Telling an iconic tale
We speak to Briana Rapa who will take the stage as Belle when Disney's Beauty and the Beast shows in Dubai for the first time in January 2016.
For the first time ever the magic of Disney's Beauty and the Beast will come to life, live on stage for Dubai audiences as part of its world tour from January 6 - 9 next year at the Dubai World Trade Centre. The iconic musical is celebrating its 21st anniversary and sees the show's original Broadway creative team reuniting to bring this classic tale to life on stage with the direction of Rob Roth, the choreography of Matt West and costume design by Tony Award winner Ann Hould-Ward.
Beauty and the Beast tells the story of a prince transformed into a hideous beast trapped in his enchanted castle as punishment for his vain and selfish ways. Then, an adventurous young woman named Belle finds herself imprisoned in his castle and forced to live with him. In order to become human again, the Beast must earn Belle's love before it's too late, and all the while egotistical, narcissistic, Gaston is determined to marry Belle even if it means killing the Beast.
With seven new songs written for the stage musical, the story comes to life in new and more vivid ways than the original Disney film. Beauty and the Beast ran on Broadway for 5,461 performances between 1994 and 2007, becoming Broadway's ninth longest-running production in history, grossing more than $1.4 billion worldwide and performed in thirteen countries and 115 cities.
Playing the star role of Belle is Briana Rapa who is excited to be making her touring debut with the timeless tale. Having been part of some iconic musicals such as She Loves Me (Ilona Ritter), Footloose (Ariel), A Chorus Line (Maggie), Curtains (Nikki), Hairspray and High School Musical (Gabriella) Briana was still overwhelmed when she nabbed the role of Belle.
"I found out during a layover in North Carolina on my way home to LA and could hardly contain my excitement," she says, "I was still on the plane so I texted my parents 'I GOT IT!' It was so exciting! It's a dream come true to be playing a Disney princess."
From the incredible set design, to the fantastic music beautiful costumes, Briana talks to City Times on her experience playing Belle and why Beauty and the Beast is an iconic and timeless tale.
When did you first get into the performing arts?
I started performing at a really young age. I used to make my parents watch these elaborate one woman shows when I was maybe three or four. They signed me up for dance lessons shortly after that. Performing has been something I've been in love with basically since I was born.
Who are some singers and actors that you have looked up to?
I've always really admired Tom Hanks. I think he's not only a fantastic actor but a fantastic person. I've always admired his ability to stay grounded and humble.
How many auditions did you have before you got the part of Belle?
I auditioned in Los Angeles back in May and had a call back the next day. The next week they flew me to New York to sing for the producers and I had two weeks to pack up my life in Los Angeles and pack a suitcase before rehearsals started.
What kind of preparation and rehearsal have you had to go through for your role as Belle?
I had three weeks of rehearsal in New York and a week in Macau. We actually only had one dress rehearsal and it was the day we opened! We have brush up rehearsals every so often - it's a constant process.
Is it difficult to sing and perform in some of the more elaborate costumes?
Luckily I don't have to sing much in the iconic yellow ball gown. It was definitely a process learning the waltz with the dress. It's like dancing with a third person! We have a pretty good handle on it now, but it was definitely something we had to work on.
What is so special about the tale of Beauty and the Beast? Why do you think the production has been so popular over the years?
There are so many special aspects of Beauty and the Beast. Belle is the first princess who isn't saved by a prince and I think that was extremely important for young girls everywhere to see. She really is the hero of the story.
The show has something for everyone and I think everyone can identify with something in each character, whether it's a candlestick, a clock or a beast. The script is funny and heartfelt, the songs are catchy and clever and the sets and Tony Award winning costumes are so visually stunning. It is a truly special creation and it's no surprise that it has remained relevant for so many years.
What would you say is the moral lesson that can be learnt from Beauty and the Beast?
The moral lesson is seeing through someone's exterior into their heart - don't judge a book by it's cover. Everything emulates that moral throughout the show too. The sets have parts you can see through and each enchanted object has moments the audience is let into their human heart.
What do you enjoy about performing on the stage, live in front of an audience?
What is so great about live theatre is that every show is different. The audience response always adds to a performance, too. We definitely feed off of the crowd's reactions. Having that energy exchange is always really fun.
What has surprised you about playing this role and travelling around the world?
It's been really fulfilling to get people's comments on Instagram or getting to meet fans after the show. It surprised me that the majority of them say it was like watching their childhood fantasy come to life. It is amazing how many people grew up loving Beauty and the Beast everywhere in the world, just like my fellow cast mates and me.
Playing Belle is a dream come true but getting to see the world is the best perk there could be. I love learning about each different culture and how this one beautiful show can break through any language barrier and really touch the lives of anyone, regardless of where they live in the world.