Sacramento Resident Was a Special Guest at ARC's “Beauty and the Beast”

By Chris Narloch

Musician Maury Macht never imagined that he would one day be playing in an orchestra while actors perform his famous cousin’s famous songs from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

The Sacramento resident did just that, however, when American River College (ARC) Theatre Department presented its production of that beloved musical with lyrics by Macht’s cousin, the late, great Howard Ashman (and Tim Rice).

 

Ashman, who died in 1991 at age 40 from AIDS-related complications, was an Oscar and Grammy winner who left behind a remarkable legacy as a lyricist on such successful shows as “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Aladdin.”

Disney’s animated film of “Beauty and the Beast” is dedicated to Ashman, who died shortly before it was released: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”

Both Ashman and Macht were born in Baltimore and, during a recent phone conversation Macht, now 68, shared with me his own passion for music and some precious memories of his famous cousin.

How well did you know Howard Ashman, Maury?
Howard and I were a year apart, and we both grew up in Maryland in different parts of the state. I would see him at major events, like I went to his bar mitzvah when he was 13. His mother sang for fun, and Howard must have inherited a lot of his love for music from her.

When did you realize that your cousin was a major talent?
Well, we always knew he was talented, but when he won the Academy Award for “The Little Mermaid” the family was really proud. But “Little Shop of Horrors” was really his first big hit, and his grandparents used to keep all of his clippings and show us. Later on, after I had kids I would take them to the movies and tell them that their cousin had done the music for “Mermaid” or “Aladdin.”

It’s a shame that he didn’t live to see the enormous success of “Beauty and the Beast”…
Yes, but they screened it for members of the press before he died, and the reaction was incredibly positive. So Howard was told before he passed that audiences had fallen in love with the movie even before it was released. It was really a race against time to finish the songs and finish the film before he died. He had gone blind from AIDS, and Disney would send staff to the hospital to help him work on the score.

Do you think Howard’s experience with the disease informed his work on the film?
No doubt about it. One of the dominant themes in most of his work is the idea of “the other” and people being treated like “the other.” “Beauty and the Beast” definitely includes that idea, with the beast being misunderstood and persecuted because he is different. I spoke with the students working on the show at ARC recently, and most of them are too young to know what it was like for gay people in Howard’s day, before gay marriage was even dreamt of. In the early days of AIDS, there was so much stigma and discrimination aimed at the gay community. If you wanted to be accepted and be a successful artist, you moved to Los Angeles or New York City, and that’s what Howard did.

So what has it been like actually performing in your cousin’s show?
I gave up going to my 50-year high school reunion when the director asked me to play the flute in the orchestra. I dropped everything. It’s my first time playing in a Broadway show and performing my cousin’s songs on stage. Howard really helped bring about the renaissance of Disney animation, and I feel a spiritual connection with the show. It’s been very fulfilling, and I’m so grateful to the director for giving me this opportunity.

The ARC Theatre production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” played through Sunday, Oct. 22. For more information on their upcoming shows, visit arctheatre.org.

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