Meet the Agent Directing 'Beauty and the Beast Live' at the Hollywood Bowl
Along with representing famed Disney composer Alan Menken, Richard Kraft has been adapting his works for live film music concerts.
Richard Kraft is the rare Hollywood agent who truly understands how his clients feel. "Back in the day when they would complain about tight schedules or limited budgets, I would sort of smile, but now I feel their pain," says the co-owner of leading composers agency Kraft-Engel Management, who has been moonlighting as a director for the Hollywood Bowl's live film music concerts.
His latest, Beauty and the Beast, is set for Friday and Saturday and features Zooey Deschanel as Belle, with gospel singer and The Voice alum Anthony Evans as the Beast, Kelsey Grammer as Lumiere, Rebel Wilson as LeFou, Jane Krakowski as Mrs. Potts and Taye Diggs as the villain Gaston.
Kraft — whose roster includes Danny Elfman, La La Land team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Alexandre Desplat and Marc Shaiman — fell into his second career by accident and yet organically: He and business partner Laura Engel had been producing film music concerts such as the Hollywood Bowl's sold-out The Nightmare Before Christmas (composed by Elfman), which didn't need a director. But the venue's summer 2016 staging of The Little Mermaid did, and Kraft, a self-proclaimed "world's biggest Disney fan," volunteered to step in. "There's no calculation of, 'Well, what would a fan like?' We are the exact same geek," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm a geek given a really good venue and really good stars to work out my geekiness."
But Kraft was sheepish when he first told Mermaid's composer, Alan Menken, that he'd be adapting his work — because Menken also is one of his clients. "It felt audacious because the talent is [supposed to be] the star," Kraft says. But in the dressing room after the first performance, Menken told him, "This is about to become a huge part of your life."
Eight-time Oscar winner Menken is now an executive concert producer of Beauty and the Beast, which he also composed. "We alternate between 'Here's what's going on with our show' and 'About your per diem on the movie you're working on…,' Kraft says of their dual working relationships.
Kraft adds that Menken told him, "You're bringing another way of presenting my work to an audience." One such way is through the use of digital projection to transform the Hollywood Bowl's iconic facade into dynamic scenery for the story. "We're framing the stage with 90 original minutes of projected animation," says Kraft, who employed the same technology used in Disneyland's stunning castle show. "Creating this has been the highlight of working on [this production] because it combines two secret fantasies I've always had: working for Disney Imagineering and working for Disney Animation."
At 57 and after three decades in the business, Kraft has found a second wind. "Starting another chapter of my career in my 50s has completely re-energized me both as an agent and now as a director," he says, adding that he is in talks to stage "weirder, funkier titles" in smaller-scale shows that can travel. "I want it to feel like a pop-up party, where the food trucks are as much of the evening as the movie."
Kraft is unlikely to hurt for potential source material to work with. "I'm getting texts from clients that have nothing to do with this show going, 'We are so excited for you, Richard,'" he says. "And then a week later, the phone call is, 'So, which of my shows are we gonna do?'"