In Sacramento, Beauty and the Beast was a hit—especially the strapping young man who plays Gaston.
“Under the direction of Rob Roth, (Joe) Hager steals the show as the larger-than-life Gaston, always preening and flexing his muscles,” wrote Saunthy Nicolson-Singh in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. “The town’s womenfolk follow him around, pumping up his already inflated ego. You want to hate him, but his affectations reminiscent of Steve Martin and Jim Carrey are hilarious.”
Following that March 6-17 Sacramento run—as well as a two-day stop in San Luis Obispo—Hager and his Beauty and the Beast cast mates will stop at the McCallum Theatre for five shows this weekend (March 22-24).
The Independent spoke to Hager in the midst of the show’s Sacramento stop, and he said the cast was enjoying the ability to settle down a little bit following a stretch that saw them in 17 cities within 20 days.
“My biggest worry is remembering my hotel-room number,” he said, laughing, when asked about the frantic travel schedule.
Beauty and the Beast is one of the most successful musicals of all time. Following the 1991 Disney film that became the first animated movie to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, the play opened on Broadway in 1994, and would continue its Broadway run for more than 13 years. Numerous international, domestic and traveling productions of the show have charmed millions over the years.
For the current national tour, the original Broadway design team reunited in an effort to inject a bit of new life into the play, which features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton.
Hager said the current production takes a “fresh approach” to the story of the beautiful Belle, the Beast, and the vain hunter/town hottie, Gaston.
“Because this is a tour, and the set’s scaled down a bit, it means the ensemble plays a very big role,” he said. “The presence onstage is very powerful.”
Hager (pictured to the right), a Kansas native who is making is national-tour debut, said playing Gaston is actually a dream come true. He said he saw the show as a wee lad in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, and decided then and there that one day, he’d play either the Beast or Gaston. He later convinced his parents to enroll him in performing-arts camp, a move which helped him overcome shyness as he grew up; he then studied theater throughout high school.
“I was the Glee guy before Glee was Glee,” he said. “I’d do football in the fall, and theater in the spring.”
In college, he decided to focus on opera. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma City University, and moved on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Kansas. While he had some success in the opera world, after a while, he decided to move to New York City to “explore other boundaries.”
Soon after the move, he saw an audition notice for Beauty and the Beast. He decided to try out; he got the part of Gaston and joined the cast on Nov. 30; and after the McCallum shows, Hager and company will head to Los Angeles—where Hager will perform his dream role in the place where the dream came to be.
Of course, the dream won’t end there; Hager will remain with the cast into early June, before the play closes for a couple of months. Hager said he’d like to remain in the show when it resumes touring later in the year.
“It really does become a family after a while,” he said.
And beyond that? Hager said he’s open to whatever possibilities come his way.
“This experience so far has kind of woken me up and made me realize I don’t know my potential yet,” he said. “I want to try it all. If you throw enough darts, you’re eventually going to hit a bull’s-eye.”
Meanwhile, he’s having the time of his life playing Gaston.
“For me, at least, he’s the best part,” he said of Gaston. “He is the villain, but you can’t help but love him. He’s a charming oaf.”
Beauty and the Beast will be at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert, from Friday, March 22, through Sunday, March 24. Shows are at 8 p.m., Friday; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday. Tickets are $45 to $105. For tickets or more information, call 340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.