Bryan Batt Lights Up Broadway
as the New Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast
by Michael Buckley
NEW YORK -- That special
glow emanating from the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre these days is because Bryan Batt
has taken over the role of Lumiere in Beauty
and the Beast. Says Batt, “Someone pointed out to me that half of the
roles I’ve played on Broadway are not human. [Laughs]” He’s played a
train in Starlight Express, which marked his debut;
two felines (with hat in Seussical;
without in Cats), and now he’s a candelabrum.
We meet, following a day of rehearsal, on
the Thursday prior to his assuming the role (Aug. 14). Batt’s still not accustomed to the weight of his costume.
“It’s quite cumbersome. The arms, the flames in each hand, are between five
and seven pounds. After a while, it starts to hurt in the shoulders. The strange
thing is that you spend so much time concentrating on the fingering to make
the flames go. Learning the part is one thing, handling the pyrotechnics is
“You’re completely flame-proof. Knock wood, nothing goes wrong. No one’s
ever caught fire. I don’t want to be the first, and I don’t want to take anyone
out [in a blaze of glory]. I’m a giving performer. [Laughs]”
of fire has received the blessing of Broadway’s original Lumiere,
Gary Beach, who’s still flaming, but in a different way, in The Producers (where
he does a mini-tribute to the candelabrum at the start of “Springtime
for Hitler”). “He’s a lovely man,” says Batt. “He hugged me and wished me well.
feel so lucky to be here. Beauty and the Beast is a long-running,
wonderful show. Audiences go crazy; kids just love it! My nieces [his
older brother’s two daughters] can see it.”
His nieces, Bailey and Kelly
Batt, haven’t seen their uncle in many shows.
“Saturday Night Fever wasn’t appropriate.”
They saw him as the Cat in the Hat in Seussical, during the weekend
matinees that he went on for Rosie O’Donnell. “The older [niece] did
see me in Forbidden
Broadway when she was very young, but she didn’t get it. They’re coming
up for Thanksgiving, and they can’t wait.”
Batt went on with a total
of six rehearsals (two in costume) that were overseen by “the stage managers, the resident director, and the dance captain. I must
say, it’s a great group of people -– very positive and supportive -– which
is rare for a long run. To keep it like a family is very, very hard.
“Taking over is so much harder than creating a role. I’m one of those actors
who doesn’t really come into the role until the second week [of performances].
And kids are the hardest audience to play for. If something’s not truthful,
they will let you know right away.”
He had no qualms about joining
a long run rather than waiting for a new show to come along. “I love to work. I cannot sit still. That’s one of my flaws.
I don’t like collecting unemployment. And Disney was wonderful with the contract.
If something great comes up, down the line, they’ll let me do it.
just finished a workshop of a musical revue called Vices. Gabe
Barre directed it. It was quite well received. I hope something happens
with it, because the people involved are wonderful.”
his experiences in two Forbidden Broadway shows -- ... Strikes Back and
Up Its Act -- as “the best training ground. I learned so much in such
a short amount of time. Of course, if that’s the only thing that people have
seen me in, they tend to think of me just as a mimic.”
Has his current
employer mentioned Batt’s spoofing of Disney’s The Lion
King, playing an outrageous ‘Rafreeki,’ complete
with Mickey Mouse headdress? Comically shrinking in his seat, he cries, “Not
yet! [Laughs] It’s the only time I’ve gone into a show [in this case, another
Disney musical] after I’ve spoofed it. When I spoofed Sunset Boulevard and Cats,
I’d already been in those shows.”
Playing the weekend
matinees for O’Donnell in Seussical made him,
Batt believes, “the first male actor to cover a character woman.” O’Donnell,
says Batt, “was very giving and gracious, a wonderful, down-to-earth member
of the company.”
He was able to create his own interpretation
of the Cat in the Hat. “That
was one of the reasons I took it. I went on a few times for David Shiner [who
originated the role] and almost once a week for Cathy Rigby [who succeeded O’Donnell].
