Interview with Doug Jabara, Lead Performer in "Beauty and the Beast"


Doug: So, we’re at the Wheelock Family Theater, I’m Doug Jabara, and I play the Beast, and we’ve been here for almost 8 weeks. This is our -- these are our final four performances -- 3 1/2. We’re at intermission at the fourth to the last performance and it’s been a great experience being here and meeting all of the talented friends that I’ve met, and working with Steve our musical director, the band, and my friend Angela who’s playing Belle, who is the one that brought me to this theater. I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY, and I live in Manhattan right now and pursue -- am pursuing a career in opera and musical theater, so -- what else can I tell ya? I’m 40 years old, and this is kind of a sojourn back into musical theater. I did opera exclusively for about 15 years and this is the first time I’m doing a musical with a book in it -- I did “Evita” and “Cats” before this, which was pretty much operatic, with no scene work in it, so this has been a great experience to get back into that, because the Beast has more lines than he does songs -- he really only has one song, which he recycles over and over and over. But it’s been a great great trip and I hope to come back here and work again. Everybody’s very talented including the administrative staff and the artistic staff and everyone’s very professional -- we were all off book I think a week before we had to be, and that was a great experience just being ready, being ahead of the game, and I don’t know what else to tell you. Anything else you’d like to know?

DB: Can you talk about the process of what it’s like to play a lead character?

Doug: Sure. It’s a day by day growth experience. Especially for me, somebody who hasn’t done a lead with over 150  lines in a long time. The last role that I played like that was the King in “The King and I”, when I was 23 -- 17 years ago. From the beginning, I remember our first read-through and reading through the script, and kinda getting lost and not really knowing where my dramatic marks were and not really fully understanding the character and not having made all the choices that the process actually, if you work at it -- and you say to yourself everyday, well let me see what I can do differently this time, or what can I do a bit more effectively, to better communicate the story. And also, when I originally came down here, I was under the impression that it was going to be a regular audience of mostly adults and some children, you know, as a normal theater would be, but this is a family theater and that has borne audiences of maybe 70% on average children, so that has changed my performance dramatically, especially during the week when we do these 10 o’clock shows, a 10 am show, you play to the audience a very different way when the average age is 6 than you do if the average age were 50. That’s been kind of challenging too, going back and forth knowing that the audience, say on a sunday afternoon, is going to be predominantly adults, as opposed to predominantly children which it is today. And just working with the characters and the idiosyncrasies and all of learning their processes and working my process into their process and molding our process, which is always a give and take and an interesting dynamic develops, the quote-unquote “chemistry” that lies onstage. I have to admit, since I am dating Angela Williams, who is our Belle, it’s not too hard to have great chemistry onstage with her at the end when we’re kissing.

DB: So what first attracted you to the theater? How did you get into it?

Doug: Oh, the theater in general.

DB: In general, yes.

Doug: Right. I was -- I’ll never forget this day -- I was in the Pocono Playhouse in the Pocono Mountains in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania -- is that enough Pocono for you? -- and a gentleman named John Raitt was onstage there. The Pocono Playhouse back in the early 70’s was, when I was attending -- maybe I was 7 or 8 -- was a big summer theater for professionals who had just been on Broadway to hit, and John Raitt, as you may or may not know, was the first Billy Bigelow in Carousel -- Richard Rodgers wrote the role for him -- he took over the role of Curly in Oklahoma!, he was the originating Sid in The Pajama Game, and he’s also the father of Bonnie Raitt, the famous country-pop singer. John Raitt had a very special place in his heart for the Poconos. It’s beautiful up there and it’s full of very lovely lovely people and the weather is always terrific in the summer time and he just had a real warmth in his heart for the Pocono Playhouse and I remember sitting in the 3rd row, watching his version of Camelot --

Asst. Stage Manager: We’re at five!

