“It was created out of desperation,” said Matt West, choreographer of the hit Broadway musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” of the show’s popular “clinking mug” dance number.
For those who would see the musical for the first time during its Manila run this month, the mug-clinking dance sequence features muscular villain Gaston and his bar mates in a pub scene. Some 20 performers, each carrying two brew-filled beer steins, dance while banging their mugs against those of the ones next to them, in perfect rhythm and on cue.
“Gaston sings about how he can do everything better than everybody else, even spit better,” West told the Inquirer in October, on the night “Beauty and the Beast” premiered at Istanbul’s Zorlu Center PSM, one of the world’s largest performing arts venue.
“I had 18 versions of that number,” West recalled. “The original cast and I would learn new versions in the afternoon and they’d perform it at night. We even did a version where they cartwheeled over chairs and Gaston walked down in between them. I remember saying, ‘No, it’s still not right.’”
West recalled when he finally had his light-bulb moment: “I was with my assistant and the original Gaston one night after the rehearsals. We were having beer while talking about the number. We had all agreed that we’d eventually figure out what was lacking and then we clinked our beer mugs. Then I said, ‘Wait a minute! That’s it! Clinking beer mugs!’ That’s how we got the original Gaston, who didn’t really dance, involved.”
The biggest challenge, said West, was for him and director Rob Roth to pick 30 performers from 9,000 actors from all across America.
“We got some pretty talented and well-rounded people,” he said. Roth added: “I knew they were talented when I hired them. Later, I learned that they’re also very responsible, and that they’re determined to bring their best to the show, which they have done so far.”
Roth, who received a Tony Award nomination for his Broadway directorial debut with the musical, said the best way to motivate actors was “to show them how passionate you are about your own work. I devoted a big chunk of my life to creating the show. I care about it.”
Roth added that the “tone” of the show should come from its leaders.
“Matt and I are leading it. If we treat each other with respect and kindness, it would filter down to everybody. It’s important that 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.”
A classic fairy tale from 18th-century France, “Beauty and the Beast” revolves around Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince cursed by an enchantress. To break the curse, the Beast should learn to love and be loved in return. However, if the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his entire household will be doomed forever.
Darick Pead, who plays the Beast, said performing with all the prosthesis and makeup was the toughest challenge.
“They kind of help me out. These actually allow me to act through something, exactly what the Beast is trying to do—act through so much stuff,” he explained. “I do get [skin] breakouts but, so far, the makeup people have done a really good job.”
Hair designer David Lawrence explained that Pead would often use “a barrier cream that protects his face because he has to do the show eight times a week. So does Gaston—we glue his side burns down.”
Lawrence said it was good that the technology for makeup has already gotten sophisticated.
“Most are considered hypoallergenic,” he pointed out. “It’s just that some people happen to be more allergic than others.”
He recalled an experience with an actress whose skin broke out from wearing a wig. “It turned out that she was allergic to her own sweat. Where the wig was touching her was collecting sweat and that made her break out.”
To remedy the problem, Lawrence made use of antiperspirant powder on the actress’ scalp.
Lawrence added: “There are a lot of different techniques to make things work. But in order for Darick to feel comfortable, we made sure that his wig was very lightweight.”
Lawrence said he was confident all the props would be usable in Manila, despite its tropical climate.
“Most of our wigs are synthetic,” he explained. “We’ve planned ahead so that as the props travel, they are easy to take care of and their style will hold up to the tropical sun and humidity.”
The props travel with two of his most trusted team members, he said.
With the magnitude of the production and makeup involved, Lawrence said he made sure to hire local stylists.
“We do this in every market. We have them run the show backstage with my people,” he said. “It would be great if they knew something about wigs and hairstyling. They will not be made responsible for any makeup, but I would want to have somebody who likes theater, someone who is willing to learn by working on a big production like this.”
International tour planner Liz Koops, CEO of Broadway Entertainment Group, said the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in Pasay City was “the only venue option” in Manila.
“It’s well-renowned,” she declared. From here, the production goes to Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Kazakhstan and, finally, Macau.
“Everything will be transferred to the CCP, including the floor,” said theater company manager Kristin Stewart in Istanbul in October last year. “It will be taken apart, stacked together and then shipped out. Nothing is done locally in the countries we go to—just fixes in case something breaks.”
The company consists of 60 people—30 cast members, 11 band members, 15 crew members, two parents who look after the two Chip characters, and two show managers.
After debuting in Istanbul in October, “Beauty and the Beast” made its way to Abu Dhabi, Thessaloniki, Trieste and Milan. It features an all-American cast led by Hilary Maiberger (as Belle), Hassan Nazari-Robati (Lumiere), Adam Dietlein (Gaston), and Charlie Jones and William Poon (alternating as Chip).
Asked how he would invite Pinoy macho men to see the show, Pead said: “That’s easy! We have Gaston and the Beast. We have really great costumes. There’s funny stuff, too. Gaston and LeFou, his sidekick, are always hilarious. It’s a great musical. That’s why I think it’s so successful. It actually appeals to everybody, not just to kids and women, but even to macho men.”
The ongoing Manila presentation has been extended until Feb. 1, according to a joint advisory sent by producers Disney Theatrical Productions, NETworks and Broadway Entertainment Group, together with Ovation Productions. They opted to cancel some play dates that coincide with Pope Francis’ visit to Manila from Jan. 15 to 19.