She had a lot of dates that she had to do.
“Seussical,” he says, “was a bittersweet experience. Going in, ‘hit’
was written all over it. Look what happened. I feel so bad for Lynn and Stephen
[songwriters Ahrens and Flaherty]. Their work is always so great. I think everyone’s
attempt was noble. But [adapting the Dr. Seuss material] is a hard nut to crack.
It’s a hard thing to get right.”
Batt had taken the standby job due
to a knee injury he’d sustained while
playing the DJ, Monty (“sleaze personified”), in Saturday Night Fever.
One of the platform shoes he wore broke and a surgeon told Batt that
he could either undergo surgery or therapy. He chose the latter, and
opted for the less strenuous job of standby.
Recalling Monty, Batt says, “I’m really glad to have been cast in that role
and have it so well received. Most casting directors would not have seen me
in the part. I love getting to do different things.” It afforded him the opportunity
to perform “Disco Inferno” and “Disco Duck.”
He was standby for
Douglas Sills in the second version of The
Scarlet Pimpernel. “When you’re a standby, you don’t have to be at the
theatre. You’re on beeper. Some people love it, and some don’t. I don’t. I’d
rather be onstage. I went on about 50 times as Percy.”
In Sunset Boulevard,
he was part of the ensemble, as well as understudy for Alan Campbell
as Joe Gillis. “I was on vacation
when Betty Buckley took over [as Norma Desmond]. Alan had never missed a performance
[while Glenn Close starred]. Lo and behold! I came back, and Betty showed up
with a huge bouquet of flowers. She said, ‘You’re going to be great!’ I thought,
That’s class! Betty and I became really good friends.”
Reuben and understudied Pharaoh in Joseph
and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, starring Michael Damian.
It was the first of Batt’s four consecutive musicals at the Minskoff. When he was doing
the fourth show, the Minskoffs gave him “a crystal plaque from Tiffany’s [signifying
his achievement]. I asked Scott Ellis [who was directing the Minskoff’s
next show, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer], ‘C’mon, rethink Injun Joe. He can
Other Broadway experiences include Cats (he
played Munkustrap for a year-and-a-half) and Starlight Express (as
Rocky I, and understudy for Greaseball). When Batt auditioned for Paul
play, Jeffrey, the playwright
asked him if he were really in Cats. Replied Batt, “Yes, now and forever.” Then and
there, Rudnick cast him as Darius, and slightly rewrote the part. “Originally,
Darius was a dancer in Grand Hotel. At the first read-through,
the script said, ‘Darius enters in a Cats costume.’ I said, “Oh, no, not again!’
[Laughs]” Batt reprised his role in the 1995 movie version.
Batt arrived in New York, he gave himself five years to be in a Broadway
show. He made it in two. The actor sharing his dressing room said, “Now, the
trick is to stay here.” Says Batt, “It’s not easy [to maintain a career]. Knock
on wood, I’ve been very fortunate to continue working. It’s a crazy business,
but I love it!”
* * *
Born and raised in New Orleans,
Batt is the younger of two sons. He goes back to his birthplace “as often as I can. There’s nothing like it. It has a
unique cuisine. A lot of people think that it’s Cajun, and it’s not. Cajun is
country food. New Orleans cuisine is usually Creole. Spicy, but not necessarily
hot. And it has great architecture, great music. The attitude’s so different.”
family owned the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. “Imagine
growing up, and your family owns an amusement park! My grandfather
used to be an iceman and had a horse-drawn carriage. One day, he
passed a Model-T on the other side of the road, and it was carrying
a refrigerator. He knew that it was time to change businesses. So,
he started the amusement park.”
As a child, Batt used to come
to New York with his mother and grandmother to see Broadway shows.
