Playing aspiring singer-songwriters-turned-lovers-turned-friends, Nashville's Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio regularly perform together on ABC's hit musical drama. So when it came time to find a male and female lead to sing "Beauty and the Beast" for a behind-the-scenes special about the creation of Disney's eight Broadway musicals, including the long-running Broadway version of the studio's hit animated movie, the show's director thought he found the perfect pair when he was watching Nashville, an idea that the show's production team quickly liked.
"We were looking for something that felt a little unexpected, and to do the young stars of a show about Nashville singing this very famous Broadway duet together seemed surprising and interesting," said Backstage with Disney on Broadway: Celebrating 20 Years senior executive producer and lead writer Jeanmarie Condon.
Condon said in determining which songs and performers to feature to celebrate shows like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Newsies and Aladdin, picking ballads was a natural choice as the show's team wanted to find people who could do a different take on these songs than the Broadway rendition.
"The ballads [are] usually the heart and soul of each show, so we chose the ballads that got right to the emotional core of whichever show it was in," Condon said. "In terms of why we chose the people we did, we were looking for, because you're seeing a lot of the stage and the Broadway performances of these numbers, we were looking to contrast them with the acoustic-feeling performances, one because they've [provide] a very surprising rendition of these very famous songs, when you're hearing it in that acoustic setting, and two to give some texture to the show in general."
Indeed, Bowen and Palladio's rendition of "Beauty and the Beast," is more stripped down than the stage version or either of the two versions from the 1991 movie: the Angela Lansbury one in the film and the Celine Dion-Peabo Bryson one on the soundtrack. Bowen, who's a musician as well as an actress, also wanted to put her own spin on the classic song, trying to pay homage to the original without trying to replicate previous renditions.
"I wanted to make it my own, and I think that's important when you're doing a tribute," Bowen told THR, adding that she rearranged a few things. "What comes naturally to you I think is the best way for an individual to tell a story because you're telling what you know."
Bowen added that she was a fan of the song and the story of Beauty and the Beast, explaining that her parents used to read the tale to her when she was a child.
"That song in particular, it meant a lot to me growing up," she said. "It's really a beautiful story … and the accessibility of the characters and the music is just so beautiful."
The Nashville star told THR that she's also a fan of The Little Mermaid, which spent nearly two years on Broadway as a musical, and that she had planned to also sing "Part of Your World" but ran out of time.
"I'll do it another time," she said.
While viewers won't get to hear Bowen singing about wanting "to be where the people are," they will hear Toni Braxton talk about how she came to play Belle in the musical and how that led Alan Menken and Tim Rice to add a song to the show, Condon said.
Beyond that, Condon explained that Backstage with Disney on Broadway, inspired by the behind-the-scenes Frozen special that aired on ABC in September, shows how hard it often was to turn the studio's movies into stage musicals and how the theatrical team solved those issues.
"To turn these things into the hits they became were never an easy thing," Condon said. "There were always moments when they were filled with fear that it wasn't going to work and then, through the storytelling, you see the way they figured out how to get around problems, sometimes big ones, in ways that became the signature of the show."
Backstage with Disney on Broadway: Celebrating 20 Years, hosted by Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, airs on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on ABC and also features performances from Elton John and others.
Watch Bowen and Palladio's "Beauty and the Beast" performance below.