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Grand Rapids native brings Broadway home for the holidays

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THE FEED

Grand Rapids native Brian Martin returns home as a part of Broadway's touring production of Beauty and the Beast.

Center Brian Martin (holding the shepherd cane)

Center Brian Martin (holding the shepherd cane) /Tim Motley

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“It’s as if the stars aligned,” said Brian Martin, 22-year-old cast member of Broadway’s traveling production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

“I’m the only one out of 60 production members who got to be home for Christmas,” Martin said, smiling through post-show exhaustion as he gave a short backstage tour. 

Sunday, December 30th, marked Brian Martin’s 130th show on the tour since joining the cast last summer. After graduating with a degree in Musical Theatre Performance from Western Michigan University, Martin moved to New York City hungry for auditions. Shortly after arriving, he landed himself a spot as chorus member/ Townsperson/ Enchanted Object, as well as being Lumiere’s understudy. 

“I get to do what I love. But as an artist, I want something more,” said Martin, clearly happy with his role.

However, his first Broadway production hasn’t been enough to put on the Broadway blinders. This open-minded perspective towards his own art and profession showcases how a young graduate can climb the competitive musical theatre ladder known as Broadway, while holding onto their passion, eagerness, love and hope for their trade.

“The set was designed to be similar to a children’s pop-up storybook, and it has a ‘see through’ quality which juxtaposes the themes of the story—to not judge a book by its cover and to see someone for who they truly are inside,” said Martin, while gesturing to one of the castle's moveable magical staircases coated with shades of bright purple and grey. One of Martin’s many roles in this spectacular production is a Gargoyle or an Enchanted Object; they opt out of the use of machines in the movement of the larger pieces of the set and use some of the cast, who move the pieces of the castle around for many of the numbers. When Maurice, tactfully performed by William A. Martin, is tossed from the neighborhood pub, the set is spun around having him tossed through the same door he had just entered. 

The special effects do not disappoint. Using drop down transparent curtains, the stage shifts seamlessly into a gloomy forest, rainy night, or an enchanted backdrop. Every set change fits the bright and dark parts of the plot. The use of puppets as the Enchantress and pack of wolves works wonderfully as well as fitting the overall childlike themes. Darkness is a perfect segue between action and costume changes, and it helps to build the anticipation and tension of the scene. Many of the younger viewers watched openmouthed and wide-eyed as the spell was broken and The Beast, played by Darick Pead, was lifted into the air and a beam of white light, where he shifts back to his human state.

Pead’s mannerisms could not been more suitable for his role as The Beast—crouching instead of sitting in the master’s chair, holding his beastly body in an animalistic fashion, and climbing all over the set with primal strength. His character’s shift from angry, sad and rude to compassionate, happy and polite takes place with the necessary struggle and the audience watches with empathy as he yearns to become a gentleman and win Belle’s heart. 

Belle, played beautifully by Hilary Maiberger, displays the character’s longing for adventure and something more than the small town has to offer. She finds refuge in many of her books but still is more down to earth than most of the townspeople are willing to realize. Maiberger does well to present the roller-coaster of emotion Belle goes on throughout the show. Although distraught at times, she is able to keep her charm and appeal. It’s hard to not look at her, just as it is hard for the castle’s servants to obey their master’s inhospitable orders.

Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Babette, Madame de la Grande Bouche and Chip, respectively played by Hassan Nazari-Robati, James May, Erin Edelle, Jessica Lorion, Shani Hadjian, (on this particular show) Charlie Jones, masterfully create the enchanted world. Each of their objects are superbly represented by their mannerisms: Lumiere rubbing his lascivious candlesticks together, Cogsworth always anxious as if he can’t get the time out of his head, Mrs. Potts being ready to serve up a nice spot of tea, and Babette shaking her almost too short french maid dress like a duster, always seducing Lumiere into inflaming himself. Truly, a sensational cast.

The duo Gaston and LeFou, played by Joe Hager and Jimmy Larkin, bring a very special something to the production. Although the animated Disney version has plenty of humor, Farcher and Larkin are able to transcend their predecessors.

The physical comedy isn’t overboard but it is present enough to get every child giggling. Many of the innuendos are able to bring the humor to a more mature level. Gaston’s uber-masculinity is hysterical in itself, especially when paired with LeFou’s quirky longing to only be a sidekick. Hager has muscles to spare and brings a necessary ego to the role, becoming the ultimate tool that a viewer longs for in Gaston. Larkin’s acrobatic energy, gung-ho pipsqueak personality and strangely enjoyable voice all combine to make a very memorable character and performance. 

The chorus and supporting roles (played by Brian Martin, Chris Brand, Skye Bronfenbrenner, Kieron Cindric, Taylor D. Colleton, Laura Douciere, Kyle Dupree, Amanda Grace Holt, Stacey Jackson, Kevin Kelly, Brian Krinsky, Stephanie Moskal, Stephen Petrovich, Sara Primmer and Andrea Rouch) bring a dazzling energy to the production. With how precise each number went with flawless dancing, it is hard to believe they have performed 130 shows with very little rest.

Each member of the audience has and will be captivated by the world created by The Beauty and the Beast. Although “Be Our Guest” has always been one of my favorites Disney songs, “Gaston” is now my favorite. Hager and Larkin keep their character’s luster as they belt their drinking song, but the Townspeople make it memorable. At one point, everyone takes two metal mugs and creates a percussion instrument out of their dance. It made me want to get up and join them in a round of song and dance and maybe a couple of adult beverages.

Backstage, Brian Martin pointed out the dents and dings in the mugs from the multitude of shows.

“Everyone gets a bruised finger once in awhile but the show must go on,” he says.

And it will for as long as their is Broadway, being a family favorite film and having such a wonderful cast.

With Martin’s dedication, passion, talent, good-looks and big smile, there’s nothing but fame in his future for this Grand Rapids native. 


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