Interview with Paige O’Hara
From the 1937 release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog”, Disney has constantly enthralled us with the world of color and fun. There isn’t anyone in the world that doesn’t know of Disneyland and Mickey Mouse, let alone the rest of the gang.
In 1991, Disney once again opened up a life of animation that the world could never have seen coming. “Beauty and the Beast” came to the screen and the world rekindled their love of Disney once again. With the lovely and headstrong Belle to the growly and headstrong Beast, the story spoke to viewers.
So much so that “Beauty and the Beast” earned Disney six Academy Award nominations and two Oscar wins for Best Original Song and Score in 1992.
Now, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has announced that its masterpiece “Beauty and the Beast” will be released on Blu-ray high-definition on October 5, 2010. But, before you take it home perhaps you want to see it on the big screen just one more time as Disney brings it all to theatres for two evenings only with a sing-a-long at the end of September!
The lovely voice of Belle belongs to the equally lovely Page O’Hara. Paige has also had quite a ride along with her counterpart. A Broadway, opera and appearances on concert stages as well as recordings. Paige made her debut playing Ellie May Chipley in the 1983 revival on Broadway of “Showboat” with Donald O’Connor. She also starred as Fantine in “Les Miserable” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” both on Broadway.
Internationally she has done “South Pacific” in Australia, “One Touch Venus” and “Mack and Mabel in Concert” in London. As she continued to perform her stops included The Hollywood Bowl, The Boston Pops and The Turrin Opera House in Italy.
Recently she has taken to Vegas to do a special guest star in the “Great Radio City Music Hall Spectacular”, appearing as a guest with Robert Goulet in “The Man and His Music” and now performing in the hit musical “Menopause the Musical” at the Luxor.
Without further adieu, here is my conversation with the enchanting voice of Belle herself, Paige O’Hara talking about her role as Belle, its creation, how it has become an intricate part of her life and, what her stage projects are now.
Hi Paige, is so nice to meet you. You are absolutely lovely!
Oh thank you so much Jeri, that is so sweet! Hey, I heard you saw “Menopause the Musical”, that’s fantastic!
Yes, I saw it a few years ago when it came to San Diego. From the title I knew I was going to love it. I got to the theatre and there are fans on the seats. I knew from then on everything was going to be groovy because I had my fan!
Well you have to come see me in Las Vegas for “Menopause the Musical”. You have to see my company. It is the quintessential company.
Is it a big stage production?
This is Vegas, it’s at the Luxor in a big theatre and it’s a big theatre company. I get to play the Soap Star. I love her; she’s such a pistol and such a pain. I take narcissism to another level – the complete opposite of Belle.
How did you get into all of this?
I’ve been in theatre now, well, forever. With “Menopause the Musical” I just got a phone call. They heard I was in town and I didn’t audition because the breakdown said I had to be a size 8 or over and I wasn’t. But they said for that part it didn’t really matter. You know the part where she says “I use to be a size 2”? Although she is, in her mind she’ll never be thin enough. It’s actually very funny when I say it “she’s a size TWO” (with flare). The other gals look at me funny and the Power Woman looks like she wants to slug me. It’s very funny and the audience just howls. So it’s a big transition and the girls start to love me and beauties only skin deep after I start to do my “Please Make Me Over” (one of the numbers in the show). They actually treat me with such love in the next scene, it’s very touching.
I have to tell you I loved the music so I can see you absolutely playing this role.
I modeled my role after Sally Field in SOAP DISH.
Is that not one of the most guilty pleasures that film? SOAP DISH, it’s a riot.
Okay, so now we have to get back to Disney.
Yes, I guess so.
So when you first knew you were going to do “Beauty and the Beast”, and going to do the voice of Belle, tell me about that, everyone is going to want to know the history.
I went through a long process of auditions actually. There were 500 women up for the role. I just had a gut feeling that it was my part. I was dating my husband at the time and the final week of the auditions was my birthday. He proposed to me on my birthday and two days later I got the phone call saying I got the role of Belle for “Beauty and the Beast”. It was quite a week.
How did you react to that?
I think I understood what was going to happen because of my friendship with Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel) and what “The Little Mermaid” did for her. I was such a fan of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman that, to create a role with them alone I didn’t have any idea it would have gone to the level it has, so many years later.
You’re an icon but in a strange way no one on the street would know it!
Isn’t it crazy? No on knows until you talk. Sometimes little kids will hear me talk and say ‘are you Belle?’
So tell me about the tea party at the Disney story in Fashion Valley (San Diego, California)?
It was so fun, a lot of great people showed up. Some of the merchandise is gorgeous. They have a new Mrs. Potts and Chip done in China. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the Mirror and Cogsworth, beautiful. The people were so great.
How is it to go back and see all that and know its still such an attraction to kids and adults alike?
The demographics are off the charts. It makes me feel so good. I still get so much mail and I’m still working with ‘Belle’ on so many projects. In fact I’m still recording; I’m recording this week with interactive toys, CD ROMs, Leap Frog toys and all kind of things. So she’s never really far away from me and I understand what affect that has on people who love “Beauty and the Beast”.
