Interview: Choreographer Matt West from 'Disney's Beauty and the Beast'

The cast of Disney's Beauty and the Beast
The cast of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, a show choreographed by Matt West

The stage production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, based on the Academy Award®-winning animated film of the same name, launched on Broadway in 1994. Since then, the beloved musical has been seen in over 13 countries, moving audiences with the story of Belle and Beast (a prince trapped in a beast's body) and musical numbers like "Be Our Guest" and the title song. The original team behind Beauty and the Beast is back together for a new touring production of the show that will stop at Philadelphia's Academy of Music from Tuesday, November 26 through Sunday December 1. We interviewed choreographer Matt West about Beauty and the Beast, his long association with Disney, and what dancers need to land the best jobs.

Glamorosi: When you're not on the road with a show, where do you call home?
Matt West: New York City has been my home since I was 17. I moved here in 1977 to dance at Radio City Music Hall.

Glamorosi: Did you study tap-jazz-ballet and participate in recitals at a local studio like a lot of kids?
Matt West: Yes, all of the above. It is so important to start classes, but to also gain experience performing at a young age.

Glamorosi: What was your first paying gig? How did you get it?
Matt West: My first paying gig was portraying Peter Pan for the Walt Disney Company. I went to an audition for Disneyland’s Christmas Parade in California. The people at Disney thought I would be a great Peter Pan, so after auditioning I won the role and toured the country as this iconic character.

Glamorosi: What additional skill or skills do you need to make the leap from dancer to choreographer?
Matt West: You have to have an “I want to be in charge complex,” seriously, many performers retain the desire to keep performing, however I always wanted to create my own dance steps and see my work come to life.

Glamorosi: You've been involved in choreographing and launching shows on Broadway and beyond since the 1990s, and during that time technology changed the world – how has it changed theater production?
Matt West: The advances in technology have been fantastic tools in supporting storytelling, however without a good story these modern innovations are useless. Concentrate on the story, and then add all the “bells and whistles.”

Glamorosi: You've worked with a long list of entertainment greats, including Richard Attenborough when you starred as "Bobby" in the film version of A Chorus Line, to your work as a choreographer with Elton John and Bernie Taupin (Lestat) and Eartha Kitt (Mimi le Duck) – has there ever been a moment when you felt star struck?
Matt West: Shows are collaboration; things move fast and you need to jump in feet first. There’s not time to be “star struck,” however I have had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented artists. At times I’ve been humbled by this. I’ve also learned so much from them.

Glamorosi: You were on the original team that launched Beauty and the Beast on Broadway in 1994 – what has been changed/updated/improved about the production over the years?
Matt West: Individually, we’ve all grown as artists. And as a team we’ve been offered an incredible opportunity to take a second look at Beauty and give the show a “facelift.”

Glamorosi: Beauty and the Beast has been launched in 13 countries – when the language changes, how does that affect the choreography?
Matt West: Quite often it affects the choreography to the extreme. You have to translate English into another language and then back to English in order to know what an actress is singing or saying.

Glamorosi: For people who have never seen Beauty and the Beast – the movie or the stage production – how would you describe it? What should they expect to see?
Matt West: It’s an incredible lesson that reminds us not to judge a book by its cover.

Glamorosi: Among people who are familiar with Beauty and the Beast, it is beloved – what is it about the story that resonates with audiences?
Matt West: It’s pure entertainment, wonderful fantasy and a message of love. It’s not just for children, it’s for everyone.

Glamorosi: What is your next project?
Matt West: I am directing and choreographing the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in 2015.

Glamorosi: Many of our readers are aspiring young dancers – what advice do you have for them?
Matt West: It’s important to be a “Triple Threat.” If you want to go into theatre, dancing is not enough anymore. Singing and acting are also required to get the best jobs.


Disney's Beauty and the Beast runs from Tuesday, November 26, through Sunday, December 1, at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia, PA (240 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102). For tickets or more info call 215.893.1999 or stop by

Photo by Amy Boyle

Posted on Monday, November 25, 2013