Boise's Christopher Brand is living his dream

'Beauty and the Beast' will open with a familiar face on stage

doland@idahostatesman.comApril 26, 2013 


    2:30 and 8 p.m. April 27, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 28, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $37.50-$67.50. Select-a-Seat.

When the dancing Salt Shaker makes his entrance during this weekend's performances of "Beauty and the Beast" at the Morrison Center, expect some extra hoots and hollers.

The last time Christopher Brand performed on the Morrison Center stage was with his high school choir. Now he will make his Boise professional debut in the chorus of "Beauty and the Beast," his first national tour.

Brand auditioned for the NETworks tour in New York City, where he moved right after graduating from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

"I'm so excited to do this show in Boise. I'm very proud of the whole production," he says.

He arrived in the Big Apple like a scene from a movie - with a suitcase and a dream of becoming a professional theater artist, he says.

"I'd never been to New York," Brand says. "The first time I went to Times Square it was amazing. It took my breath away."

Brand dove in right away and did a tough audition for a replacement Jet in a production of "West Side Story" on his third day. He didn't get the part but he learned a lot, he says.

"I really learned to calm down," he says. "It takes an intense amount of focus to be competitive in an audition. It's not just skill and talent they're looking for. You have to be what the casting director wants, and still bring something of yourself."

"Beauty" was his fifth audition, and after several callbacks, he was excited to be cast, because this show reflects why he loves doing theater.

"I love telling stories through art, taking someone on a journey and you get taken along, too," says Brand, who spoke via telephone from Tempe, Ariz., where the show played last week. "This show is great storytelling."

Brand sings, dances and creates characters as a townsperson, cutlery and a salt shaker, when the Beauty Belle finds herself in the Beast's magical castle and inanimate items come to life. He also understudies the two male leads: Gaston - the town hero who wants Belle only for her beauty - and Beast - the real hero of the piece, who has magically been transformed from a handsome prince. (FYI: It's unlikely that Brand will get a chance to perform either of those roles in Boise.)

This production of "Beauty and the Beast" is a reimagined version of the Tony-winning Broadway show done by the original choreographer and director. It is tailored to touring and playing smaller venues. The show hit the road in June 2012 and will wrap up this June in Providence, R.I., where Brand, who is a Mormon, spent part of his two-year mission. He took time out of college to do it.

While at BYU, Brand performed with the University's Young Ambassador group that travels the country doing shows. Though he thought about pursuing a more serious academic track, his love of theater kept calling to him.

By the time he decided to go for it, he had his family's full support, says his mom, Barbara.

"It was a tough decision for him," she says. "We had long discussions about it. What it came down to was the question of what he would regret more - the disappointment of not making it, or the question of whether or not he tried. It turned out to be the latter. So we said, 'Go for it.' "

Although Brand didn't perform as a child, he grew up around theater. His grandparents and uncle regularly performed in Boise Music Week, Barbara says.

Chris Brand started doing theater in high school, winning the lead in Timberline High School's production of "Tommy." That same year he did his first role at Music Theatre of Idaho in "Les Miserables," the junior edition. After that he was a regular in the company.

"He came and auditioned and I thought he was a standout," says Jean Andrews, who founded MTI in 1997. "He was not only nice and articulate, he had an enormous amount of vocal talent and he's a really hard worker."

Brand is the first of Andrews' MTI kids to go on to a professional career.

While at MTI, Chris managed to get his whole family on stage at one time or another.

His mom, Barbara, continues to perform with MTI. You can see her in "Some Enchanted Evening," a musical revue of songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which opens next week.

But this weekend, you'll find her and the entire Brand clan in the Morrison Center audience.

"We're really excited," she says. "This is the first time the family gets to see him in this role."

When the show closes, it's back to NYC for Brand, he says. There is a possibility of going out with this show again, and auditioning for NETworks' holiday touring production of "Elf."

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