Doug: Thank you, five. And loving every minute of his portrayal of the King, I guess it was at that point, ‘cause he was older by that time, and I remember when the song “C’est Moi” came out, which is not his role, but somebody else’s role, and I remember my aunt nudging me, ‘cause I was kind of a little cocky kid, and she was saying to me “C’est Moi” means “It’s me” like “I’m the greatest thing in the world” just like “Me”, the song in “Beauty and the Beast”, and she was nudging me and saying “that’s your song! that’s your song!” and I remember always being taken by the theater from that instant, and afterward John Raitt signed my program, and I still have that program sitting on my piano in New York City, and he’s always been a big, big inspiration to me. That was the moment that I knew, even though I went and studied biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, and put off -- no I’m not gonna do music, no I’m not gonna sing, no I’m not gonna play the piano, of course, all of which I do now, I did all the way through, kind of like two lives at once, and decided I wasn’t gonna be a doctor, and I was gonna sing for my supper.

DB: Is there anything that is unique to the theater that you really enjoy or that is different from the way things are done outside of the theater, that you can think of?

Doug: You know, the theater’s a funny place, when you’re out there, when you’re on stage, simply because everything has to be kind of within the constraints of what the director, the director and you, have made through the process, except for the fact that there’s always a little bit of leeway that you can take during a run to better the performance, and that’s what makes it fun and fresh and you know, when we have a moment out there, if it’s something that’s brand-spanking new and the audience reacts in a funny way, we do something a little different, or a prop doesn’t work, or a stairwell doesn’t move the right way, then you have to think on your feet, so I love that process of exploring new things, that, you know, I guess you get in other professions but it’s just kinda neat, keeps it alive and fresh, whereas the regular world can be sometimes mundane and be the same over and over again. Plus, just the relationships you make with people that you work with. I’m a people person, which I guess is why I’m in the theater -- to move people, and to get them to feel something that perhaps they didn’t feel before they walked into the theater, or never felt before in their lives, or awaken something in them that they used to feel that they haven’t felt for a long time, and that’s why I do it, to communicate, and to waken a spirit in people. So that’s something that we get to do as actors that not many people in the world get to do in their everyday jobs. I mean there are some, obviously. The President, the government certainly affects peoples lives in a different way, but we touch their heartstrings, and that’s a great responsibility and one that not only do I take seriously, but I thoroughly enjoy.

DB: I guess I’ll ask you, also as an actor you’re probably very frequently looking for new work, for new shows. What is that process? How does that work? Do you like that?

Doug: Well, basically I have about 32 different hats. One is website coordinator. One is PR man. One is actor. One is somebody who is studying or preparing for the next role. One is who gets up at 6:30 and auditions at Actors’ Equity in 20 degree weather, one is someone who’s working on new audition material, one is a student who’s going to lessons, one is somebody who is constantly rehearsing with coaches, and friends, and always trying to drum up new work, as you say, no matter what form thats. I’ve been in the business quite a while now, so it’s starting to roll a little easier, but every day is a struggle in the sense that you always have to be on top of the game, you always have to be in the know in terms of information and asking your friends, and keeping in the loop, and it’s tiring, you know, at 40 years old, I look back at my life and I go, well am I financially stable? and the answer to that is definitely not. So from a financial point of view, I’ve decided that I’m going to start a school, ‘cause I love to teach and I’ve been teaching my whole life, from mentoring kids in the 5th grade when I was in high school, to being an OASIS tutor in high school, to being a TA in chemistry at college for the postbacks, came back to study pre-med, to teaching kids at the Princeton Review to prepare for their SATs, to private teaching of math and science as a bio-chem major, and now into singing and voice, and I’m happy to say I have two students already in Providence, and I’m working on building a voice studio here in Providence, as well as New York, ‘cause I have 5 or 6 students in New York as well, and that’s really really rewarding, not only financially more stable, but... I had a lot of vocal problems in my life, and had to overcome many many a teacher who didn’t really know what they were doing, and I guess the only thing that really carried me through was my love of singing, and now I’m thank god in the right vocal category, ‘cause I was in the wrong vocal category -- they thought I was a tenor -- and now I’m definitely a baritone, a lyric baritone, and having gone through that, you know, that which does not destroy me makes me stronger. It also makes me more knowledgeable, and being a born teacher, someone who loves to teach, I think that that’s gonna be the way that I’ll somehow level off in terms of finances and actually be able to settle down and buy some piece of property and buy a car that’s not from 1995 that I’m still driving at 12 years old and falling apart, and also still feel connected to the theater if the performances drop off, which I’m assuming they’re going to, just because you gotta be there, at least for a little while, but I’m looking forward to that school, as well.

DB: Well thank you!

Doug: Thank you! A pleasure. Good luck with your project.

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