Hugh Jackman in Beauty and the Beast (1996)

September 9, 2012

90's Flashback, Aussie icons, Movies

Variety Today 1996

Beauty and the Beast Celebrates

ON March 27, 1996, the cast and crew of the $12 million Australian production of Beauty and the Beast celebrated its 300th show.

No one was more excited than the man responsible for first approaching the Disney Organisation with the possibility of staging this major theatrical spectacle in Australia, successful entrepreneur Kevin Jacobsen.

With an estimated 12,000 people each week seeing the Melbourne-based Beauty and the Beast production at the Princess theatre and advance bookings for months ahead, it looks as if its run in the southern capital will be indefinite.

Kevin is in no hurry to move the production to another venue. "It takes three months to move at a cost of $3.5 million," said Kevin, who has brought the production to Australia in conjunction with Disney and Michael Edgely. "The sets, costumes, etc, and finding a venue which can stage such an enormous production ... well, it is a mammoth job, and while we keep attracting `sell-out' crowds we are in no hurry to relocate."

The theatrical spectacular is not only being seen by locals. already, since its official opening on July 8, 1995, Beauty and the Beast has been seen by more than 45,000 interstate visitors, many of whom organised their travel around tickets to the show. Worldwide, productions in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Tokyo, Osaka, Vienna, Detroit and Melbourne have played to about 5 million people combined, in the relatively short time they have been on stage.

Kevin puts the show's popularity down to several major reasons. "It is a famous story, the video was one of the biggest selling ever, Disney developed the show at a huge cost (normally financially prohibitive for theatrical companies) and no expense has been spared on costumes, sound, lighting, set design, computerised technology, and so much more. Beauty and the Beast is known in the theatrical world for its advanced technology. It is, in fact, the biggest show ever in the form of technology, sets, scenery, props, costumes, illusions and movement of sets on stage.

"Although weighing five tonne, the castle moves backwards and forwards on the stage. It really must be seen to be believed," said Kevin, who looks back over the past 18 months and thanks Brian de Courcy for tipping him off about Disney developing the show for stage. He can't speak highly enough of the production, the Australian version of which was the first outside Broadway, says Kevin.

Its success `Downunder' has encouraged the flamboyant entrepreneur to consider further ventures with Disney and perhaps a Broadway musical or two. "The next few years will be an exciting time for theatre-goers in Australia. also for Australian performers who are among the best in the world."

The Jacobsen organisation is well known for its excellent theatrical shows such as A Chorus Line, Return from the Forbidden Planet and Lend Me a Tenor. Kevin also brought out Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson - the single biggest pop music production he has ever attempted. In March next year, Kevin will present what he describes as the `concert event of the decade' when he brings out `The Three Tenors'. In May this year, Mickhail Baryshnikov and the White Oak Dance Project will tour all capital cities. Tickets are on sale now.

In the meantime, Kevin has a `best' of a job keeping up with demand for tickets at one of the most outstanding productions ever staged in Australia - Beauty and the Beast at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne.

April wedding for mischievous Gaston - Hugh Jackman

(VT- 1996)

AUSTRALIA's premiere production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast has done more than delight audiences with its magic and pure entertainment appeal. It has also `discovered' a dynamic new talent in 27-year-old Hugh Jackman who is setting hearts a-fluttering in every performance.

Hugh himself is taking it all in his stride. It seems everything he does in life is an exciting challenge and as a graduate from the Western Australian Academy of performing Arts in 1994, he wasn't expecting a major role to come his way for quite some time.

"When I returned to Sydney from Perth, I managed to get a role in an ABC series, Corelli, playing a criminal - an armed robber with tattoo, etc," said Hugh. "I thought my career would take some time to get off the ground. I was ready to struggle for work - you know, take time to be `discovered', and it was my plan to get into a professional show like Beauty and the Beast within two years."

But, instead, Hugh received a call from his agent telling him she had put him up for the role of `Gaston' in Beauty and the Beast. "I was such a fresh graduate, but I didn't feel the pressure of the audition because I didn't think I had a chance of getting the role. Gaston is rather arrogant, yet comical at the same time, so I played it to the fullest in my audition - you have to love to hate him."

Hugh never dreamt that just a few months after graduating from the academy, he would be playing his first long-term major role. "The longest season I had before that was seven days," he said.

As Gaston, who is determined to wed sweet Belle (Rachael Beck), Hugh produces an energetic performance both physically and vocally. "Gaston is such an emotional character and is physically demanding. I often feel like Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil ... dripping sweat throughout each performance."

