The cast of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” (Photo by Joan Marcus)
This tale as old as time never grows old for Belle and the cast of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”
The lavish Broadway musical that sprang from the animated movie will be bringing all the magic of dancing candlesticks, flirty feather dusters and a little chipped tea cup to the Paramount Theatre stage for two sold-out performances Sunday (2/17).
“We’ve just hit seven months — over 150 shows. It’s amazing, and surprisingly, it has not gotten old or stale for me at all,” says Belle actress Hilary Maiberger, 27, of Redlands, Calif.
“It’s still a challenge every night to keep her honest and likeable and just real. I think that’s one of the hardest things for me to do, because she is a Disney character, but you don’t want to make her cartoony. You just want to keep her real and honest – that’s why the audiences love her so much,” Maiberger says.
“I can’t wait for the next four months I get to do this. I’m so excited.”
The cast finds little ways to keep things fresh, as they travel from city to city, day after day.
“My fellow actors surprise me every night,” she says by phone from Panama City, Fla., before heading to the next tour stop in Montgomery, Ala. “The show for all of us is still not old and we’re still discovering moments. When they make different choices, obviously it surprises me. My fellow actors keep me on my toes, which is so refreshing and so great — and why the show doesn’t get old for any of us.”
Maiberger likes strolling through the lobby after the show, out of costume, out of makeup, just wearing her street clothes.
“I’m usually not recognized. I see all the little girls in their beautiful, beautiful Belle dresses and their little Beast stuffed animals,” she says. “It’s amazing. The audience reaction has been so overwhelming, in a great way. It just reminds me how awesome my job is. The little girls believe that Belle is real. It’s the real world to them, so it’s awesome that I get to tell this story to them every night.”
The Beast and Belle (Photo by Joan Marcus)
It’s the story of a young maiden, 16, who is admired for her beauty, not her brain. She prefers books to boys, dreaming of an adventure to rescue her from her provincial life.
That dream turns into a nightmare when she rescues her father from the dungeon of a dangerous and magical castle ruled by a hideous beast. She begs for her father’s freedom, agreeing to take his place.
The beast is actually a vain and handsome prince, imprisoned for 10 years in the body of a beast because of a witch’s spell. Belle holds the key to his freedom, too, but first, he must learn to love her and she must learn to love him.
Despite a mountain of obstacles and improbabilities, they develop a friendship that grows into love.
“‘Beauty and the Beast’ was my first Broadway show, that I saw when I was 10 years old,” Maiberger says. “I remember telling my mom during the show that I wanted to be Belle when I grew up.
“She’s not your average Disney princess. I’ve played Cinderella and Jasmine, and Belle is my favorite by far. She’s really, really smart. That’s what I really, really love about her. She’s not your damsel-in-distress type of girl. She’s witty, she’s fun, she’s just so beautiful inside and out,” Maiberger says.
“One of greatest things I love about her is that she’s smart. She doesn’t panic. She has control of the situation. And she has this huge passion for something bigger. She has huge dreams, which so many people can relate to. I could go on and on about Belle. She’s odd – she’s a little quirky just like her dad, but she embraces that in the end.
“That’s one of the messages of the show, that it’s OK to be a little different. And of course, she has this amazing ability to love. She falls in love with the Beast for all that he is, and looks past his horns and sharp teeth and mane of hair,” Maiberger says.
“If she was a real person I’d want to be friends with her. She’s amazing.”
Belle’s intelligence and passion help make her a wonderful role model for young viewers – as well as for the adult actress playing the role.
“She loves to read, she loves to learn. She’s just so dedicated to her father, and that relationship is really, really great,” Maiberger says. “She’s open to giving people chances and second chances, and willing to open up her heart to let someone in and help them feel comfortable about who they are. It’s never about her – it’s always about the other person. That’s such a beautiful quality in a person, and you don’t see that a lot in this industry, especially.
“It’s a gift that I actually get to play someone like her and it’s a reminder to keep me grounded. I hope I share some of her qualities. I think I do.”
They do differ in one big way.
“Belle has no need for material things and I love to shop,” Maiberger says with a laugh.
She also identifies with Belle’s quirky ways.
“I’m definitely an oddball in my family,” says Maiberger, who grew up in Yucaipa, Calif., about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. She dabbled in theater a bit in school, but had her heart set on a music career.
“I just wanted to be a pop star,” she says. She cut a demo, hoping for a record deal, and made it to Hollywood Week in “American Idol” season six. In college, however, she discovered the joys of singing and acting, and ventured into musical theater, opera graduate studies and summer stock roles.
“My sisters are business women and so, so smart. They’re both married and settled and I’m single, I’m out on tour traveling, and I get paid to dress up and play a Disney princess. So I’m definitely an oddball in that sense,” she says.
Maiberger embraces Belle’s wit, wisdom and warmth, too.
“Belle is such a good friend. I think I’m a very loyal friend and have huge, huge dreams just like Belle does, and I’ve definitely reached one of these dreams. Those are some of the qualities Belle and I share,” Maiberger says.
“I like to think I’m witty and smart. I have so much passion for life. I’m so excited to see what’s next.”