Pursuing a career in the musical theater comes with its own share of unusual challenges, from learning difficult music to executing complex choreography. As a cast member in the national touring production of Disney's “Beauty and the Beast,” Hassan Nazari-Robati has also been required to employ a French accent and learn how to hold his arms in very awkward positions.
An Edmond native who graduated from Oklahoma City University in 2011, Nazari-Robati plays Lumiere, a gregarious candlestick who constantly has to deal with whether his flames are extinguished or burning bright.
“I do have candle hands that can get very tiring,” Nazari-Robati said.“When I first joined the tour in July 2012, I could feel my arms getting heavier and heavier during the show. Ultimately, you learn to just grin through it all. I also have difficulty dealing with door handles. I have to have people help me out sometimes.”
Based on the 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast,” the Tony Award-winning stage musical ran for more than 13 years on Broadway. The Networks Presentations touring production comes to Oklahoma City this week for six performances at the Civic Center Music Hall.
Shortly after moving to New York in September 2011, Nazari-Robati auditioned for “Beauty and the Beast.” He thought he might be well suited for the role of Lefou, Gaston's bumbling sidekick. To his surprise, the musical's creative team offered him the role of Lumiere instead.
Lumiere is the most accommodating of the castle's enchanted objects, a group which also includes a clock, a feather duster, a wardrobe, a teapot and a tea cup. It's also Lumiere who believes that Belle can finally break the spell that has left his companions in danger of becoming inanimate objects.
“Lumiere likes to think he's the guy in charge,” Nazari-Robati said. “He rescues Belle when she first comes to the castle. After seeing how she stands up to the Beast, he's convinced she's strong enough to warm his heart and make him see the error of his ways.
“He also hopes he can teach the Beast how to be a gentleman. Luckily, the Beast follows most of his instructions. Lumiere loves himself, but he remains focused on making other people happy. He wants everybody to feel welcome and pulls out all the stops to make sure that happens.”
The result of Lumiere's unselfishness can be seen in “Be Our Guest,” a lavish production number in which the china and silverware magically come to life as Belle is welcomed to the Beast's castle.
Equally enchanting is the showstopping “Human Again,” a number written for but ultimately cut from the movie. When the stage musical was mounted three years after the film's debut, that number was reinstated. In it, Lumiere and friends dream of their impending magical transformation.
As for Lumiere's Gallic charm, Nazari-Robati said he was given considerable flexibility in determining how much of a French accent to employ. The OCU grad decided to take his cue from the Disney film.
“Instead of trying to create an actual French accent, I leaned more towards caricature,” Nazari-Robati said. “I just played around with the text until it sounded French while still remaining intelligible.”
Ultimately, “Beauty and the Beast” is, as lyricist Howard Ashman wrote in the musical's title number, “a tale as old as time.” In bringing that story to life, Nazari-Robati and his fellow cast members hope to leave audiences with a theatrical experience that is both heartfelt and memorable.
“We're so fortunate that audiences know and love the show,” Nazari-Robati said. “That creates a certain amount of pressure too, though, because we want to live up their expectations. Since people love these characters and the story, there's sort of a balancing act between being true to yourself and creating the characters audiences expect.”
Lumiere loves himself but he remains focused on making other people happy.”
An Edmond native who plays Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast”