When Disney decided to go Broadway more than two decades ago, Matt West was there, helping the film giant find its footing on the stage.
The choreographer for the original “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway back in 1994, West is still tweaking the show from time to time as the national touring production of the smash musical comes to Proctors in Schenectady for five shows in four days.
The ninth-longest-running musical in Broadway history, “Beauty and the Beast” closed its New York run in 2007, but the production has since been staged in 13 countries and 115 cities.
“Of course it’s changed over the years, because I’ve changed,” said West, a California native who now calls New York City home.
“Counting Broadway and every other production, this tour is my 33rd different company with this show, and some people say, ‘why change it?’ But my gosh, in 20 years I’d like to think that I would have a new idea that would work. We certainly loved the original, and apparently the people did too, but 21 years later we’ve kept everything we loved about the show and made it even more adorable.”
‘Beauty and the Beast’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $85-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
West, who began working for Disney when he was 14, also played Bobby in “A Chorus Line” on Broadway and in the movie version directed by Richard Attenborough.
“He saw the show in New York right after he won an Oscar for ‘Gandhi,’ and he shows up in my dressing room,” remembered West.
“Doing the movie was a great experience and I learned so much. But I saw my face on this 50-foot poster and thought to myself, ‘well, I’m never going to be a big movie star.’ But I’m still so proud of being a part of that show. It was a part of American history.”
When West decided to concentrate on choreography and forgo performing, he had plenty of friends at Disney looking to keep him busy, including director Robert Jess Roth and set designer Stan Meyer. The three men approached Disney CEO Michael Eisner with a new idea and were quickly rejected, at least for a while.
“I was working with two other creators at Disney on some animated features for them, and the three of us talked to Michael Eisner and thought we should dive into Broadway,” remembered West.
“He said, ‘No, it cost too much money, it’s hard to get your money back, no.’ But he added that we could ask him again in six months.”
The second time around, Roth, Meyer and West got an affirmative response from Eisner, and immediately went to work creating a stage version of “Mary Poppins.”
“We were working on another project, but when the animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” came out in 1991 and did so well, Michael called us and told us to do that show,” remembered West.
“We were so far along with ‘Mary Poppins’ we wanted to keep going, but he kind of threw down the gauntlet at us. So we did the ‘Beast.’ And it’s great how we’ve all gone on to do more in our careers, but we do get to come back and have a chance to revisit this show.”
Roth also remains involved, serving as director for the national tour, which stars Jillian Butterfield as Belle and Ryan Everett Wood as the Beast.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected].