Jamal Sims is one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood, and he's now choreographing the Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration special for Disney and ABC.
Over the years, Sims has been the high-profile choreographer of movies such as the live-action Aladdin, Descendants 3, Step Up All In, 13: The Musical, and the 2011 remake of Footloose. He has also been the guest choreographer for multiple seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race and its spinoffs All Stars and Vegas Revue. As a director, Sims released the dazzling documentary When the Beat Drops exploring a new form of dance called bucking.
To look back on the three decades since the release of the animated classic film, ABC is now airing a brand-new special called Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration. The TV special will feature H.E.R. as Belle, Josh Groban as Beast, Shania Twain as Mrs. Potts, Martin Short as Lumiere, David Alan Grier as Cogsworth, and Joshua Henry as Gaston, to name a few.
During an interview with Out, Sims talked about his work on Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration, discussed his approach to updating the animated classic, and spilled the tea on collaborating with musicians like H.E.R. and Josh Groban.
Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration airs Thursday, December 15 on ABC and will be available on Disney+ the next day.
Out: Beauty and the Beast is one of the most beloved Disney movies of all time. Why do you think this story resonates with so many people?
Jamal Sims: I think it's the same reason that it resonated with me. I think that the idea that beauty is on the inside is something that will withstand the test of time. And I think especially now, with the new generation being introduced to this concept, we have things like Instagram where everything is about the outer appearance. And I think that this is something that just really cuts and really makes you realize, 'No, it's really the inner beauty that is most important,' you know?
This is the 30-year anniversary of the animated movie. How do you juggle updating a classic story while still keeping it true to its core?
That's a hard one. I've had the opportunity to do a couple of things like this for Disney, I worked on Aladdin as well. And when I go into it, I just know that I'm just going to bring me to the project. And knowing that I have all of the tools in my toolbox, I've been around long enough to know what the classic feels like, and I'm still in the game to know what the new and younger kids are doing now. So, I just try to bring me to it. And hopefully that will bring the spin that would be necessary for it to feel updated, but still classic.
You just mentioned your great relationship with Disney. Between the live-action Aladdin, Descendants 3, and Encanto, you have a long history of working with the company. Why do you think this is always such a successful partnership?
I am the biggest Disney fan. As a child, I can remember just going to Disneyland because I'm from Los Angeles, so we would go to Disneyland every couple months. And just being there, feeling the magic, I would be hyped for days after going to Disneyland. So now I get to be a part of creating the magic. I think that it just feels like a natural partnership.
There have now been a few live-action iterations of Beauty and the Beast. There was the live-action movie, for instance, and there's been the theatrical production from Disney as well. What was your approach to choreographing this version for television?
We get to take dance to the next level with this particular production because we are taking some of the scenes in the film that we typically know as just to be scenes, and now we're interpreting them through dance. And when we decided to go that route, I felt like this is going to open up a whole new experience for the viewers. And there's some scenes that... like, for the rose petal falling, we have actual dancers interpreting what that would look like. And I think that that just offers a fresh new outtake on the story alone.
What was it like working with H.E.R., who's playing Belle on Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration?
Oh gosh, she's amazing! We call her G. I was like, 'I can call you G.' H.E.R. is just everything that I could have ever hoped for in an artist because she came to it just wanting to learn and wanting to do the very best job and was so open to trying new things that she had never tried before. And this is a new arena for her, and a new genre for her. And H.E.R. saying that she wanted to bring a new take on Belle, I'm like, 'Absolutely. Let's go for it. Let's lean into your new version of Belle.' Because we've seen the classic Belle. And so now, what does Belle look like in 2023? And she nailed it. She nailed it.
And not only is this a new genre for her, but we haven't seen H.E.R. dance that much with actual choreography. So how was it like working with an artist like that, and are we going to be surprised by her performance?
I think you're just going to be surprised totally by her, period. But yeah, no, we haven't seen her dance like this. And like I said, this is a new genre. We sent videos because, at the beginning, she was on tour. So we had to send videos. And I would always wonder, 'I'm wondering if she's looking at the videos.' And then she comes in to rehearsal day one and knows all the steps, knows where she needs to be. It just goes to show you her commitment to the project and to the character.
Josh Groban is playing the Beast. What was it like working with him?
Josh! Well, Josh, I don't really like the word 'perfectionist' because I don't ever really believe anything is perfect, right? But I will say, with Josh, there's a work ethic that he has that I am just so blown away by. Because not only did he have to take on the character, he had to actually jump into a costume that was twice his size and learn how to manipulate it and make it feel and show emotion through body language. So, on top of learning the lines, he had to learn how to physically show emotion in a costume... and it was incredible. I know I keep saying everybody nailed it, but honestly, they all came to play. And it's going to show in the production.
What are you looking forward to the most for people to see on this new version of Beauty and the Beast?
I'm looking forward to everyone seeing the new spin on what we did here. When people think of Beauty and the Beast, I don't think they could have ever imagined it the way we are doing it now. And not only do we show what it was and then show where it is now, but we educate the audience on how it came to be. And I always feel like, when you can walk away entertained and having learned something, I think that's a win-win.
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