Earlier this year, Disney Theatrical Productions commenced a brand new Australian tour of Beauty and the Beast the Musical, and is in my opinion, a “timeless tale enchantingly brought to life on-stage”. This long awaited return of the mid-90s musical was initially announced only for the Sydney Capitol Theatre, but as many would have expected, it is now set to expand its Australian tour to other states in 2024 and perhaps beyond. Following the summer school holidays, the musical will travel to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s (QPAC) Lyric Theatre in February 2024. It will then make Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre its home starting from June 2024. For Brisbane, this marks the first time Disney has brought the musical to their city. Meanwhile, in Victoria, it’s the first time since 1995 that the production will grace its stages.
For one lead cast member, Shubshri Kandiah, who is the show’s lead in the role of Belle, the upcoming Brisbane season will be a return home for her. A graduate of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University along Brisbane’s South Bank with a Bachelor of Musical Theatre, she made her professional debut shortly after graduation taking over the role of Princess Jasmine in the latter half of the show’s Australian (and international) tours. I remember seeing one of her early shows in the role and it feeling like she had been gracing stages for many, many years – and her subsequent roles – including her work with Opera Australia in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and her time as Belle in Beauty in the Beast the Musical has solidified her as an exemplar of what the next generation of performers have to offer audiences.
Coinciding with tickets going on-sale for the Brisbane season of Beauty and the Beast the Musical, I had the opportunity to ask Shubshri Kandiah a few questions about her history, her time with this production and the advise she has for those looking to follow in her footsteps and forge their own career in the creative arts. Scroll down to read the full Q&A!
You commenced your professional career in the role of Jasmine during Disney Theatrical Production Australia’s tour of Aladdin. How does it feel being back in the shoes of another iconic Disney character?
It’s so wonderful to have the opportunity to take on another iconic role, especially since the last time I worked with Disney, I was straight out of university! It’s nice to be able to take on the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast feeling like I have a little more experience under my belt and a little bit more to give this time around.
You have been performing in the role of Belle for a few months now in Sydney. How has the Australian tour been treating you so far, and what have been some highlights on your journey with the production?
It’s been a wonderful few months in Sydney so far. It’s so exciting to see how well received Beauty and the Beast has been here, so I’m very much looking forward to sharing that with Brisbane and Melbourne audiences. Some of my highlights so far have been the first read through of the script, which was my first time hearing everyone say their lines in character. It was so inspiring to be amongst such an incredible cast, and so obvious to see why everyone was chosen for their roles.
Another highlight for me was sitzprobe where the cast got to hear and sing with our incredible orchestra for the first time. That was magic!
How does it feel getting to perform to Brisbane audiences once more in Beauty and the Beast the Musical?
Performing in Brisbane is always special for me. Because I studied in Brisbane, at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, I feel like that was the start of my professional career in musical theatre. Brisbane audiences have been with me though my first steps of university performances, first debut concerts and first professional roles, as they all happened in Brisbane!
I remember first seeing you perform in An Evening with Liz Callaway and Spirit of Christmas in 2017, which from memory was around the time you graduated from Queensland Conservatorium. Did you ever imagine you would go from student to multiple leading roles so quickly, and are there any particular ways that training in Queensland helped get you where you are today?
I feel incredibly lucky to have received the opportunities I did during university and so soon after. Performing with Liz was something I could never have dreamed of, and that’s the same with going straight into a lead role after graduating university. I think The Con is the best university to have prepared me for what was to come, and I would never have had any of those opportunities without training there. The university is so well connected with QPAC that, through The Con, you get the very unique experience of performing on professional stages alongside industry talent throughout your training, and that’s quite incredible.
What aspects and moments of your life have assisted in making you the actor that you are today?
I believe from every role that I’ve held there has been something new to learn, and then you take what you’ve learnt from that role and bring it onto the next one… and there will be something new to learn at the next role. But that’s the joy of every role! It’s always different and there is always something new to take away. It’s one of the biggest joys of being a performer, I think.
What made you originally audition for the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast the Musical?
To be completely honest, I saw the brief and I was familiar with the story and some of the music from watching the animated version of Beauty and the Beast, and I just thought, “I think I could do that”. I also love that this show has a number of lead roles of a variety of ages; I learn a lot from watching others perform, and I thought this would be a great opportunity and role to watch and learn on.
What were your earliest memories of watching Beauty and the Beast the film? And why do you think the works around the film, such as this musical, continue to resonate with audiences today?
I can’t really remember when I first watched Beauty and the Beast because it wasn’t a film I owned on VCR or DVD growing up. But I think the reason it was so well received then, and why it continues to be now, is that the story was so revolutionary and touching. Something quite unique about this piece is that we don’t see two people instantly fall in love. We watch from the beginning, a relationship that develops from people who are forced together, which turns eventually to friendship, and then to love. What brings them together is openness and vulnerability and their love of stories and adventure. Plus, Belle was the first Disney Princess to be the hero of her own story. That’s huge!
What are your recommendations for those who are looking to follow your footsteps and get a career in the performing arts?
I personally think training is a wonderful thing. I chose to do a three-year bachelor degree in Musical Theatre at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. Prior to that, the industry felt very unknown to me, but through training, I felt I was shown a very clear path of how to achieve what I wanted.
Rapid Fire Questions
Favourite song in Beauty and the Beast the Musical that you perform in?
‘Be Our Guest’
Favourite song in the show that you don’t perform in?
Favourite moment in the show?
Belle’s yellow gown reveal in Act Two
Favourite piece of choreography in the show?
The beautiful waltz I get to perform with Brendan Xavier, who plays the Beast, during the title song ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Favourite costume in the show?
Phoebe Coupe, part of our incredible Ensemble, gets to wear the most fantastic costume as ‘Marie’ in the opening number. It’s my favourite.
Favourite piece of staging / set design?
The Town set, seen in Act One during ‘Belle’
Do you have a favourite pre-show ritual or routine?
I often join Hayley Martin and Alana Tranter (who play Babette and Madame in the show) in their dressing room with Jayde Westaby (Mrs. Potts) pre warm up, and put my makeup on in there with them. It’s one of my favourite parts of starting the day at work.
If you had the opportunity to fill another role in the show for a night, with no limitations, what character would that be?
Hmmm that’s a hard one, but I think I’d love to play the evil Monsieur D’Arque for the night. In Beauty and the Beast, he is the proprietor of the local insane asylum.
What is something that people might miss on their first watch of Beauty and the Beast the Musical but should keep an eye out for?
During the transformation where the Beast turns back into a man, if you look at the enchanted rose which at that point has lost all its petals, you can actually see it start to regrow. It’s pretty spectacular, if you see it.
Tickets to see Beauty and the Beast the Musical at the Sydney season at the Capitol Theatre and the first few weeks of the Brisbane season at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) are now on public sale. Information on how to book for both seasons can be found on the show’s official website. Planning to see the musical during its Melbourne season at Her Majesty’s Theatre? Ticket pre-sales are set to commence starting 13 November 2023, with general public sales to follow shortly after.
Thank you so much to Shubshri Kandiah for her time in answering my questions and her valuable insights! Special thanks must also go to Disney Theatrical Productions Australia and the show’s publicity team at Peach and Pineapple for facilitating this opportunity!
If you wish to read my extended thoughts on the early weeks of Beauty and the Beast the Musical’s Sydney, click HERE for my full review.