Marc Robin and the cast and crew of Fulton Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast have created a magical and enchanting experience that truly draws the audience into the world of this beloved story. From the moment people enter the Fulton Theatre they are greeted with an elegant and joyous holiday display that puts one in the holiday spirit and then once the show begins members of the audience will be captivated by an exquisitely grand musical. It is a show full of stunning sets, beautiful costumes and a cast that is so full of enthusiasm for this show that they transport audiences into the world of Disney and Beauty and the Beast. Personally, I have seen this production done many times over the years, but I have never seen a production as stunning as this one.
I had the pleasure of speaking to four member of the cast Lexi Rabadi who plays Belle, Matt Farcher who plays the Beast, Nathaniel Hackmann who plays Gaston and Ethan Carlson who plays LeFou. What immediately struck me about this group was the level of camaraderie they displayed as soon as they sat down to speak with me. These four fine actors are passionate about the show, and they constantly expressed how blessed and honored they were to be a part of this production. I spoke with all four of them about the roles they play, and also what it is like to bring Disney magic to the stage every night as well as the first theatre experience they can remember that impacted them personally. The Fulton Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is onstage through January 7, 2017, do not miss a chance to see this enchanting production.
Kelli Curtin: What can audiences expect when coming to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Fulton Theatre?
Nathaniel Hackmann (Gaston): In an ideal situation any performing art is the combination of all of the best parts of art in general – you will see amazing visuals, amazing singing, dancing, and acting, and hopefully the entire show will be outstanding. I can say with authority, I have been a part of six different casts of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and this is by far the most amazing production I have been a part of. The cast is incredible, the set is incredible and the audiences are incredible. The experience itself is unlike any I have ever had.
The audiences really have been incredible. And, I think that is as cool for the people in the audience as it is for us on stage because the audience is enjoying the experience of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as well. For example, there is a very specific moment in the show where Belle slaps Gaston across the face really hard. Last night Lexi (Belle) got me really good, the slap could be really heard throughout the audience. One little girl shrieked and another yelled “You get him!” The experience of the audience responding and reacting with each other is such a cool thing to be a part of. This production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a family experience, and is everything a person could possibly want with the arc of a character. Particularly with our Beast and Belle, they have a self-realization, and it is an amazing and incredible life altering story for all of the people involved who are in the castle and who have this bleak hopelessness. The people who live in the castle are going to be objects for the rest of their lives, and through love their lives are changed and brought back to a sense of normalcy. Also, this show is exactly what we all wanted which is a woman coming into the west wing, and making changes that make our world better.
Matt Farcher (Beast): I have also done the Disney tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with Nate. We have had friends come to see the show at the Fulton who were in the tour with us. They said it was really refreshing to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast be unique. There are enough moments in the show that will be recognizable to those who have seen the Disney movie or the Broadway production, but there are also moments that are unique to this version. That is due to how Marc [Robin] directed it, and how the actors he cast work together. This production at the Fulton is a fresh view of the story, and I think people are drawn to this.
Ethan Carlson (LeFou): I feel like the way Marc directed the show made it different. For example, he really wanted the castle where the Beast lives to be a magical other world. There are people who are literally in the columns to make it more of a living castle. There are people inside of the stairs moving them, so it gives this feel as if the whole castle is moving instead of just pieces of the castle. It makes a stark contrast from where Belle resides where nothing moves at all, and then the audience is transported to the magic of the castle where everything moves. Also, the projections in this show are just stunning.
Nathaniel (Gaston): The projections for this show are amazing. They spent so much time refining and refining and refining. We had an extraordinary amount of time in the tech process, I think it was five days, and normally it is two or three days. They spent a big chunk of time really making the technical aspect appear seamless. Between that and the incredible costumes, which are just amazing. There is a picture of Lexi (Belle) trying on her gold dress for the first time and she is emotionally moved by being transformed by a dress. On a whole, this show is just such a neat thing to be a part of.