His first was Annie. “We saw Gilda Radner Live at
the Winter Garden. We were in box seats. My grandmother was the
type of lady who wore gloves to the theatre. Gilda came out and sang
the first number,
‘Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals.’ That worried me. I looked over at
my mother and grandmother, but they were holding each other, with tears
of laughter running down their faces. When I was doing Cats at
the Winter Garden, I remember looking up and seeing a mother and son
in the same box, and thinking back.”
Much earlier, Batt had made
his nonprofessional debut as Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in a third-grade
play. During high school, he played Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun,
and Emile de Becque (“with gray streaks in my
hair”) in South Pacific.
At a community theatre, he played
in Godspell and
Helen Hayes attended a performance. His parents spoke to her afterwards,
telling her that their son wanted to be in show business, and they were
trying to discourage him. The actress said that Batt was very good, and
that he should be encouraged. She had lunch with the Batts the next day,
and later invited them to visit her at her home in Nyack, New York. “It was called ‘Pretty Penny.’ We spent the whole day there,
and went out to dinner.” Years later, when Batt made his debut in Starlight
Express, he received an opening night telegram (which he keeps
framed) from Hayes: “Welcome to Broadway. May you have a triumphant stay.”
Batt, “I went to Tulane. I wanted to go to a more theatre-based college,
but now I advise anyone who wants to go into theatre to go to a league school.
You’ll make contacts. You’ll be working with the people who’ll be working in
theatre later on. My father was very ill at the time, and I lived at home. I’m
glad I did.” His father died soon after Bryan graduated.
Batt played Che in Evita, Kenicke in Grease,
Dick Dickerson, Teen Detective, in Trixie True, Paris in Romeo and
Juliet, John in The Lover, and Jeep in Action.
His first job in New York was in a production
of Rodgers and Hart’s Too
Many Girls at the now-defunct Equity Library Theatre. “It’s sorely missed.
That was the best place for actors just coming here. It was a great showcase
to get agents. That’s how I got my agent, Bill Timms. It’s so hard for young
actors to get seen.”
At the York Playhouse, he appeared in The Golden Apple.
Between his two editions of Forbidden Broadway, Batt did a play
with the Rattlestick Company, “and a wonderful revue, I Love New York,
at Rainbow and Stars -- with Janet Metz, Heather MacRae, and Lewis Cleale.
I also did Maury Yeston’s In the Beginning, which was directed
by Gerard Alessandrini.”
In Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back,
routines were the spoof of Big (“so much fun to do”) and his takeoff
of Jerry Lewis (who was paired with Liza Minnelli in Kiss Me, Kate). “It was a number
called, ‘So Miscast’ [sung to the tune of “So in Love”]. I grew up imitating
He also parodied John Davidson (“Oh, What a Beautiful Moron”), an intense
Mandy Patinkin, and producer Barry Weissler, who told him, “You played me like
an old Jewish salesman.” Says Batt, “He was kidding. I said, ‘Barry, don’t
kill the messenger.’
“You have to be fearless [to do the parodies].
There was some wonderful stuff that few, if any, people saw. There was
a Cabaret parody,
in which I was the ugliest Kit-Kat Club girl you’ve ever seen. Sometimes, I like going
to the offensive, ugly place. That’s why I liked The Producers so
much. Everyone’s so careful [about being politically correct]. I said, ‘Bring it on!’
I had a great time.”
Might he consider replacing in The Producers,
somewhere down the line? Says Batt, “From your mouth to God’s ears.” Which role would he like to
play? “Cady Huffman’s part. [Laughs] I’m kidding. Anything!”
stopped doing Forbidden Broadway because “after I’d been on Broadway
awhile, I didn’t want to keep making fun of it. Although it’s all tongue-in-cheek,
I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Considering roles that have brought
him the most satisfaction, he says,
“There were two I never got tired of -– Darius [in Jeffrey] and
Percy [in The Scarlet Pimpernel].”
Does Bryan Batt have a dream
role? “Well, I love doing new parts, creating
new characters. So, my dream role is the one someone’s writing for me right