Nineteen years after its Broadway opening, Disney's enchanting musical "Beauty and the Beast" continues to draw enthusiastic audiences on the road. The fifth national tour will perform five shows this weekend at the Fox Theatre.
The fondness fans have for the material is what propels the cast to give their all, says Tim Rogan, who plays the vain hunter Gaston.
"We have someone in the orchestra who just played his one-thousandth show, and he says there is something special about this show, that it's magical. It's just a great group of people -- singers, dancers, musicians -- who are invested in it, who bring it every night, who pour their heart and soul into it," he said.
"If there is one person in the audience who hasn't seen it, this is their first impression, so we need to make it a good one, make it a good memory. And if they've already seen it, then we need to make it a better memory. For some people, it's like revisiting an old friend," he said. "That's a huge motivator to go out on stage every night. You want to do it right."
The romantic fantasy, adapted from the 18th century French fairy tale, features fascinating characters and has been transformed into a dazzling spectacle, with elaborate sets and costumes.
As for playing such an egotistical narcissistic villain, Rogan said he enjoys the role for a number of reasons, and one is that Gaston is unapologetic about his behavior.
"He's a winner. He gets what he wants. He wants Belle because she's the best, the prettiest. It's not because he loves her, he doesn't care. That has nothing to do with it. He's bold and confident. It's a fun world to be in -- of course I can't relate (he laughed). At first the Beast is the monster but he becomes this charming, lovable guy, and Gaston becomes the monster."
He doesn't mind the boos, either, at curtain call. "My director said that boos are a good thing. It means the audience hated you, and you were good at being a bad guy," he said.
Rogan started singing in the church choir, where he grew up in Potomac, Md., which is near Washington, D.C., and then performed in school musicals, which led him to a bachelor's degree in music at Catholic University in 2011. While working in regional theater, he saw an open casting call notice in Playbill, and traveled to New York to audition for the "Beauty and the Beast" company.
"I'm very grateful. We had a lot of new people join the tour so they set up a traditional three-week rehearsal in New York to re-mount the show. A couple of the veterans, leads in the show, were very helpful, and instead of being intimidating, built a rapport with the actors.
"This was a luxury a lot of tours don't have," Rogan said. "Sometimes you join a show already in progress and you have independent rehearsals."
For his first national tour, he is enjoying life on the road. "I took to it pretty fast. It's my first tour so it's exciting. The only thing is sometimes we don't know what time zone we're in -- we jump on a bus, go to a different city, and we'll have to ask."
He has quickly learned that taking care of yourself on the road is very important. "We have to stay healthy so we can perform at 100 percent."
As for the future, he hopes to become a hybrid, exploring opportunities in TV, film as well as stage. But for now, he will delight in talking to the youngsters who come to the shows in their princess outfits and the parents and grandparents who accompany them.
"Beauty and the Beast"
Where: Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis
When: 7:30 p.m. today; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Tickets www.metrotix. or Fox Box Office