Today we are talking to the titular leading lady of the Oscar-winning Disney classic BEAUTY & THE BEAST, Paige O'Hara, all about her experience acting as the voice of Belle and what it was like to be an essential element of the enormous success that the lauded family favorite has enjoyed for more than twenty years, as well as her impressions of the new 3D film experience currently in movie theaters nationwide in honor of its 20th anniversary (also available on Blu-ray in standard definition and 3D). In addition to all about her role as a Disney Legend-indoctrinated princess, O'Hara also sheds some light on her Broadway and theatre career, having starred in LES MISERABLES, OKLAHOMA!, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD and the onstage revival and subsequent complete John McGlinn symphonic recording of SHOW BOAT. Additionally, O'Hara details her many collaborations on BEAUTY & THE BEAST, such as composers Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, in addition to previous InDepth InterView participant Angela Lansbury and this week's upcoming InDepth InterView subject - the Beast himself - Robby Benson. Plus, news on O'Hara's Judy Garland bio-musical - FROM GUMM TO GARLAND: JUDY, THE MUSICAL - and her new role as a Disney Fine Arts artist, as well as much, much more!
BEAUTY & THE BEAST on Blu-ray and DVD is available here or you can visit the official site here.
Also, be sure to catch the full experience of BEAUTY & THE BEAST 3D while you can, in theaters nationwide now!
Beauty, Judy & Belle
PC: We're in a new age of musical theatre appreciation in all areas of entertainment these days, it seems. Do you think that that is true?
PO: That is so true - so true.
PC: Are we in a special time in other ways? Has technology afforded us the chance to have access to theatre in a new way, do you think?
PO: Oh, definitely! I mean, even I have come around - I hated computers and everything at first. Now, I've got my new Kindle Fire and I'm on the internet all the time now, too. [Laughs.]
PC: Do you Tweet?
PO: I haven't been doing the Tweet-ing. I usually do it just to read, basically. You know, just the other day I was looking up Angela Lansbury and watching her do "If He Walked Into My Life" from MAME.
PO: Yeah! I was like, "Oh, wow! I can watch Angie singing."
PC: She is such a class act and was an absolute delight when she did this column. Could you tell me about working with her? She spoke about being quite influential in creating her character.
PO: That's what's so funny about Angie - she was so nervous about that song! She didn't even want to sing it for press conferences, initially - I sang it in the press conferences. She said, "Oh, there's so much line to it and I don't really sing like that anymore - I don't know if I can do it." So, she worked with Howard and Alan on it, and, then, we got to the recording session. Full symphony orchestra and we're all singing live with them; they give her an hour-and-a-half timeslot - well, she gets behind the microphone, and, first take, she nails it. Not only does she nail it on the first take, but everyone in the studio is crying! [Laughs.]
PC: Wow. What a memory!
PO: She's brilliant. She's brilliant. She's a great actress and she's a great singer.
PC: You can say that again.
PO: Going back to when I was starting out in New York - I was 17 and I literally snuck in to the theatre at intermission just to see her in GYPSY. Six times!
PC: The first Arthur Laurents production.
PO: Oh, my gosh - yes! She's my favorite Rose of all-time. Not to slight any of the other Roses, but she was just something else.
PC: Some it survives on YouTube. Incredible stuff.
PO: I actually got to talk with her about it when we were doing BEAUTY & THE BEAST - she said, "Paige, you've got it!" I was like, "You played her like a little child! A little, bratty child who wanted so much." It just made her more lovable as that character somehow. [Pause.] It's something that I will never forget.
PC: When she slapped the stage at the end of "Rose's Turn" - what a moment.
PO: It's riveting!
PC: How precisely did you get involved with BEAUTY & THE BEAST in the first place? Howard Ashman had known your stage work, correct?
PO: Yes, he did. Actually, I found out after I was cast that he was a huge fan of my SHOW BOAT recording.
PC: The John McGlinn 3-disc masterpiece recording.
PO: Yes - he was a huge fan of that recording. And, he had also seen me play Ellie in SHOW BOAT on Broadway with Donald O'Conner.
PC: Did he have a special affection for that show in particular, do you think?
PO: Oh, absolutely. In fact, Howard and I talked about Oscar Hammerstein because he is my favorite lyricist other than him - and, Howard said, "Well, you put me in pretty good company!" [Laughs.]
PC: Did Howard seem in good health during your time spent with him?
PO: He knew that he was sick, but he was pretty healthy for the first couple of years. It really wasn't until right around the opening - the last six months - when he got really, really sick and went to the hospital. In fact, right before the press conference, he hadn't really heard Angie sing it yet - the title song of BEAUTY & THE BEAST - so Alan Menken had me over to his house. And, I sang through it and he taught it to me and he said, "We gotta call Howard - he hasn't heard anybody but me sing this." So, I sang "Beauty & The Beast" to him over the phone.
PC: Incredible. What was his reaction?
PO: Oh, he said, "You sound so beautiful," and, really, that was the last time I got to just chat with Howard. But, he was on the phone, in the booth, when I recorded "Something There". He did get one little message to me before he passed away: when I was recording [Sings.] "New and a bit alarming," and, I was singing it a little bit too perfectly; it was a little too straight. So, he said, "Put a little Streisand in there!" So, I went, [Sings.] "Al-arm-ing," and, he said, "That's it! That's what I want." It was just amazing to work with him.
PC: Are you a big fan of Barbra Streisand? Is she a foremost influence of yours?
PO: Oh, absolutely. I mean, growing up, it was Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Mary Martin and Julie Andrews.
PC: Julie Andrews is exquisite, as well. Truly spectacular.
PO: Oh, yes. I actually got to spend the evening with her at an event! I was so shy to even imagine going up and saying anything to her, but my husband was like, "Stop it!" [Laughs.] So, we went over to her and we started talking. She ended up hanging out with Michael and I all evening and it was an amazing, amazing experience. I just idolize her so much.
PC: A living legend.
PO: MARY POPPINS is still my favorite movie. I mean, I could be in the worst mood in the world, but if I put in MARY POPPINS, I will be happy. [Laughs.]
PC: And you both are an essential part of the Disney legacy - plus, you both appeared in ENCHANTED in some capacity. Have you heard anything about the progress of ENCHANTED 2?
PO: I haven't heard yet. I would love it if my soap part could come back, though.
PC: Did you happen to cross paths with featured star Idina Menzel on the film at any point?
PO: Well, for me, ENCHANTED was just that one day and I just did the one scene, so I really only got to meet her at the party afterwards. But, I did meet Idina at the party, and I said, you know, "Oh, I am so happy for you and I think it's so fantastic."
PC: Are you a WICKED fan?
PO: Oh, yeah! I loved it. I wish I could have seen Idina in it. I saw it in London when Disney had me on a press tour there and I just loved it. I thought it was great.
PC: What are your thoughts on the stage version of BEAUTY & THE BEAST versus the film? Have you sung any of the new Tim Rice/Alan Menken songs - "A Change In Me", perhaps?
PO: I haven't done that, but, my husband and I did a 20-city tour of Japan, and I added "Home" for the tour and people just went crazy for it. I think Tim Rice really, really got the flavor of Howard's work when they added "Home" and "A Change In Me", and, of course, the great song at the end of Act One for the Beast.
PC: Of course - "If I Can't Love Her".
PO: I think that of all the Disney films that have gone to Broadway, BEAUTY & THE BEAST is probably the closest to the movie.
PO: I also love the fact that the Beast got more songs. I actually saw my husband play the Beast onstage, which was really funny.
PC: No way!
PO: Michael Piontek - he played it in Los Angeles with Susan Egan.
PC: It's all your worlds wrapped up in one.
PO: Yes - and it was so wonderful. You know, Michael loved Robby's performance so much. He had to make it bigger, of course, since it's on stage - but he tried to capture heart of the piece that Robby had in the film.
PC: What was it like working with Robby in the studio?
PO: You know, we were the first ones to do it this way - they always put you in a booth by yourself, but Robby and I requested to work together. And, it's a lot more time-consuming - and more expensive - but, ultimately, it made the relation of Belle and the Beast in the film work.
PC: Immediacy and intimacy.
PO: Yes, and, we could feed off of each other. Truthfully, Robby made my performance better. He is a great actor. I remember when he was first cast people were going, "What?" - but he can do anything! That's his voice. He can do that stuff.