Kelli: Could you tell me what the experience is like to play roles that portray characters that are so familiar to people? How do you put your own spin on these characters?
Matt (Beast): The first day of rehearsal our Lumiere, played by James Patterson, was so ready to go with this show. He was really prepared, and we all tried to catch up to him, and after that it felt as if everything just fell into place. We were able to listen a lot more because we were trying to give the show and our characters everything we could. This gave us the opportunity to make choices about our characters very quickly and listen to others choices as well. The rehearsal process became “what are we doing with the character” instead of “what do we think we should be doing”, and that really helped put our own spin on the characters. It gave us the chance not to emulate someone else’s portrayal, but create our own. We credit James Patterson for really jumping into the process, and we all followed.
Lexi Rabadi (Belle): You are so right, the people involved with this production are a family of listeners. Also, we really went through the process and stripped our characters down to bare bones. We tried to figure out who our characters are. It will always be different depending on who is playing the character, and we had to find out how we related to our characters. Personally, I find I relate to Belle in a huge way. She is nerdy and quirky, and so am I. I find you see these overarching themes in the characters. For example, we know Belle is a Disney Princess, but she is also about family first. She does not put up with misogynistic dopes. She is strong, she is empowered, she is smart, she longs for adventure and she does not care about looks. For me, it is all about stripping down to the bare bones of Belle and figuring out who she is besides the Disney Princess and what she is looking for and what she stands for. Over the rehearsal process this character comes together to be the Belle audiences see on the stage.
Working with our director, Marc, also helps to put our own spin on the show. First day of rehearsal, Marc came in to say this is going to be Disney’s Beauty and the Beast like you have never seen it done before. This got everyone on board to really make this show special.
Ethan (LeFou): I know for me the first couple days in rehearsal I gave LeFou a character voice. Marc talked to me and said this is not the Disney animated movie version, and for me this was difficult because when I think of LeFou I always think of the animated version with the funny character voice, as well as LeFou constantly falling and tripping. However, then I stripped down this character, and used my own voice for LeFou. I got away from the LeFou in the animated movie because I did not want to replicate that character. I wanted to create a character of my own, and to do this I stripped LeFou down to just a human being. I wanted to find out the motivation behind the tripping and falling. That is what makes this show so different for the audience, we are not always doing those stereotypical things that they expect to see.
Nathaniel (Gaston): To add on to that I think a huge kudos needs to go to Marc personally. For me, my experience begins with the audition. Auditioning for Marc is unlike any New York audition I have ever been to. Marc spent at least five minutes talking to me about playing Gaston previously, and wanted to know if I saw myself as a “professional Gaston.” In other words, Marc was asking me if I would be open to playing this character differently than I had in other productions. I was welcoming to that idea because I wanted to have a fresh interpretation of Gaston. Marc explained in the audition that this production will be unlike any you have done before. I think Marc went into it from the beginning with the casting saying what can we do to make this Fulton Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. He wanted the show to be something extraordinary. Marc cast it a little bit differently to be unlike anything you have seen. I think a lot of the reason the production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is different is because of his vision from the very beginning.
Lexi (Belle): Marc is a storyteller. He really knows how to tell the story in his truthful way. Marc is deliberate, playful and passionate, and his compassionate leadership is what brings this story to life. We love working with him.
Kelli: What is it like to bring the magic of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to stage?
Lexi (Belle): Being in this show is so amazing, and every night I am just genuinely grateful to be in this production. It is wonderful to be able to tell this story. Marc used the word “heartbeat” early on in the process, like this show has a heartbeat beginning in the rehearsal room. It begins with the casting like Nate just spoke about. However, there is a heartbeat throughout the living castle, the whole thing is moving, it is this beautiful and magical entity in itself. Being in this show is a lot of fun, and right now this story is timely, it is needed because love has the power to change things. I know it may sound corny, but I whole heartedly believe love keeps the world turning. I think the cast needs this magic, I think Lancaster needs it, and in general, the world needs more stories about love. It is such an honor to be able to bring this story to life in Lancaster. We get the chance to see these little girls in the front row who are so excited to be witnessing the story of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It is so amazing to realize that you are moving someone in the audience. Knowing we are able to touch someone’s heart is why we do this, the way we can affect people on stage is why we do this, and having the ability to be in this show and perform for audiences is just magical.
