparent's house they had a foyer right where you came in. One day I just started singing and dancing "Mack the Night". When I finished, I got this applause from my grandparents, and I was just like that's what I want. I want more of that. I've come a long way since that first performance in my grandparent's foyer.

BWW: What do you love most about performing?

Pearson: I think what I love most is the chance to open people's minds, eyes, and hearts to understand that not everyone lives the same way. I love to be able to help others see how someone's circumstances impacted their life. Theatre is a great chance for people to see how others have learned and changed and to learn from them. This show is a great example. I play this monstrous beast who is cursed because he wasn't a good person. As we prepared this show, we talked a lot about finding moments of humanity for the Beast to display. I thought it would be the most challenging part of this character, but in some of the scenes it naturally comes out. Many of those times are during his interactions with Belle. There are actually a lot of people the Beast doesn't interact with at all in the show, but the few people the Beast does directly interact with end up changing him because they bring out the humanity in him. For instance, when Belle defies the Beast he is shocked out of his beastliness-he finds his humanity in those moments. Additionally, our director has encouraged Jennie Nasser, who plays Belle, to portray her as a very strong woman. So, this is a really good example of what I love most about theatre-encouraging audiences to see something deeper than the surface.

BWW: What is your favorite role to date and why?

Pearson: The more I do this role, the higher it climbs on my list. But, last year, I finally got to play Shrek. Similar to the Beast, Shrek is a completely misunderstood character who finds a strong woman who shocks him into opening up. Shrek is the character I wanted to play when I moved to NYC, but it closed on Broadway just after I moved. I auditioned for Shrek any time I found a theatre doing it. So, the opportunity to finally get to play the role was amazing. I loved telling that story every night. I'm 6'2" and a broad guy, so I'm always judged by that-people thought I should play football in high school. I think I really connect to characters like Shrek because people made assumptions about Shrek based on how he looked, too. And, of course, the way we're treated ends up impacting the way we present ourselves. No one gets to know the real person until we stop and listen and get to know one another. Characters like this help us to remember that no one should be able to decide who and what we are other than ourselves. I think that's why I gravitate to those roles.

BWW: What role would be at the top of your wish list to play?

Pearson: Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I love that character for many of the same reasons that I love Shrek and the Beast. I also just love the amazing score for that show. Some of my other dream roles are Bobby in Company, Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and the Baker in Into the Woods. I actually love to bake, and I bake a lot when I'm stressed, so I definitely connect to the Baker.

BWW: Beauty and the Beast has a great combination of comedy, romance, and drama. What is your favorite thing about the show?

Pearson: There's so much to this show. I think one of my favorite things about it is the complexity and the opportunity to explore the depth of the characters. Act one is very much out of character for me. The Beast is all brooding and angry, which is not at all like me, and is actually quite exhausting to play. That act ends with a beautiful song for me, and then in act two things change as Belle and the Beast start to fall in love. I particularly love the scene with the song "Beauty and the Beast". In that scene, you get more background on the Beast and see more about his relationships with the other characters-Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts. The audience sees a more vulnerable side to the Beast. I think one thing that makes our production stand out is that we really worked on showing that depth in the Beast's character-letting the audience get to know him better and see him be vulnerable and emotional.

BWW: What is your favorite song to listen to in the show? Why is it your favorite?

Pearson: That's so hard because everyone in the show is so stellar. The actor playing Gaston, Brian Nabors, has one of the most buttery voices you'll ever hear. "Me", which is one of his songs that was not in the Disney movie, is a fantastic and fun song that he nails every time. Jennie (Belle) does an awesome rendition of "Home"-I never really liked that song until I heard her sing it and realized what a wonderful power ballad it is. Another of Belle's songs was added when Toni Braxton was in the show. It's called "A Change in Me", and it is a stunning song. The audience will absolutely love Shannon Connolly as Mrs. Potts on "Beauty and the Beast". That song is so ingrained for a lot of us that hearing it feels like stepping back into our childhood. It will be awesome to see the audience experience that as well. It is just such an iconic moment in the story. For me, it reminds me of simpler times-I can forget everything else in life and just take in that moment.

BWW: Tell us a little bit about what you have to go through with costume and makeup to become the Beast.

Pearson: Makeup is actually pretty minimal. I have a prosthetic mask. It's pretty interesting. Prather Group has done this show before, and they had the mask done for another actor who played the Beast previously. When I met with the costume designer, I tried on the mask, and it actually fit me like a glove. It covers everything except my mouth and eyes. As far as the costume goes, that's a little more involved. I'm already a pretty stocky guy, but I also wear a body suit that builds up the chest and hips and also has a little bit of a hump. I do have massive clawed feet and hands for the costume and a beautiful jacket for the ballroom scene. I have a couple of wigs-one for the transformation and one for the end of the show. The end of the show is a little crazy with the number of costume changes for both Belle and the Beast.

BWW: Many of the characters in Beauty and the Beast are people who were turned into household objects. If you were turned into a household object what would it be and why?

Pearson: It depends on the day of the week. But I really think it would probably be a couch-I try to stay active, but if I have nothing going on, I am on the couch. So, it would be either that or a KitchenAid mixer-constantly going and baking.

Dutch Apple continues to follow CDC guidelines for the safety of its guests and performers. Get your tickets for the beloved tale Beauty and the Beast today at www.dutchapple.com.


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