When Pennsylvania native Jill-Christine Wiley hits the Arizona Broadway Theatre and the Herberger Theater Center stages to play “Belle” in Beauty and the Beast, she can check that role off her bucket list.
“I have to thank the Arizona Broadway Theatre because they’ve allowed me to check three dream roles off my list,” Wiley says. “I played Ariel, another Disney princess, in The Little Mermaid. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
“I also played Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel. It’s a role I really wanted to do. Arizona Broadway Theatre has been generous to me. It’s neat playing my second Disney princess, but at the same time, it’s different. I get to explore Ariel’s dynamic and see how Belle differs. I’m creating my own interpretation.”
Beauty and the Beast will be performed at the dinner theater, Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria, from Friday, June 2, to Sunday, July 2. It then heads downtown to the Herberger Theater Center from Friday, July 7, to Sunday, July 16.
This role fulfills a longtime wish for Wiley, who saw Beauty and the Beast first at age 12.
“She’s not necessarily a ‘princess,’” Wiley says. “She comes from a small provincial town. She dreams of something bigger. She knows she wants to reach beyond her small town. She’s a dreamer, but she’s also an achiever. It’s good for young girls and boys to hear this message of longing for something more; go after your dreams; don’t let any slow-minded people tell you that you can’t because you can.
“She’s a bit of a hero. She’s not the person who needs to be rescued. In turn, she needs the beast. She doesn’t judge a book by its cover.”
Wiley moved to New York City from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at age 18 to pursue a career in musical theater. She joined the ensemble for a touring production of Beauty and the Beast, and understudied Belle, a character she can relate to.
“Being a small-town girl, I was dreaming of something more,” she says. “It took me to New York City having high aspirations of performing, traveling the world and hoping for Broadway; to live a successful and fulfilled life as an artist and as a human.”
Wiley says she is not really “nervous” about bringing an iconic figure—one who has been featured in animated and a big-screen features—to the stage.
“I grew up watching the film,” she says about the animated feature. “It is my job to create this character on my own. I’m going back to the basics. I’m allowing myself to dig into the script and I think it’s more excited than anything to bring her to life.
“It’s so magical, between the lights, costumes, hair and makeup. It becomes a magical event for everyone. People forget the need to compare. I’m embracing the nerves and the excitement all in one.”
Wiley gets the chance to hear her audiences’ thoughts during meet and greets after the Arizona Broadway Theatre shows.
“It feels like Disneyland,” she says with a laugh about her time as Ariel. “They want pictures and they stand there and talk to you. On two-show days, the (producers) have to pull me away for the second show. I just want to stay and talk to these kids a little longer.
“They are what makes the experience for us. They are the magic for me. I can do everything on my end, but what really seals the deal for me are those kids and the reactions they have when they see Belle for the first time. That’s the icing on the cake for me.”
Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 W. Paradise Lane, Peoria, 623.776.8400, azbroadway.org/beauty, various times Friday, June 2, to Sunday, July 2, $40-$88.
Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe, Phoenix, 602-252-8497, azbroadway.org/beauty, various times Friday, July 7, to Sunday, July 16, $37.50-$77.50.