PC: Do you feel that the opening musical sequence following the Prologue is one of the finest in movie musical history?
PO: I do. I really do.
PC: What was it like now seeing it in 3D?
PO: I loved it! I loved it because it was not abrasive. You know, some of these 3D movies, things are flying at you and you have a headache by the end of the movie. They didn't do that. They totally did the 3D for depth. You know, I got signed with Disney Fine Arts a couple of years ago, so I am doing oil paintings for BEAUTY & THE BEAST and I just appreciate the artists so much.
PC: Congratulations! That's so fascinating - being Belle to painting her yourself.
PO: Thank you! You know, you don't really pay that much attention to certain details - the castle and stuff - in the original film; but, in 3D, it is so magnified that it is like stepping into a Da Vinci painting!
PC: Totally. Of course, the ballroom scene in the original was a prototype of modern 3D animation.
PO: Absolutely. That was essentially 2D and then they created the facility to use a third camera. It's just mind-boggling. It was mind-boggling initially, but, now, it's even more so.
PC: The ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS and the sequels, as well as the KINGDOM HEARTS, have also given you some great opportunities to further explore the character of Belle.
PO: Yes, the ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS was great fun, too. And, I finally got to work with Bernadette [Peters]!
PC: What was that experience like?
PO: Oh, she was just amazing! I love to sing with her. Our voices just… [Pause.]
PO: Yes! I remember that I did come in at one point and I was supposed to sing the melody and she was going to sing the harmony, but, she said, "Oh, Paige, I really haven't had time to learn the harmony, would you do it?" So, Michael Starobin and I went in the other room and I learned the harmony. Then, we did the song and I realized she was right - it worked better. She was right.
PC: Donna Murphy has done this column and she is a fellow Disney diva thanks to TANGLED. You two did THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD on Broadway together, did you not?
PO: Oh, yes - I love Donna Murphy! The only time I was ever a standby in my career was for Donna Murphy.
PC: So you two got to share the stage a few times, then, too?
PO: Actually, yes - I got to play Rosabud with her Drood a couple of times! [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious.
PO: We were very different - I was a little bit more the Betty Buckley Drood; a little more athletic Drood. But, you know, she was very supportive of me back then. After I did the Broadway show, I got to create the national tour with George Rose and that was such a dream for me to be able to do.
PC: George Rose was so talented and we lost him so tragically. Do you have memories of that period of time and what it was like?
PO: You know, some of us knew what had happened. George just loved that child so much - there was nothing sexual or bad about that relationship. Then, when it happened, we all thought, "There's something up with this." It was the three of us - Tony and Michael and I - that called the newspapers and said, "You must look into this - this does not sound right to us."
PC: The facts didn't add up.
PO: I remember us telling George that - that there's gotta be something up with this. And, he would say, "Oh, no, no - I just bought him a surf shop for he and his girlfriend." George was just such a loving, but somewhat innocent person, in some ways. He just loved that child so much.
PC: It ended so terribly.
PO: I know. [Pause.] I think George is very happy in Heaven and he's doing all kinds of great parts up there!
PC: I hope so, as well. Lea Salonga has done this column a few times and I'd love to know what you think of her Disney work?
PO: Oh, I've done many concerts with Lea. We did Disney Hong Kong when it opened and, again, recently, when we both got our Disney Legend Award.
PC: What a marvelous honor.
PO: Yes, Lea and I got it together - Anika Noni Rose, Jodi Benson, Lea and me.
PC: Anika was so fantastic in DREAMGIRLS, as well as THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Did you see her in it?
PO: Oh, yeah! I loved it.
PC: What roles would you like to take on in the future? I know you recently did one of the great parts of all time, Nellie in SOUTH PACIFIC.
PO: Yeah, that was great fun - I loved it. This past year I have been doing MENOPAUSE! THE MUSICAL at the Luxor just to keep my chops up, too. We're in our seventh year here.
PC: That show is so popular. Audiences absolutely adore it - everywhere, it seems.
