Actor takes a shine to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ role

Patrick Pevehouse, center, plays Lumiere in the touring production of “Beauty and the Beast,” which is based on the Disney film. Pevehouse says it’s the “perfect role to be able to go over the top – and get away with it.”
Patrick Pevehouse, center, plays Lumiere in the touring production of “Beauty and the Beast,” which is based on the Disney film. Pevehouse says it’s the “perfect role to be able to go over the top – and get away with it.” Courtesy photo

Ann Hould-Ward and Patrick Pevehouse know the secret to bringing to life Lumiere, the singing, dancing, shamelessly flirty French candelabra of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”

Hould-Ward won a Tony Award in 1994 for designing the debonair Lumiere along with all the other elaborate and exotic costumes for the hit musical based on Disney’s own 1991 Oscar-winning animated feature.

And Pevehouse, who grew up in Dallas and got his theater degree from Oklahoma City University, is the latest actor to step into Lumiere’s golden uniform – complete with candles for hands and headpiece – in the touring production that opens Tuesday in Century II for the first show this season from Theater League.

“Photographer Diane Arbus once said that clothing in a store has no history because it’s never been worn, therefore it has no life. What happens to a garment when a human body is inside is what gives it a history. The same is true for costumes,” Hould-Ward says.

“It takes both a good design and a good performance to make a character,” she says.

For Pevehouse, who admits it took him about a week to get used to how heavy the hand-candles are, the secret to Lumiere is a fearless playfulness.

“Lumiere lets me show off my comedic chops. The writing is funny, and, as an actor, I trust the words. But he’s such an in-your-face character, it’s a perfect role to be able to go over the top – and get away with it,” Pevehouse says with a laugh.

The 1994 musical, which was nominated for nine Tony Awards and ran 13 years on Broadway, is the creation of composer Alan Menken, lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and writer Linda Woolverton. Among the familiar and beloved songs are the rousing “Be Our Guest,” the swashbuckling “Gaston,” the spunky “Belle” and the lyrical “Beauty and the Beast,” which won an Oscar for best song. For the stage, the team wrote seven new songs to add to the movie’s five.

Based on the classic Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale from the 1700s, the story details the evolving relationship between a beautiful young woman named Belle and a handsome prince who was turned into a hideous beast by a witch’s curse because of his selfishness. Belle learns to look beyond the Beast’s appearance to see the goodness in his heart.

Surrounding them in the Beast’s castle are household staffers who were turned into enchanted objects reflecting their jobs and personalities, like Cogsworth the clock (stuffy, tightly wound butler), Babette the feather duster (saucy chambermaid), Mrs. Potts the teapot (warm-hearted, maternal cook) and, of course, Lumiere (suave, full-of-himself valet), who takes charge and acts as the perfect host for the audience.

“He’s Maurice Chevalier, absolutely. Lumiere is just a bucket of charm,” says Pevehouse, who is making his first appearance on stage in Wichita although he’s been a frequent visitor in recent years as friends from OCU performed with Music Theatre Wichita.

“But I also see Lumiere as a bit of Pepe LePew (the cartoon skunk) because he’s a little mischievous. What’s not to love about that?” says Pevehouse, noting that every actor, of necessity, throws a bit of his own personality into a role to make it his own. The actor says he’s direct and outspoken like Lumiere. He’s also always “on,” meaning that he likes being the center of attention. So, how is he different from Lumiere?

“Well, outside of the fact that Lumiere is French and I’m not, there’s not a whole lot of difference,” Pevehouse says with a laugh.

Lumiere is the role that sparked the performing bug in Pevehouse when he was about 10.

“The ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tour came through our town in 1996. The very first time I saw Lumiere, I said, ‘That’s me. That’s what I want to do.’ I have always held that show and that role dear to my heart. When I got to New York, it was the first thing I wanted to do,” says the actor, who paid his dues by playing Woody the cowboy doll in the stage musical of “Toy Story” for Disney Cruise Lines. “I kept trying for it. I’m so glad I finally got the chance.”

In an isn’t-it-a-small-world situation, Pevehouse’s costar as Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story” was Ryan Everett Wood, who is playing Beast in this production. Wichitans may remember Wood for reprising his national tour role of everybody’s favorite grouchy green ogre in Crown Uptown’s “Shrek: The Musical” this past summer.

“It was good to have somebody in the cast that you already know and trust,” Pevehouse says. “A lot of us came into the tour at the same time in August, so we’ve had a chance to build our ensemble from the ground up.”

Lumiere’s costume takes the lanky, normally 6-foot-6 Pevehouse to a towering 7-foot-4. Hould-Ward says that in the original Broadway design, the hand-candles actually sparked flames at key moments, thanks to Disney’s Imagineering team.

“As you can imagine, we had to make sure everything he came close to was flameproof, which was a particular challenge because Lumiere does a lot of dancing with Babette, the feather duster,” Hould-Ward says.

Fortunately for Pevehouse, the touring production costume candle-hands don’t actually produce flames but look like they do because of special effects. Still, the actor says it took some adjustment, not only to the candle-hands’ weight, but also the limitations on using his own hands to pick anything up backstage.

“I have dressers to help me get into the costume, but once the coat goes on, I can’t really use my hands for anything but the show. To get a drink of water backstage, I have a special bottle with a straw that I can use hands-free,” Pevehouse says. “I’m used to it now.”

Hould-Ward chuckles when she thinks of how far she’s come from a girl born and bred in rural Montana, where her high school had a total of 69 kids, to becoming an award-winning costume designer for about 20 Broadway shows plus operas, ballets and folklorico dancing.

“I always liked to draw. I was also in 4-H where I learned to make my own clothes. But one night we went to the drive-in movies and saw ‘Auntie Mame.’ I remember a scene with a bedroom full of colorful wigs and beautiful costumes. That was the actual moment I found my purpose,” the designer says.

She got her degrees from Mills College in the San Francisco area and the University of Virginia, then studied at the Art Students League in New York. The designs for her very first Broadway show, “Sunday in the Park With George,” got her a Tony nomination in 1984. She got her second nomination in 1987 for “Into the Woods,” then won the Tony in 1994 for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”

While Hould-Ward is known for her sumptuous, historically accurate designs, she also has some surprises up her well-tailored sleeve.

“I’ve designed circus costumes for Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Twice,” she says with a twinkle.

This year, she was also commissioned to create a new look for Ronald McDonald, giving the famous fast-food spokesclown a yellow vest and cargo pants with red-and-white striped rugby shirt to replace his baggy jumpsuit, plus a red blazer and bow tie for dressier occasions.

She is currently working on designs for a new production of “Man of La Mancha” set to open in Washington, D.C., in March.

“When I’m designing, I love to know who is going to be wearing it. I use the actor’s photo to inspire me while I’m drawing. It isn’t a question of the costume making the character or the actor making the costume,” she says. “When a costume works, it’s a combination of good design and good performance.”

If you go

‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’

What: National tour of 1994 musical based on 1991 Disney animated film about looking beyond an ugly surface to find true beauty; first offering of season for Theater League

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (sold out)