Nathaniel (Gaston): I read this article about the new Disney film, Moana, and how it is all the wonderful things people love about Disney, how its timing is perfect and how the story is beautiful. When I read that I thought no one does it like Disney does. There just is not another organization that has based their whole mantra on the way they affect people and emotionally move people. Disney just knows how to affect people for good. I know there are people who have issues with Disney, but when it comes down to it there is just no better or more effective company at creating these pieces that give you all the emotional feelings like Disney. Being in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is just an amazing thing to be able to do.
Kelli: Could you tell me about some memorable moments you experienced while being in this show?
Nathaniel (Gaston): One thing that happened to us that was super exciting was Marc Robin pulled us all into the green room and talked us through how the show is selling like gangbusters and how amazing it has been, and how this is the longest programmed show that the Fulton has ever done. He also explained that the demand for the show is so high compared to the number of tickets that are available. We have been able to insert some additional performances in various places, but that still was not meeting with the demand. Marc continued to explain that ticket sales died down a bit the week of Thanksgiving, and he wanted to give it a few days to see if the sales bounced back. He wanted to hit a certain number of sales, and then we would talk about possibly extending the show. The whole cast was excited about the idea of a possibility of an extension. We were all holding our breath about the extension because we all really do love being able to perform in this show. Marc continued on telling us that the numbers came back and they did not meet the number they were hoping for, instead they exceeded the goal by a hundred seats, so we are doing the extension. Everyone in that room burst into applause. This was just an amazing announcement and we all feel so blessed to be able to do this show in general. We know how rare this opportunity is to get an extension on a regional show, and the buzz we are getting is amazing. We are all so excited!
Ethan (LeFou): One of the more memorable moments for me is this: I have known Lexi Rabadi, who plays Belle, for several years, and we went to school together. Before she goes on for the opening number I have to make sure I am there when she goes on, and my favorite part is watching her have the chance to go onstage every night as Belle. To watch her play this magical character moves me to tears almost every night.
Lexi (Belle): There are so many memorable moments. There was a night during the number “Be Our Guest” when James Patterson, who plays Lumiere, got raucous applause. This happens occasionally, but the first night this happened I was standing close to him, and I loved the fact that he gets that applause. I remember watching him and seeing that he was not quite sure what to do with it, and I could see how honored he was. Watching him perform in a show stopping moment is amazing and the applause is much deserved. I was thrilled for him in this moment because I wanted to join in with the applause as well. Moments like this it really feels like the audience just gets it and is right there with us for the entire show. It is this cool idea that we are all in this big room together experiencing the show all together at the same time.
Matt (Beast): During tech, I think it was the first day of tech, some of us were in the back running the castle lines, and we would all take over other people’s parts. In this time, I got to read Belle’s lines for a whole scene and Katie [Sina, who plays Babbette] would read the lines of the Wardrobe. We all just sat around laughing and having a good time while working on the show. This is such a minute detail, but it was also such a great bonding moment because we were all having a great time yet working and being creative.
Kelli: Since this show will have a huge impact on the audience, especially the younger audience members, could you tell me what the first show you saw onstage was that had an impact on you?
Matt (Beast): My first show was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and it was the first show I ever saw on Broadway, and it was amazing. I don’t know if I fully understood everything about the show because I was eight years old, but I knew it was the most magical thing ever. At eight, I did not know I wanted to do theatre professionally, but I knew the show was magical. Then in high school I thought maybe I wanted to be an actor. Out of college I had the opportunity to be in the tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and now I am doing the show again at the Fulton. The first real life lesson I learned and took to heart is that every show will be someone’s first show and possibly someone’s last show. I learned that from the director of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Every single time I step onstage I think about that.
