Sometimes, putting salt on a wound can actually feel good. For Christopher DeAngelis, the wound was his fifteen or so years as a professional performer without a Broadway credit, including three years trying to get into one particular show. The salt was Salt with a capital S, as in the dancing salt shaker of Beauty and the Beast—the role that finally became his Broadway debut, in the show he'd been striving for over and over.
DeAngelis debuted with Beauty and the Beast in May 2004 and stayed in the show for two years. He departed last summer after he was cast in the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels tour. But this May, he returned to the Beauty ensemble, in his old role, to finish out the Disney megahit's Broadway run.
July 29 will be the final performance for Beauty and the Beast, which opened in April 1994 and currently ranks sixth all-time in length of run on the Great White Way. "I heard the show was closing," says DeAngelis, "and I thought: I need to be a part of this. This was my first Broadway show. I had seen it for years. I had auditioned three years to get into it. I have to be there for the closing performance. I just called and said, 'I want to come back.'"
Conveniently, the Salt role was being vacated by Bret Shuford, who'd been cast in Disney's stage version of The Little Mermaid (which succeeds Beauty at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in November). And though DeAngelis had enjoyed being in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, he had some impetus to leave after contracts were changed—and his salary cut 40 percent—due to the tour's weak box office.
The DRS tour had started promisingly. Its Tony-winning Broadway lead, Norbert Leo Butz, would be playing Freddy for the first few months, and the show got a brand-new opening number. "It was a great experience to be a part of, because we got to create something from scratch and be the first people to do it," says DeAngelis. "A chance to work with Jack O'Brien and Jerry Mitchell, two of the most well-received Broadway directors and choreographers that we have right now. To watch it all happen and come together, and to work with them and listen to them, and see how they worked…"
In Scoundrels, DeAngelis was covering the featured role of Andre (originated on Broadway by Gregory Jbara). In Beauty and the Beast, he covers another comically French-accented character, Lumiere. His regular roles in addition to Salt include egg seller in the opening number, tavern patron in "Gaston," one of the wolves guarding the Beast's castle, and wedding-attending villager in the finale. Salt appears in both the first and second acts, as do the wolves, so DeAngelis changes costumes at least half a dozen times during a performance—and for several of those changes he has to go up and down the four flights of stairs to his dressing room.
DeAngelis' attachment to Beauty and the Beast has its roots in his childhood. He was born in Anaheim, Calif., and lived a block away from Disneyland. "I'm a Disney brat," he says. "Having all of my parents' relatives be from the Midwest, every weekend we had people coming out to visit, so we were always at the park. I was brought up on it." Years later, in college, when he started planning on a performance career, "one of my goals back then, I wanted to be one of the kids who danced in front of the castle," he says. "I never got to do it. This [Beauty] is my way to dance in front of the castle."
He did end up in a theme park's employ—Six Flags Great America, outside Chicago. He was then a high schooler living in Naperville, Ill., and he sang and danced in Six Flags' "Stars and Stripes Revue" alongside another young man from Naperville named Stephen Buntrock, who now plays Gaston in Beauty and the Beast.
DeAngelis was a sophomore when his family had moved to Naperville, his fourth home as his father's work necessitated several relocations. They'd moved from southern California to the Cleveland area when DeAngelis was in third grade, then onto Stone Mountain, Ga., a couple of years later. During a summer in Ohio, DeAngelis went over to the local public library to check out the movies screened for kids while school was out. "They were showing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and I was like: Wow, that's kind of fun. I thought that movie was like the most incredible thing ever.