For whom the Belle tolls

Emily Behny is ready to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast.


It wasn’t un­til she played the role of Liesl in The Sound of Mu­sic dur­ing her sopho­more year at Ball State Uni­versity that Emily Behny real­ized she might ac­tu­ally be able to make a ca­reer out of per­form­ing.

“I star­ted per­form­ing in church when I as about five or six, but it wasn’t un­til I got in­to high school that I dove in­to theat­er. That’s when I got the bug, but I waited un­til I got to col­lege to take per­form­ing ser­i­ously,” says Behny, now tak­ing the role of Belle in the award-win­ning smash hit mu­sic­al Dis­ney’s Beauty and the Beast, com­ing to the Academy of Mu­sic June 4 to 10.

And what a role it is, this clas­sic story of Belle, a young wo­man in a pro­vin­cial town and the Beast, who’s really a young prince trapped in a spell placed by an en­chant­ress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be trans­formed to his former self. But time is run­ning out. If the Beast does not learn his les­son soon, he and his house­hold will be doomed for all etern­ity.

Play­ing Belle was al­ways a dream role for Behny, who just turned 25. But in or­der to get it, she was faced with stiff com­pet­i­tion.

“I was com­pet­ing for the role with over 300 girls. I think I was num­ber 191,” she said. “I was wait­ing for a long time, and by the time they got to my group, they had cut the singing time down from 16 bars to 8 bars. That’s not a lot of time to show what you can do. It gives you about 30 seconds to make an im­pres­sion, and that’s hard to do.”

But she did it. She was called back for a second au­di­tion, a dance call, then asked to come back again with three oth­er girls to sing for the role of Belle.

“And here I am today,” she said. “I can hardly be­lieve it. They had seen so many people, so to be chosen from all of the oth­ers and get the role is a real hon­or.”

Behny, from a small town in In­di­ana, has been trav­el­ing with the show for 16 months, and said she’s en­joy­ing every minute of it — with only one slight chal­lenge.

“And that is to res­ist fall­ing in­to what I call ‘Dis­ney Prin­cess Land,’” she ex­plained. “Belle is not a prin­cess, and it would be easy to fall in­to that trap in a very me­lo­dra­mat­ic way. So we have to be very care­ful not to do that and just make her seem as hu­man as can be for the audi­ence.”

Whatever they are do­ing ob­vi­ously works, for audi­ences keep com­ing back to see this treas­ured mu­sic­al. And Behny thinks she knows why.

“I think it’s be­cause the story nev­er gets old. It’s the clas­sic love story that people can re­late to be­cause it talks about people see­ing through the ex­ter­i­or of some­body and in­to some­body’s heart, which is how Belle falls in love with the Beast,” she said.

“In a very im­age-driv­en so­ci­ety it’s some­times hard to stop and look in­to the hu­man­ness of someone and what makes them who they are,” she con­tin­ued. “And I do think that’s the main draw of the show, aside from all the char­ac­ters, the dia­logue, the cos­tum­ing and the big Broad­way num­bers. That makes it fun for the whole fam­ily.”

Ad­mit­tedly ex­cited and over­joyed to be play­ing this role — her first since gradu­at­ing from col­lege — Behny hopes her fu­ture will just get big­ger and bright­er with each passing year.

“I’d like to do more mu­sic­al theat­er as well as act in some ‘straight plays,’” she said. “I’d also like to do film and TV someday, too. I have many, many in­terests, and I hope they all come true.” ••

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