Nathaniel (Gaston): I grew up around theatre, so I do not have a specific memory about the first show I ever saw. My parents met doing Once Upon a Mattress in high school and the day I was born, I was born at 6:26 pm and my dad’s call was at 7:00 pm that day. So he was there to see me be born and then ran to the theatre into a show. However, the first show I really remember affecting me was the 10th Anniversary Les Misérables PBS special. That is the one show I remember actively watching and being affected by it. Also, my Broadway debut was the recent revival of Les Misérables. That show is epic and had a lot of heart.
Ethan (LeFou): The first show I ever saw was Hairspray in Chicago. I always knew I wanted to do this, but when I saw Hairspray it exceeded every expectation. Seeing that show solidified that I wanted to be an actor.
Lexi (Belle): I do not remember my first show exactly, but I remember going to a local theatre, Park Playhouse. We went there every summer, and that is where this passion for theatre was born in me. I remember seeing a bunch of shows: The Wizard of Oz, Once on This Island and West Side Story. For me, it was more about the experience, it is an amphitheater, it is outdoors and we could take a picnic and watch a show.
Kelli: Why, in your opinion, is live theatre important?
Matt (Beast): Live theatre is so important for a few reasons – one, is you should shut your phone off and get lost in the world of theatre for a couple hours. Also, there is always someone you can relate to in live theatre. One of the characters will always hit a chord for some reason with someone and you will think a little differently at least for that night. You will see things from a new perspective, and maybe have a conversation you would not have had before having seen a live theatre production. When things are televised they can be edited over and over until it is the shot that someone else wants. Whereas in live theatre it is what is most important in that moment. In this particular production, with the actors who listen as they do, no one lets you check out. You are always making eye contact, you have to be present at all times in this show. It is important to be able to get lost for a few hours in a show and there is always something relatable in live theatre.
Lexi (Belle): For me it is a big room with a bunch of people in it, at the same time and experiencing one thing together. That is an energetic thing for me and is so cool. It is about balance and connectedness. It is a kinetic thing that we are all a part of one thing in one moment. In a theatre you are sharing an experience or laughter with someone you do not even know. Live theatre is about human connection.
Ethan (LeFou): I have heard from directors that our last scene partner is not here until the audience comes. In other words, you don’t know how every scene is going to go because the audience reacts differently every night. My mom is a therapist, and when she was in college all her professors advised that one of the best things a therapist can recommend is to go see live theatre. Live theatre is a way to escape all the negative in one’s life, and is a way to keep a person present and involved for a few hours. There is always something to watch, and a person can really get lost in a live show being performed in front of them. The audience is also part of the story, and every one, in some way, wants to be part of a story.
Nathaniel (Gaston): Live theatre is an amalgamation of all the best parts of Art. What that is in its ideal form for me is an exploration of truth. Specifically about emotional truth and interpersonal truth and self-realization. We know Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is not a factual play, and much of live theatre is not based on fact, it is based in truth, which is different. It is the exploration of that thing that is unidentifiable that is so important for us to exemplify and portray. Personally, I want to be a purveyor of truth, I want to be a person who expresses truth and makes it available to people who would not get that truth in any other way. Through live theatre, and all the wonderful things we are able to do on stage, we get to express certain truths that are unattainable any other way.
Lexi Rabadi, Matt Farcher, Nathaniel Hackmann and Ethan Carlson can be seen in the Fulton Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Fulton Theatre has now been extended through January 7, 2017. For more information and tickets please visit their website at www.thefulton.org or call the box office at 717-397-7425.
Photos courtesy of Fulton Theatre; Photo Credit: Kinectiv
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.