Sometimes dreams do come true.
For actress Hilary Maiberger, it comes true every night that she slips into the role of Belle in the Broadway adaptation of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
“It was one of the very first Broadway shows that I saw when I was 10 years old,” Maiberger said. “I remember leaning over to my mom and saying, ‘Mom, I want to play Belle one day.’ So I think it’s been a longtime dream of mine.”
Maiberger and the rest of the cast of “Beauty and the Beast” will take the stage at LeTourneau University’s Belcher Center this weekend.
Getting to the role took a roundabout trip, though. From a young age she took dance and voice lessons. She “tried the whole ‘American Idol’ thing” and pursued her Master’s degree in vocal performance mostly so she could teach, Maiberger said. But when she kept getting cast in opera and theater roles more frequently, acting suddenly became a viable option.
So when the opportunity arose to audition for the role of Belle, it was a chance she couldn’t pass up. And when she got the role?
“Me and my mom jumped up and down and screamed like you see in the movies. Totally cliché,” she said. “But I feel like it happened so fast. I just kind of went in, ‘I hope they cast me! I love this role.’ And I think they saw that in me.”
The knowledge that her life has come full circle, from being the girl in the audience dreaming of being on-stage to actually being on-stage as Belle, isn’t lost on Maiberger. If anything, it’s what drives her to put her best performance forward each night.
“I feel that sensation every night I get on stage. It’s such an iconic film and it’s such an iconic role, and when you look out in the audience and you dads and their daughters, moms and their daughters, they love this show, they love the music and they love Belle so much,” she said. “It just hits me really hard that I’m playing such an amazing character and little girls are looking up to Belle. So it’s an important role as well. So it’s really incredible and putting that yellow dress on never gets old. I feel like a princess in it.”
It’s been more than two decades since the original animated film was released and yet it continues to resonate due to a timeless message, Maiberger said.
“It tells such a beautiful message about inner beauty and finding out who you are and being OK with that and loving someone for who they are as well,” she said. “That message was relevant 20 years ago, it’s going to be relevant 20 years from now.”
Disney’s animated films have never lacked for female protagonists, but Maiberger said Belle stands out from the pack due to her place as an outsider and her strength as an independent woman.
“I think she is so relatable. Technically, she’s not really a princess. Not until the very end. She’s just kind of your typical, awkward girl next door. She’s a weirdo. She’s not accepted because she reads a lot and she has this funny dad who she loves so, so much,” Maiberger said. “She’s so selfless and smart. She doesn’t need a man. She’s not seeking a man, she’s just trying to follow her dreams of exploring the world. She wants to have adventures, and what little girl doesn’t want that? What little girl, at some point in her life doesn’t feel like she doesn’t belong?”
Speaking personally, Maiberger said Belle’s strength resonated and gave her the courage to pursue her own goals and dreams.
“(Her example) made me not feel afraid to pursue music. Other people were pursuing other things, sports or business or things like that. This industry, it’s very scary because the tour will end, the contract will end,” she said. “So it made me not afraid to go after this 100 percent. I don’t care what anyone thinks, and Belle was exactly that way as well.”
As for the show itself, it presents a challenge in that audiences come saddled with certain expectations given how thoroughly the original film has permeated the popular culture and remained such a well-known property. Yet, a Broadway show must function on its own terms and not simply be a carbon copy of a film.
“It’s a fine line. People come and see the show and expect to see what they see in the film. So I had to be careful of going too far with Belle. I had to remain true to who she is, but then I was also able to find ways of putting myself into the role but still keeping it true and honest and grounded,” she said. “And I think it’s working. I hope so.”
Most notably, the stage version allows for characters to be presented in ways the film never attempted, especially when it comes to the castle’s denizens. In the film, they were mostly just anthropomorphized objects. Here, the constraints of live action made for a different perspective on the characters’ predicament.
“What they did, they made it seems as though these are actual humans turning into these objects, like they are slowly dying,” she said. “Lumiere doesn’t have his hands anymore and Mrs. Potts has this huge arm that’s a spout. It’s heartwrenching to see these people go through this pain, and that’s a different kind of vibe from the film.”
“Beauty and the Beast” will have two performances at the Belcher Center, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $37. For more information, call 903-233-3080 or visit www.belchercenter.com .