Think you’ve got every word of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” memorized?
If you’ve only seen the Oscar-winning 1991 animated musical (100 times or so), you haven’t experienced all of the magic Belle, Beast, Gaston, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Chip, Mrs. Potts and Lefou have to offer.
When Disney’s acclaimed “Beauty and the Beast” stage musical opened on Broadway in 1994, the production extended scenes, added seven new songs to the story’s already iconic repertoire, expanded the roles of a few minor characters and made tweaks throughout the show that will have even the most devoted fans discovering something new.
More than 20 years later, “Beauty and the Beast” is inviting fans across the country to be their guests as the national tour takes the show beyond New York’s Great White Way.
I recently caught up with leading lady Brooke Quintana, who plays Belle, ahead of the production’s stop at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia from February 16-21. What is it like to play one Disney’s most iconic princesses? Keep reading to find out.
David Onda: Can you start off by telling me a little bit about you?
Brooke Quintana: I am originally from Cary, North Carolina and always loved singing, but I didn’t really know quite what I wanted to do with it. I had a voice teacher, I think, in my junior year of high school… He encouraged me into pursuing opera, actually. I went to school at North Carolina School of the Arts for about a year and some change for opera before I dropped out of there and transferred to East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina for musical theater and professional acting. That’s where I ended up graduating from. Opera wasn’t quite for me, but the musical theater was much more up my alley because I got to do all three things I really enjoy doing, which is dancing, singing and acting. I thought, “Why just do one when I can do all three?” It wasn’t a straight path to get directly there. It took me a couple tries to figure out exactly where I wanted to be. It made me appreciate it so much more in the end when I was like, “Oh, this is exactly what I want to be doing.”
Onda: Have you ever performed on Broadway proper?
Quintana : No. I’m pretty fresh out of school. This is my first real big gig.
Onda: What an amazing first big gig!
Quintana : Yeah! I performed in a couple regional theaters, but this is my first real big job. It’s pretty exciting.
Onda: Were you a Disney kid growing up?
Quintana : Oh, yes. This movie was probably my favorite movie growing up. It was my mom’s favorite movie, so I loved it even more, because I just loved everything my mom loved. My mom actually surprised me the first time I ever went to Disney World. My grandmother lived down in Florida, and she said that we were going to visit my grandmother. We had driven from Charleston, and I get out of the car and I was very disoriented because it was late and I was like, “We’re not at grandmother’s house.” She said, “Do you know where we are?” And I was like, “No.” And then she’s like, “We’re at Disney World!” My mom was always good at doing good surprises like that.
Onda: So many girls dream about being a Disney princess, so I can imagine the competition to play Belle in this production was intense.
Quintana: Oh, yes. They saw thousands of girls, apparently. I think our director said they saw close to 2,500 girls throughout the whole audition process. After my first initial audition, I went through 11 rounds of callbacks over a five-month period. [laughs] But, hey, worth it.
Onda: What is it that you love about the Belle character?
Quintana: I think one of my favorite things about Belle is that she is such a strong character. She isn’t a damsel in distress. She’s her own leading lady in her life, and she ends up being the one who saves the Beast. I think she’s such a good role model for girls and boys and even adults to see that you can be strong and you can be smart and that’s a good thing. She isn’t afraid to be strong and be bold and I love that.
Onda: With a character that is so famously defined like Belle, and considering how protective Disney is of the continuity of its characters, is there any room to make this version of Belle your own?
Quintana: I think, in anything, there’s a little bit of room to do that. We have a very good outline, and one of the things they liked about me and the reason they cast me is because they’re like, “You’re personality is very similar to Belle.” I think they try to bring people in who are kind of in that realm already. I’m sure there’s some things I’ve made my own quirky self. [laughs]
Onda: What’s the most challenging part of playing the character?
Quintana: I think, honestly, probably one of the most challenging scenes is a scene in the castle where Belle goes to rescue her father. It’s a very physical scene, and directly after I’m being thrown around and yelling on stage, I have to sing a song. You really have to keep your breaths moving while you’re doing the scene beforehand because you have to remember, “I have to sing a song in a second.” That is one of the biggest challenges, to remember to be breathing properly while I’m acting and getting thrown around.
Onda: When you go on stage every night, what’s the scene or song you’re most excited to perform for an audience?
Quintana: One of my favorite moments is when Belle runs downstage and she sings the line from the movie: “I want adventure in the great white somewhere.” It’s one of my favorite lines from the show, I think it’s beautiful. I really, really love that moment in the show.
Onda: The costumes in the show are incredible, of course, and Belle has her iconic yellow gown. Do you remember the first time you put it on?
Quintana: Yep. I do remember that – my first fitting in New York. It was an emotional experience. It was an exciting day for me.
Onda: Like many people, I’ve seen the animated “Beauty and the Beast” movie a few hundred times and I’ve seen the stage show at Walt Disney World another hundred times. What is it about this show that brings something new and different to the story?
Quintana: One of the really special things about this one is that—we like to joke that it’s the movie 2.0—it’s all the same characters and objects you know and love from the movies, but there are six or seven new songs in the show that aren’t in the movie. It’s all the same stuff you already know, plus more. What could be better than that? More “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Beauty and the Beast” is now touring across the country. Click here for more show information.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.