Together with his understudy, Scott Irwan, Hugh trains at the gym five times a week as well as two or three sessions with a personal trainer to keep in shape. But there are no complaints. "I am living my boyhood dream as a member of the Beauty and the Beast cast. I just love it and have fun on stage in every show," the handsome young actor said. "I love being cheeky and Gaston is a great fun part."

This month, Hugh will wed the love of his life, actress Deborra-Lee Furness, currently being seen in the television series, Fire. As for a honeymoon, that may have to wait until later in the year when Gaston finally gets a break from pursuing the stage love of his life, Belle.

Proud moment as parents watched - Rachael Beck

VT - 1996

RACHAEL Beck makes a habit of working with a `beast' six days a week but there are no complaints. Starring as `Belle' in the Kevin Jacobsen/Michael Edgely production of Beauty and the Beast at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, Rachael has the greatest respect for the `beast' in her life, Michael Cormick.

"Working with Michael is fantastic. We get along so well and share mutual respect," said the talented 24-year-old, whose character Belle sees through the beast's ugly exterior and falls in love with him. "I love playing Belle because she is a thinker, loves to learn and is strong. She loves her father and wanted more from life - and why shouldn't she? It's what is inside that counts," said Rachael.

In July the production chalks up its first year but, according to Rachael, the cast and herself are still as fresh as the day the production opened in Melbourne. "It is always a challenge. You have to find the truth every single time."

Like her alter ego (Belle), Rachael loves her parents who `gave up so much' to give her a chance to pursue her talents in television and on stage. "I always wanted to be on stage when I was a child growing up in Alstonville. My father was a director and produced lots of shows in the northern New South Wales town and surrounding areas," she said.

I grew up with all the old musicals, singing in the car and I also trained as a classical ballerina. I didn't start acting until I was 15, and my parents sacrificed a great deal - including selling their home - to give me the chance to be on stage."

Rachael says the highlight of her year-long season with Beauty and the Beast so far was being able to perform with her parents in the audience. "I was so proud to have them sitting in the audience - and they just loved the production," said Rachael.

In contrast to her role in Beauty and the Beast, this year sees the release of a new ABC series called `Mercury' in which Rachael plays a drug addict. "It is quite a contrast from Belle."

Rachael will be seen in two of the 13 episodes. In her `spare' time Rachael, who says she is passionate about everything she does, is studying English literature and ancient history at university. She also enjoys photography and likes to `see the world' whenever possible. Morocco is a likely destination for her next overseas trip.

The `Beast' has a secret - and he is not telling! - Michael Cormick

VT - 1996

MICHAEL Cormick says he has never kept such a secret. As the `Beast' in the Melbourne production of `Beauty and the Beast', this dynamic actor is right in the middle of one of the most talked about parts of the show in which he is transformed from the beastly character back into the prince.

It's incredible the number of people who ask me `how is it done', even my mother is trying to get it out of me, but I am sworn to secrecy,' said Michael.

However, the fact that Michael doesn't tell them, is no deterrent to audiences trying to guess. "I have heard some great and sometimes outrageous theories," says Michael. "One person thought the beast was in a balloon and someone stuck a pin in it and I descended from mid air. Another thought the beast was being pulled up by strings."

Michael believes magic has brought a new dimension to theatres. "I have become somewhat of a technician due to my involvement in the Beauty and the Beast illusions and it's a great feeling," said Michael.

Costumes are another key to the success of Beauty and the Beast, according to Michael, 32, who is setting new records in donning his extensive clobber. "I was surprised just how easy it was to become a `beast' but it did take about three hours to adorn the make-up and costume. After all you have to put on the horns, face, lips, reglue the face if it falls off - it's never ending."

After almost a year in the show, Michael has got the task down to two hours and says, between scenes, you would probably find him sitting in front of a fan to cool down.

Playing the `beast' was a role Michael went after with a passion. "I believed I could be a great `beast'." Consistent full houses since the production opened could attest to this.

Michael lives in the forest areas just outside of Melbourne which he says is an appropriate place for a beast to live. "That's where I go for some time out!".

Bert is simply enchanting as Cogsworth

VT - 1996

Bert Newton as Beauty and the Beast's enchanting Cogsworth.

HAVING clocked more than 300 performances in the Premiere Melbourne production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast already, Bert Newton is revelling in the enchantment his role brings to the stage of the Princess Theatre.

Bert plays the stuffy head butler, Cogsworth, who has been transformed into a clock, while his master - the prince - lives life as the `beast' (played by Michael Cormick). His close ally is Lumiere (Tony Harvey) - the prince's faithful valet who now stands tall as a candelabra.

