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Beauty and the Beast

A healthy dose of Disney magic makes this classic tale a favorite for family audiences.

Ashley Brown

Age: 23

Currently: Making her Broadway debut as the "Beauty" half of Disney's classic Beauty and the Beast, now the 6th longest-running show in Broadway history.

Hometown: Gulf Breeze, Florida, near Pensacola. Given the recent spate of severe weather hitting the South, Brown definitely sends her love back to the Sunshine State. "We got hit pretty bad by Ivan a few years back, but thank God Wilma missed my hometown."

On The Move with On The Record: Brown began singing in her church choir at age six, but never got into acting or into musicals until her freshmen year of high school. Performing in high school led the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, and a college showcase led casting agents to scout her for Disney's national tour of On The Record. "It all happened too fast," Brown recalls. "I was barely out of school. I thought I'd wait tables for a while first! I went in with ‘Journey To the Past' From Anastasia, my contemporary musical theater song, and I didn't know what I was doing, but I kept getting call-backs. A week later, my agent called and said, ‘You got it.' I was like, ‘I got what? I got the part? You mean I'm not an understudy?'" Brown was able to tour the country with On The Record, an experience she speaks of fondly. "It was so cool, because it was a new show. I was involved from the workshop stage, and I was part of the rehearsal process, so I got to watch it form. The script kept changing, and the show wasn't firm until right before Cleveland. It was definitely tiring, but also fun and inspiring to be able to bond with a small group of people."

Nouveau Belle: Earning stellar notices for her work in On The Record in which she sang some Beauty and the Beast songs, Brown caught the eye of some folks at Disney, and got herself on the shortlist for Beast's Broadway production. She replaced Brooke Tansley in September to become the 15th Belle of the show's New York run. "Disney treats you so well," Brown says of her now two-time employer. "I'm obviously very young, and they treat their employees so well. I don't just mean financially. They're very supportive, and they've nurtured me so thoroughly." As a child of the 80s, Brown is of the generation that was smitten with the Beast film upon its 1991 release. "I knew every line to the movie when I was little," she gushes. "I definitely knew the role of Belle well, and it's been around for a new long time, but they let me come in with what I have to offer and didn't make me conform. You bring your own personality to this show, and certainly their casting is very smart as far as knowing whose personalities will work well."

Opening Night Jitters: When she officially landed the role of Belle and began rehearsals, Brown realized the pressures of being a Broadway lead. "Working with the director and the dance captain by myself was a new and strange experience," she says. "I only worked the onstage cast once before I opened. So was that nerve-racking? Yeah. Everybody and their mother from Pensacola was there, and all the Disney people were there. It was one of my first times in the costume. My first time with lights, my first time with the orchestra, it was my opening night. So I was a little red-chested, and my ears were hot. I'll never forget that night, though. I was backstage, and I'd never run through the show all the way through, and I'm running my lines in my head, and this overwhelming sense of calm came over me. I knew that my nerves would only hurt me, and I knew I'd only had 13 rehearsals—If that. I got so calm, and 'calm' isn't a word that's usually in a sentence with 'Ashley.' Calm is not my forte! I've never had that before. And so that was a great experience me, because I was able to remember it. It could have been an out-of-body experience, you know? So I feel very grateful for being able to recall it."

Family Fare: When pressed if she fears that working so closely with Disney on her first two big projects will establish a "goodie two shoes" reputation for her, Brown looks on the bright side, saying "I would stay with Disney forever! I would love to do the Little Mermaids and Mary Poppinses of the world. If I was the go-to girl for family shows, that would be pretty cool, you know? I'm so happy right now doing the ingénue-y roles. With the age I am and the way my voice is, it just seems very appropriate for me. People might say, ‘But you'll get type cast in Disney roles for the rest of your life.' But I say, ‘If I was, I wouldn't care.' It works for me, and I've been having such a wonderful time—I could do this forever!"

See Ashley Brown in Beauty and the Beast at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street. Click for tickets and more information.

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