Three Who Shone in Beauty and the Beast
Joel Markowitz on the Winston Churchill High School production
Mike: Lefou is Gaston’s comedic lackey with a funny voice and disheveled appearance. It wasn’t that hard for me to relate to Lefou because in some ways, we share similar personalities. In Lefou, I see my own sort of humor and natural energy – except on an extremely high dose of steroids! For instance, backstage I don’t really walk around – I do spins to get around. I was able to channel my own energy into my character.
Joel: You have a beautiful voice. Are you studying voice, and are there any other terrific singers in the Mainwaring family?
Mike: I’ve always enjoyed singing. Other than the voice training I receive here at Churchill, I’ve never actually had any voice lessons. Both my Mom and Dad like to sing. In fact, they met while singing in a church choir. When they were young, they sang in a touring musical group and even performed on several albums (yes, vinyl record albums, if anybody actually still remembers what those are!)
Joel: What’s it like to play opposite Steven Rigaux, who plays Gaston?
Mike: This is the third musical I’ve been in with Steven at Churchill. Steven is a great guy who in real life is the polar opposite of his pompous, self-absorbed character, Gaston. It was a lot of fun working with Steven.
Joel: Describe what Lefou and you go through in the song “Gaston.”
Mike: The song takes place after Belle has declined Gaston’s marriage “proposal.” Actually, Gaston doesn’t even propose — because of his enormous ego, he simply assumes that Belle will enthusiastically accept the honor he is bestowing on her. Gaston then is, “disgraced, publicly humiliated” when she turns him down. So, during the song “Gaston,” Lefou tries to bolster Gaston’s bruised ego. Unfortunately, Gaston makes himself feel better by abusing Lefou. In the process, Lefou gets challenged to a shooting match and a push up contest against Gaston. He then gets punched, kicked, leapfrogged and thrown across the stage. Because of this and also the dance sequence during the middle of the song, it’s a very physical scene. I loved it!
Joel: I thought you stole “Gaston” from everyone else on the stage. How did you do it?
Mike: I tried to make my performance as big and wild as possible. Because the song is low in my vocal range and because I had to utilize a raspy voice, I couldn’t in any way belt out the song as I would have liked to have. As a result, I had to funnel my energy into big movements and facial expressions.
Joel: What was the best advice that director Jessica Speck gave you?
Mike: At one point during the course of the show Ms. Speck said vary simply and directly, “There are no limits.” From that point on I felt free to do what I needed to in order to make the part big and believable. Ms. Speck is a wonderful director who accomplished a near miracle this fall by producing Rent (performed in late October/early November) and then doing Beauty and the Beast complete with huge production numbers – less than a month later!
Joel: What is your favorite scene or song in the show that you are not in or don’t sing?
Mike: Since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved the song, “Human Again.” I especially love the part written for Babette during “Human Again” — It weaves in and out and jumps out above the other voices in a very playful, interesting way.
Joel: Tell us about other roles you’ve played.
Mike: Previously, I played “Pops” in Kiss Me Kate, and I was a member of the ensemble in Rent. I’ve loved every minute I’ve gotten to spend in our school productions. There is just so much talent at Churchill — from the performers to the awesome pit orchestra to the production crew.
Outside of school, I’ve had the privilege of working professionally in Oliver! at the Olney Theatre and in Shenandoah at Ford’s Theatre. I have to say my favorite role to date was as Gabriel the slave boy in Shenandoah. That was an amazing experience where I got to spend about five months working with mostly Broadway-based actors and an incredible production crew, including director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun (Grease, Big River, and High School Musical). One high point during that time was being invited to perform a duet from that show for President and Mrs. Bush and other dignitaries at Ford’s Theatre’s Presidential Gala. I learned a lot about being a professional and taking direction during that time, and forged some wonderful lasting friendships.
Joel: If you could play any other role in the show, who would it be?
Mike: I think I would like to play Cogsworth. He’s “tightly wound,” and as a result, filled with nervous energy — kinda like me!
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