I was a little kid growing up in New Orleans I was very theatrical, but very
shy with strangers," confides Bryan Batt who literally lights up the stage
as the charming and hilarious candelabra, Lumiere, in the long-running Broadway
hit, Beauty and the Beast
. "That was
unusual in my family because my grandmother ran a dance studio and, in the
'30s, long before I was born, my grandfather operated an amusement park. There
was always entertainment around me and I loved it."
To help alleviate his shyness Batt was
enrolled at a local community theatre that had a summer children's program. "That's where I auditioned for my
first role. I got it, although I had to lie my way in," he confesses. "They
only took kids over 12 and I was just 10."
He was cast as a chorus boy in the musical Li'l Abner and,
as with any good showbiz saga, young Batt got his "big break" the night the
actor who played Dogpatch patriarch Pappy Yokum got sick and he went on for
him. "So there I was, a 10-year-old wearing a bald cap," he recalls.
Like Maxwell Smart, he might well add, "And loving it."
Since that auspicious beginning, Batt has become a wonderful and versatile
actor, appearing in roles ranging from Joe Gillis (opposite Betty Buckley) in Sunset Boulevard to the Pharaoh in Joseph
and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He also originated the part of
Darius in Jeffrey and was among the cavalcade
of performers (including Rosie O'Donnell) who played The Cat in the Hat in Seussical:
the Musical on Broadway last season.
And now, in Disney's Beauty and the Beast,
he is having more fun than he ever dreamed playing a role that calls for
equal parts Maurice Chevalier and Steve Martin. Batt, however, sees Lumiere
as half of a duet played with Jeff Brooks who is "brilliant" as
the enchanted clock, Cogsworth. Indeed, the two are wonderfully matched
(not to mention hysterically funny), in their moments together on stage.
Batt, who joined the cast this past August,
went to see the show on the advice of his agent before committing to the
project. It only took one viewing to convince him. "A lot of people have a preconceived and inaccurate notion
of the show," explains the actor. "It's a sophisticated, beautifully-told
story with a wonderful score, brilliant performances and incredible costumes
and, when they see it, they have a great time."
To illustrate his point, Batt describes
what happened right after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Towers: "At
that time many theatres, including ours, were offering deeply-discounted
tickets so a lot of 'theatre snobs' who, in ordinary times, would never
have come to our show, did come and were surprised and overwhelmed by how
much they enjoyed it."
Audience accolades aside, Batt admits the
show does challenge the actors - particularly in the area of costumes. On
his back, for example, he wears butane-filled tubes that feed the flames
that appear on his hands, an arrangement that made him nervous until he got
used to it. "The costumes look great, but sometimes
they're not so comfortable," he concludes. "My candle hands weigh
8 1/2 pounds each. I never had muscular arms in my life, now I'm developing