It seems the national television show host and multi-media personality is seen to be rather enchanting himself having previously been the Wizard in the VAC/VSO spectacular, Wizard of Oz, and also played a leading role in the pantomime, Cinderella.

This latest Kevin Jacobsen/Michael Edgley stage extravaganza, which is attracting sell-out crowds, virtually came out of the blue for the much-loved stage, television and radio personality who has a talent for `making people happy'.

"Kevin Jacobsen rang me. I thought he may have wanted me to do something at the show's opening but, instead, he offered me the role of Cogsworth," said Bert. "Apparently, the show's talent scouts had seen me in Cinderella at the State Theatre in Sydney. I was then asked to meet with the American producers and directors and several days later the deal was done."

Bert has since proved to be one of the all-time favourite characters in this multi-million dollar production. "He is wonderful as Cogsworth the clock," said one audience member. "His face just lights up, he really gets into the role and he makes everyone laugh as he waddles across the stage - his costume is just brilliant, although it must be quite a challenge to move in."

Bert says he has got `putting on the costume' down to a fine art. "We do eight performances a week (seven when his show, Goodmorning Australia, is on air) so I have had plenty of practice, and can now get dressed in 20 minutes.

Bert lives by the old showbiz adage: `The show must go on'. The pressure of producing one and a half hours of live television together with a three hour performance on stage each day, does not phase this seasoned performer in the slightest.

"I have often combined interests in the past - such as radio and TV work, etc," he said. "I have always believed that if you are enjoying what you do, then it is not hard work. and, believe me, I'm enjoying it. " So too are the audiences who make up the full houses the show has enjoyed since its opening on July 8 last year (1995).

Bert says, friend Kevin Jacobsen has done an extraordinary job in staging Beauty and tbe Beast in Australia. "You can see just how much time and effort has been injected into the production. Just look at the costuming, magnificent sets, illusions, etc - by opening night $10.5 million had been spent."

The all-Australian production, on licence from Disney, also features some of the country's greatest performers and each, Bert says, brings something unique to their roles. "A great majority of audiences know the story of Beauty and the Beast so it is up to the actors to make it special."

As for Cogsworth, Bert - having not seen the animated version - said he approached the character as he saw him. "He is a warm, likeable and funny character," he said.

Bert is enjoying his role so much that he intends to tour with the production when it moves to Sydney later in the year. "This is a superior production, with many surprises. It is entertainment at its very best and should not be missed."
Bert's son, Matthew, seems to be following in his father's footsteps having this year started a three-year course at NIDA.

Tony leaps into candelabra role

VT - 1996

IT is a leap year, and actor TONY HARVEY won't forget the once-in-four-year date of February 29 in a hurry.

Fresh from touring the country and New Zealand as one of the stars of `Me and My Girl', Tony is the newest recruit in the highly successful Australian production of Beauty and the Beast. He made his debut on February 29 as the faithful valet, Lumiere, stepping into the shoes of his `old buddy' Grant Smith who appeared with him in `Lend Me A Tenor'.

"Grant is such a talented performer. they were big shoes to fill," said Tony as he prepared for `his' opening night.

One of the first things he did when joining the show was to book into a gym. "You need to have great stamina to do the show and to wear the costumes," says Tony.

Tony's character, Lumiere, spends most of the show as a candelabra and the costume is rather large, says the slim actor. "It takes a bit of work to get into the costume. I have to be helped, but there is no shortage of people coming to my aid," he said.

While Tony rehearsed for several weeks before facing the `real' audience, the cast made it easy for him by working to performance level every time. They are just so professional.

Working alongside Bert Newton (Cogsworth), was something to which Tony looked forward. "Bert is wonderful, and a most generous man. He made me feel at ease straight away. He mopped my brow, fussed over me and the rapport was superb."

As far as `opening nights' Tony has had quite a few. One of the first, he said, was at age 16 when he took over the lead role from his brother, George (a member of sucessful show group `The Four Kinsmen' who was called away on tour). Since then there have been Lend Me A Tenor, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Me and My Girl, to name a few. He has also appeared in television series, and his all-round singing, dancing and acting skills have put him in demand in musical theatre, particularly of a comic nature.

Tony saw Beauty and the Beast a number of times as a member of the audience and from that point of view was able to gauge their reaction. "Now I can hear the audience reaction from the stage. Either way, it is simply magic and something I have looked forward to since beginning my rehearsals," said Tony.

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