Beauty and the Beast—the tale as old as time—returns to the big screen March 17 starring Emma Watson, but Broadway fans have been completely obsessed with this Disney classic and its titular “Beauty” since it opened on the Great White Way in 1994. Over the course of its 13-year run on Broadway, over 20 actors performed the role of Belle. But what roles had they taken on before the headstrong princess, and where are they now? Be our guest as Playbill looks back on eight of them.
Susan Egan originated the role of bookworm Belle on Broadway in 1994 and was nominated for a Tony Award for her work. After leaving the Broadway production, she reprised her role in Los Angeles in 1995. This actor is no stranger to Disney. In 1997, Egan provided both the singing and speaking voices for Hercules’ Megara. Her most recent Broadway credits include Sally Bowles in the 1998 revival of Cabaret and as Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Egan now permanently resides in Los Angeles, where she voices Rose Quartz on Steven Universe. She recently published a blog post detailing her time as Belle on her personal website. Read it here.
Andréa Burns appeared in the ensemble of Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and covered the role of Belle after starring as Maria in a European tour of West Side Story. Since her days as a Disney diva, she has originated the roles of Daniela in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and Carmen in Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance. She just completed a run as Gloria Estefan’s mother, Gloria Fajardo, in On Your Feet! on Broadway and will set sail on Playbill’s Broadway on the Rhine River in August 2017. In fact, while aboard Broadway on the High Seas 7, Burns shared the story of hurting her ankle while understudying Belle mere weeks before her wedding to actor-director Peter Flynn.
Brynn O’Malley understudied the role of Belle while dancing in the ensemble of Beauty and the Beast as an enchanted object and village person. This performance marked her Broadway debut. Since then, O’Malley has appeared as Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray, Nessarose in Wicked, and Grace Farrell in the 2012 revival of Annie. Most recently she starred as the long-suffering Betsy Nolan in Honeymoon in Vegas and as Sylvia Rosewater in the Encores! production of God Bless You Mr. Rosewater at New York City Center.
Kerry Butler took on the role of Belle on Broadway after starring in the Toronto touring production of Beauty and the Beast. She made her Broadway debut in 1993 as Ms. Jones in Blood Brothers, but has been performing since the age of three. After leaving Beauty and the Beast, Butler went on to play Eponine in Les Misérables. She then originated the roles of Penny Pingleton in Hairspray, Clio/Kira in Xanadu, Brenda Strong in Catch Me if You Can, and Mabel Cantwell in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man on Broadway. Most recently she starred as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Clinton: The Musical at New World Stages and as love struck reporter Marianne in 2016’s Disaster! on Broadway.
Disney Channel star Christy Carlson Romano performed in the role of Belle in 2004, shortly after Even Stevens, the sitcom in which she played know-it-all older sister Ren Stevens, came to an end. Romano also provided the voice for Disney Channel’s teen crime-fighter Kim Possible. By the time she inhabited the provincial life, she had already made her Broadway debut in 1998 as the original Mary Phagan in Parade, and appeared as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q in 2008. Most recently, Romano appeared alongside Betty Buckley in White Lies Off-Broadway in 2010. Since then, she has turned to directing, working on the music video “The Sun” in 2012 and the feature film Christmas All Over Again starring Todrick Hall in 2016. She gave birth to her first child in December 2016.
Ashley Brown made her Broadway debut as Belle in 2005, shortly after appearing in a touring production of jukebox musical On the Record. Brown is best known for originating the title role of practically-perfect-in-every-way nanny in Broadway’s Mary Poppins. She performed in the role for two years, and then took flight again in the U.S. touring cast. Most recently, Brown appeared in the national tour of The Sound of Music as Mother Abbess. Earlier this year she had her first child, Emaline Rose Wisler.
Ann Sanders recently made history as the first Asian-American actress to portray Anna Leonowens in The King and I on Broadway. Long before this historic event, she appeared as an enchanted object and village person in Beauty and the Beast, and covered the role of Belle. Sanders later went on to perform in the West End production of the show in the same roles she held on Broadway. She has also appeared in the Broadway casts of Leap of Faith, Avenue Q, and If/Then. This past fall, she took on Mme. Aung in David Hare’s Plenty at the Public Theater.
Andrea McArdle, best known for originating the titular role in both the Broadway and West End productions of Annie, filled Belle’s shoes in 1999 after appearing as Margy Frake in State Fair. On Broadway, McArdle has also appeared as Ashley in Starlight Express and Fantine in Les Misérables. In summer 2016, she starred as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes at the Gateway Playhouse and Ogunquit Playhouse.