It may be a tale as old as time, but ABC’s upcoming two-hour Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration will be presenting a diverse new cast of actors and artists, headlined by recording sensation H.E.R. as Belle. At a Friday panel at D23 Expo, it was announced that the Grammy® winner will be joined by Josh Groban as Beast, Joshua Henry as Gaston, and EGOT winner Rita Moreno as the musical special’s narrator.
“It’s such a great cast,” raved H.E.R. “I think about how much fun we’re going to have.”
Executive producer of Beauty & the Beast: A 30th Celebration, John Chu, introduced the news-breaking panel remotely, followed by introductions of panelists that included H.E.R., executive producer Raj Kapoor, production designer Julio Himede, costume designer Marina Toybina, and choreographer Jamal Sims. Kapoor explained that the project has been three years in the making, with producers being granted unprecedented access to the Disney archives—including animators’ original maquettes and character sketches used to create the 1991 classic.
In explaining the concept for Beauty & the Beast: A 30th Celebration, Kapoor said TV audiences will first see the opening of the original animated feature, with unexpected sequences suddenly coming to life in live-action recreations.
A series of slides revealed first-look images of the breathtaking sets, which will feature background projections of character sketches from the animated film’s archives. One slide that inspired gasps from the enthusiastic fans showcased concept art for Belle’s arrival in Beast’s castle.
Additional slides from Beauty & the Beast: A 30th Celebration revealed glimpses of the costume sketches for Lumiere and Cogsworth and an embodiment of the enchanted rose petals, which will come alive in a ballet sequence featuring both male and female dancers, Sims revealed.
In creating the Beauty and the Beast costumes, Toybina said her goal was to blend “the world of reality, spellbound enchantment, and pure imagination.” She praised Chu for pushing her creatively—by rejecting all of the initial costume sketches she presented to him. That sent her back to researching actual 18th-century candelabras and clocks. The result for Lumiere was a costume that evokes “a melted character from head to toe,” Toybina said.
When she was a girl, H.E.R. remembered, her cousin had a Belle doll that H.E.R.’s aunt insisted be kept in its original packaging. They would only be able to admire it on display up on a shelf. But what H.E.R. most dreamed of having was Belle’s iconic bright yellow ballgown. “Mom, I want that dress!” she’d plead, never dreaming that one day she’d have a chance actually to play Belle. “I’m proud to be part of this celebration,” she said. “Now I know little girls who look like me know they can do it too! I’m proof that you’re beautiful the way you are. It’s important that the world gets to see a Black and Filipino princess.”
Kapoor added that producers had also just found their child actor to play Chip, and Alan Menken, composer (with the late lyricist Howard Ashman) of the 1991 classic’s beloved songs, “is still involved in this project.”
With rehearsals starting in just three weeks, H.E.R. said, “I can’t wait to sing and sound like a princess.” She even started warbling a tease of “Little town, it’s a quiet village…,” as the audience screamed with delight, wanting to hear more.
But that will have to wait until Thursday, December 15, when Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration premieres on ABC before streaming the following day on Disney+.