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Paige O’Hara talks giving Belle voice for Beauty and the Beast

By Anne Brodie Oct 7, 2010, 19:21 GMT

Paige O’Hara talks giving Belle voice for Beauty and the Beast

Set in and around a quaint French village during the late 18th century, Beauty and the Beast follows the fantastic adventures of Belle, a bright and beautiful young woman who finds escape from her ordinary life, and the advances of a boorish suitor, Gaston, by reading books. Meanwhile, off in a castle in the distance, a cruel young prince is cast under the spell of an enchantress who turns him ...more

Paige O’Hara is one of musical theatre’s leading lights.  The American actress and self avowed “belter”, O’Hara made her first appearance on the Broadway stage opposite Donald O’Connor in the 1983 revival of Showboat, as Ellie May Chipley. 

O’Hara took the show from Huston to Cairo, Egypt, and sang on the Grammy nominated original cast recording.  O’Hara also starred on Broadway in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, as Fantine in the original run of Les Misérables, took Ado Annie on a national tour in the William Hammerstein’s Oklahoma and played Nellie Forbush in an Australian production of South Pacific. 

But it’s Beauty and the Beast that has made O’Hara a star.  She owns the role of Belle, and has appeared in dozens of Disney Beauty and the Beast productions, spin-offs, sequels and even a video game. 

The 1991 movie was nominated for Best Picture and three Best Song Academy Awards and O’Hara performed the tunes at the Oscars.  Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film ever to win an Oscar nomination, a feat not accomplished again until Up in 2009.

O’Hara and Robby Benson who plays the Beast, introduced the DVD live during a sing-a-long (Beast) premiere at LA’s historic El Capitan Theatre this week, joined by composer Alan Menken, Marcia Cross, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Andrea Bendewald, Kevin Nealon, Ali Landry, Shanna Moakler and Zane Holtz.  Monsters and Critics spoke with Ms. O’Hara from her home in Las Vegas.

M&C - How terrific to still work on a character you virtually created after allt hese years – voicing her in every medium!

PO’H - Voice over work is considered less than by some actors, but I want to say to them, “Hello!  Angela Lansbury!”  I’ve been doing theatre all my life since I was 3 or 4 when I took acting classes.  At twelve I started singing.  I performed in all the musicals at high school, and then I went on to Broadway. 

And I’m an animation freak!  But I got the part of Belle for Beauty and the Beast after auditioning with 500 women.  I’ve done a lot in my career and there have been some hard parts but I love doing Belle.  The role was so much in my own character.

M&C - How is voice over work different from acting for a camera or an audience?

PO’H-I record without seeing the film, but there was one scene that they asked me to watch the screen, the scenes of the wolf closing in and I just reacted as the character would have – live!

M&C - Belle has been a really good friend to you hasn’t she?

PO’H - What’s wonderful about Belle is that she connects me to children.  I can’t have any of my own, but I do a lot of work with them, with children’s charities.  And it’s great to have Disney onside.  Michael Eisner and Michel Eiger have both been very, very generous. 

I would just pick up the phone and call them about a child that needed help and they’d be right there.  One girl, a nine year old in Atlanta had been severely beaten and raped and had totally shut down. 

For three days she hadn’t spoken.  But when the Disney surprises arrived, she yelled out “Mickey!”  It transformed her.  She needed therapy but the gift helped her speak again.  That’s just one of the stories.

M&C - What projects are you on now?

PO’H- At the moment I’m at the Luxor in Las Vegas where my husband and I live.  I’m doing Menopause the Musical and I play the Soap Star!  And then I will play Judy Garland in a new biopic.  Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft are involved in it.  There’s no one like Judy!  There never will be!

Visit the DVD database for more information on the Beauty and the Beast (Three-Disc Diamond Edition) Blu-ray release.

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