Jamal Sims on Working On “Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration”

December 16, 2022

Disney lovers, this one’s for you. On December 15, Belle, Lumière, Mrs. Potts and the rest of the crew behind the 1991 classic returned to the screen in “Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration,” filmed before a live audience and airing on ABC at 8/7c. The special, which blends the original animation with live-action performances, will then be available to stream on Disney+ starting December 16.

One of the creative forces bringing this project to life is Jamal Sims, the much-lauded choreographer behind the Step Up movies, 2011’s Footloose, Netflix’s 13: The Musical, Miley Cyrus’ Wonder World Tour and so much more. With Jon M. Chu (the director of the In the Heights film and Crazy Rich Asians) executive producing, the anniversary celebration features an absolutely start-studded cast: H.E.R. and Josh Groban will play the titular roles with Martin Short as Lumière, Shania Twain as Mrs. Potts, Broadway sensation Joshua Henry as Gaston and David Alan Grier as Cogsworth. And, saving the best for last, Rita Moreno (who appeared in both the 1961 and 2021 West Side Story films) will serve as the narrator. Dance Magazine chatted with Sims to find out all about his Beauty and the Beast nostalgia, his vision for the project and what it was like working with a cast of such luminaries.

Jamal Smith, in a white t-shirt and denim jacket, gazes at the camera in front of a grey background.
Jamal Sims

How did you get involved in this project?

Jon Chu, our executive producer and a dear friend of mine, gave me a call earlier this year and asked if I would be interested in jumping in on the project. Of course it was a big YES!

Does Beauty and the Beast hold any special significance for you?

I was a teenager when the film came out, and it reminds me of babysitting my younger sisters. We would watch it together, and I feel like I loved it more than they did. 

Were there parts in particular that you had an immediate vision for or were most excited to work on? 

I was so excited to work on Gaston. The opportunity to have a different take on the number that has been done so many different ways was challenging yet exciting.

What does an animated and live-action blended project entail, and what does that mean for you as the choreographer?

It entails careful planning on our part. Figuring out transitions and to make sure we are continuously surprising the audience. The difference between Broadway and television is with television we are able to use more space to create our world.

What was it like working with such a star-studded cast? Were any of them particularly suited to dancing? 

Working with this star-studded cast was a dream. I was a huge fan of them all individually, so it was amazing bringing them together as a team. Rita Moreno is a dance legend, and it was such a humbling experience just to know we had her on set. I was surprised how game the whole cast was to step outside of their comfort zones. We really pushed them to dig deeper. 

Four actors dressed as a fanciful candlestick, cups, and a clock stand in a line against a background of purple and white.
Martin Short, Shania Twain, Leo Abelo Perry, and David Alan Grier in Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration. Photo courtesy of ABC.

What in particular should dance lovers watching be on the lookout for? 

There are so many beautiful dance moments. Dance lovers should be looking for numbers that have never been told through dance are now being interpreted by a skilled cast of dancers.

Why do you think it’s important to breathe fresh life into classics like Beauty and the Beast

I think the new audiences deserve their own version of Beauty and the Beast while being educated on the process of what it took to create the original.

Are you working on any new projects? 

I directed and choreographed “Encanto at the Hollywood Bowl” which will also be on Disney+ at the end of the month. I choreographed the new “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” where I also directed an episode. Life has been busy, but so much fun!