PO: They love it - and, I love it, too! I love it because I get to play the soap star - this bratty part - and make women laugh. It's an hour and a half and people come back again and again and again. It keeps my chops up and I can live at home - and they let me out to go do projects with Disney. And, in this past year, they also let me out to do the Judy Garland project.
PC: Tell me more about that - it sounds so interesting.
PO: Oh, that was a great experience. I have always idolized Judy. I probably spent 2,000 hours studying her.
PC: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is one of the great American films. Do you find her films with Vincente Minnelli are generally her best?
PO: I think so - yes.
PC: Especially the lesser-known - THE CLOCK, THE PIRATE.
PO: Oh, THE PIRATE - oh my gosh, yes!
PC: What is your personal favorite of all her films - A STAR IS BORN, I assume?
PO: Yes - I think you're right. That was finally the role she had always wanted so badly. She was so happy when she made that film - in her marriage and in her life. The fact that she didn't win the Oscar and Grace Kelly did is just so mind-boggling to me, though. [Laughs.]
PC: She is the greatest American movie star, I think. Do you agree?
PO: Yes. I do. I mean, we've gone through a lot of great stars before and since, but I think she is the quintessential greatest performer, actress, singer of my lifetime. The other thing I love about Judy is that she was so funny!
PC: So true.
PO: That's the thing I loved about the musical I worked on about her - we really brought out her humor. There's a quote from Lucille Ball - they asked her if she was the funniest female ever and she said, "No. My writers make me funny. The funniest person ever is Judy."
PC: What a line! How can you top that?
PO: [Laughs.] I know! I know.
PC: What's the future for the show? Are you doing it again?
PO: Oh, yes - we are mounting it again. They are going to kill me if it is three hours long, so the writer is making cuts. It's all an original score with some Judy songs incorporated. The story is just fabulous - Liza, Lorna and everyone is in it. It's just wonderful. It covers her 47 years. We need to make some cuts, but I really think it will be great.
PC: The GLEE Christmas special had a huge homage to her, which is great exposure to a whole new generation who may not have been totally familiar with her.
PO: Oh, I've got to see that! I'm sure I can get it.
PC: Speaking of which: is "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" one of your favorites of hers? What are the essentials, to you?
PO: Oh, yes. So many. "The Man That Got Away". The whole Carnegie concert. "Rainbow" - she hated singing it, but no one sang that song like she did.
PC: And there's the Angela Lansbury/Judy Garland connection with THE HARVEY GIRLS, too.
PO: Oh, I know! Angie was great in that, too.
PC: She was hot stuff in that film!
PO: I know, right? Va va voom! [Laughs.]
PC: So, I'd love to know: did Richard Jay-Alexander put you into LES MISERABLES and rehearse Fantine with you?
PO: Yes, he did! I loved working with Richard Jay. He had such a great handle on the character and he was just so supportive of me. The biggest compliment was him telling me that I did one of the best Fantine death scenes. [Laughs.]
PC: The death scene is integral to the role - there's not much more than a song, a scene and then you die.
PO: You're right - and then there's the whole Cosette scene, too. But, Richard Jay is one of a kind and his passion is just totally inspiring.
PC: How wonderful to hear. Are you looking forward to the forthcoming feature film version with Anne Hathaway as Fantine?
PO: I can't wait! I mean, I normally wouldn't think of that, but, you know what, she has surprised me on many levels in the past, so I suppose she will be brilliant.
PC: Another fellow Disney princess thanks to THE PRINCESS DIARIES.
PO: Of course. Of course.
PC: What is it like to see BEAUTY & THE BEAST back in theaters and a huge hit again, twenty years later?
PO: Oh, I am just thrilled! I went to a special preview last week, and, next thing I know, I had a hundred kids around me after the screening asking for signatures and pictures and stuff. It was funny - you know, normally they don't recognize the face. But, some of them had seen me at Disney conventions and things - die-hard fans. It was all just really fun and really sweet.
PC: And you're on the DVD and Blu-ray, as well - along with all the other great bonus features.
PO: So true. Yes.
PC: I couldn't ask for anything more - this was absolutely awesome. Thank you so very much, Paige. I can't wait to see you in the Judy show and whatever else you do next.
PO: Oh, I have really high hopes for it! Thank you so much, Pat. This was so great. Bye bye.
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|