She is a huge part of your life.
Yes, I have to maintain her voice, which is my voice. The film and she is still a big part of my life.
And now you have a line of artwork called BELLES BY BELLE, tell me about that!
Disney Fine Arts signed me as one of their artists, they only have thirteen. They saw one of my Belle pieces. I’ve been painting since I was 13 years old; I feel my originals were never that good. I always copied Sargent, Turner and in my last twelve years I started to do my oils with DiVinci. I’ve been really into DaVinci so I painted several of the women of DiVinci. They saw a couple of my pieces and said we want you to sign with us and as of tomorrow it should be on their website DisneyFineArt.com. They should be putting out my new paintings to be seen and if you sign on to they are going to do a giveaway.
What are you doing specifically – only Belle?
I’ve done Belle and Beast in the ballroom, which is called “First Date” and has sold out already. I have “Belle’s in Love” where she is out standing by the tree. I think my newer ones are better because I’ve been painting more often now. I love “First Date” but I think the ones that are coming out tomorrow called “Daydreams of Belle in the Meadow” where she’s looking up at the dandelion. Belle’s all mine, I drew her and I did “Belle in the Bookshop” with her on the ladder. I also did “Belle in the Ball Gown”; you’ll see it on the site. They are going to let the fans voted on which three they want next. I really took DiVinci in the velvet drapes, the gown and to make her look more realistic.
According to my notes you have defined a generation at Disney. I’d freak out if someone said that about me.
It says that? Really?
My notes say, “Beauty and the Beast” helped define Disney animation for a new generation as the second film in the ‘Disney Renaissance’…” Is that not amazing? You have helped to define a generation!
“Beauty and the Beast” totally opened everything up, not only Disney’s mind, but also all the other studios minds that this is a huge success. Nominated for an Oscar, won the Golden Globe, they made a gazillion dollars and people are in love with this. It made it valid. Jeffrey Katzenburg had been brought in to do feature films and made him in charge of animation telling him “make it happen”. Jeffrey Katzenburge, Peter Snider and Ashton and Don starting with “Little Mermaid”. “Beauty and the Beast” just took animation to a higher level.
Yes “Little Mermaid” did well, but what was it about “Beauty and the Beast” that just hits the mark? People who know “Little Mermaid” are happy but get seriously jazzed about “Beauty and the Beast”. What do you think caused that explosion?
A lot of it is the classical romantic story, the way they wrote the characters. The original “Beauty and the Beast” was always told in a dark way.
Exactly! But they found a way to bring romance and a sense of humor to it. Let’s not forget I really think Ashton and Menken were the Rogers and Hammerstien of that brief time. Because of Howard passing away it didn’t last as long as we hoped. I really believe the genius of that combination really made the difference, especially for Howard at his peak. He knew he was dying and I think it was his best writing. By the time “Beauty and the Beast” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, Ashman had already passed away.
This was more of his swan song and he gave give it his all with such beauty.
Absolutely, and I think that’s a very big key to the success of it. I think it’s also the story the way they brought in the humor. It’s a classic. Belle was the first heroine that was a bookworm, odd, out of place and she wanted adventure. Of that era she was ahead of her time. Her whole life wasn’t about trying to find a man and get married. She saw right through Gaston.
Belle is scared but very strong.
Yes, scared but strong. She gave up her life for her father. The role model aspects of that for children are huge. I am thrilled that they actually took some chances in the way they animated her. Initially the draws James Baxter had she was so perfectly beautiful, she was gorgeous. I think he realized in order to get kids to identify with her they had to tone her down, pretty but not perfect.
I know your working on “Menopause the Musical”, but what else are you doing? You have the art; you have Belle and what about Paige?
I have been working on a new project for the last two years. It’s in the writing process and called “Judy the Musical”, about Judy Garland. A gentleman wrote it for me, it’s an original score and two of her songs are in the play. I grew up idolizing her.
My mother did as well and introduced me to her music when I was very young.
Oh really? Me and my Mom too. See, it reaches a lot of us!
I just have to tell you, it’s really weird … I’m here talking to you and I hear Belle!!
I know! I tell you though, I identify with Belle because as a kid I was odd. I was into Gershwin when everyone else was into Led Zeppelin. I was into Sargent and Turner and they thought I was nuts!
Well, I didn’t see anyone odd in front of me. Actually, I saw this very lovely and very lively woman who has defined herself musically and with her art to keep a beloved Disney character alive to the young and young at heart.
It has been such an honor to spend time talking with Paige, laughing and believing that dreams do come true – so keep wishing upon that star and remember “Beauty and the Beast” will be released on DVD Blu-ray on October 5, 2010!
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment is a recognized leader in the home entertainment industry. The Diamond Collection represents Walt Disney Studios most prestigious animated classics. These titles represent the highest level of picture and sound, feature groundbreaking, state-of-the-art impressive bonus content and include unprecedented levels of interactivity made possible by Blu-ray technology. The collection will be many of Disney’s most treasured animated classic titles to be released through 2016.