In a tale as old as time, ZACH Theatre has found a hit with Austin audiences in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” as they bring the story of Belle and the Beast, a once dashing young prince now cursed by an enchantress to life. If the Beast can’t learn to love and be loved in return, he and his housekeepers will be trapped forever under the spell. Taking the stage as leading lady, Briana Brooks has proven to be a perfect fit for the role, and Black Texas got to speak with the actress one-on-one.
With enthusiastic eyes and a smile that could light up a room, Brooks brings a presence to the role of Belle as ZACH Theatre has once again cast a person of color for a leading role, following the success of “Sunday in the Park with George.” Her talent speaks for itself, but she never loses sight of the weight of the role.
“I’m really grateful to be able to play this role, and as a Black woman having the opportunity to play a Disney princess — especially in a time that our representation is so important,” she said. “When I was telling my friends and my family that I'm going to be playing Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” they were all excited, but my friends were saying how important it is to have this opportunity and certainly enjoy it because its important.”
Taking on the leading role for such a well known classic isn’t an easy task for anyone, and Brooks has taken the role serious from day one. She’s continued to learn about the character and develop her performance to deliver the Belle so many people have come to know and love. With every note, she captivates the hearts of the audience; pulling them into the story deeper and deeper along the way.
“Thankfully I was familiar with a lot of the music from the Broadway musical already,” she explained. “So being prepared that early on is definitely helpful because Belle's in the show a lot, and she pops in and out. It's just really breaking down and having an understanding of the progression of the show. Who Belle is at the beginning is very different from who she becomes at the end. She sings about it in her song “A Change in Me" in the second act were shes talking about ‘childhood dreams was all that I wanted but now that I have this experience I see the world differently.’ Everyone wants to be there and wants the show to be the best it can be, and when you have energy like that being put into something like the show that has a lot going on It just makes the process that much better and that much more fun and enjoyable.”
Brooks has been an extremely popular embodiment of the titular heroine, but she hasn’t let the face and excitement go to her head (yet). While she does appreciate the importance of her presence, most of her focus is on making the experience enjoyable for all.
“Oh man its, it's so much fun. It's a classic Disney movie that I think everyone has seen you know beauty and beast the cartoon. They just did the reboot of the movie last year, with Emma Watson. When I got the part I was kind of in disbelief when i got the offer for it because, like I said earlier, it wasn't necessarily a part I even considered myself playing, so I think a lot about being a lead in a show and how much work it takes and also how fun it is to play a classic Disney princess. It's so much fun. It also has a beautiful story so it just been great to be a part of that.”
Offstage, Brooks has also enjoyed her time in Austin. Acting can often take her all over the country, but the southern hospitality has helped Brooks feel welcome and right at home in the heart of the Lone Star State, but she’s still got some exploring to do.
“Austin is such a great city,” Brooks exclaimed. “It has a great vibe and everyone has been really friendly. It's great that certain people are really included in the theatre community and to have a theatre like ZACH Theatre that has programs for young people to get them involved — it really brings the community together and it’s good to see. It makes me happy to see that. I haven't visited [Barton] Springs yet but I've heard a lot about it and that's definitely a place I want to go.
If you haven’t seen the show already, it’s an absolute must. Kids and adults alike love this production, and Brooks encourages potential theatre goers to come ready to have a good time.
“Expect great music,” she said. “It can be immersive and it's just a joy. It's so much fun and a lot of laughs. There's beautiful music. Alex, who plays the beast, is wonderful so this has been a lot of great work with a lot of really, really great, talented people who love what they do. And it's so great to be able to love what you do and also work with other people who love what they do because not everyone gets the opportunity to do that.”
Tickets start at $25 and are available online at zachtheatre.org, by phone at 512-476-0541, or in person at the ZACH Theatre Box Office, in the Topfer Theatre, 202 South Lamar Boulevard (corner of Riverside Drive and South Lamar) Monday through Saturday, 12–5p.m. ZACH Theatre is wheelchair accessible, and discounts are available for groups of eight or more. Student Rush Tickets are $20 one hour before show time (with valid ID).
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set including writing, design, and photography. Nick now resides in Austin, TX after earning a degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis on journalism from Texas A&M University—Commerce.