In the Broadway production of "Jane Eyre," James Barbour played a worldly man who captivates the impressionable young heroine. Now Barbour has been accused of coming all too close to imitating his art in life.
He pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl whom he met when she visited him backstage after that very show.
The prominent Broadway actor, known for playing the beast in Disney's family-friendly "Beauty and the Beast," was released on $10,000 (Ђ7,500) cash bail. He is due back in court Dec. 20.
Barbour, 40, was charged with five counts of criminal sex acts and sexual abuse against the teen in 2001. She came forward to authorities earlier this year, before the five-year statute of limitations expired.
In a signed statement presented by prosecutors, Barbour acknowledged kissing the girl but said he then backed off because of her age.
According to prosecutors, Barbour was starring in the musical version of "Jane Eyre" when a high school drama teacher arranged for the girl and her parents to see the show. The girl came backstage by herself after the show, and the actor began sexually touching her, prosecutors said.
There was allegedly another incident with the same girl during a dinner at a Manhattan restaurant, and a third in Barbour's apartment, authorities said. Her name and hometown were withheld.
In a written statement signed April 4, 2006, and made public Wednesday by prosecutors, Barbour said the girl initiated sexual contact with him when he had dinner with her and her boyfriend.
"At that dinner, I was sitting next to her and our knees touched," the statement said. "Her hand was on my knee and rubbed up against my (illegible)."
The girl later told him she was 16 and wanted to pursue a career in theater, Barbour's statement said. He said he offered to help and stayed in contact with her through e-mail, the statement said.
During a subsequent telephone conversation, the statement said, Barbour asked the girl what she was thinking the night they had dinner together, "and she said, 'I was thinking I wanted to"' have sex with him.
One evening before Barbour's performance in "Jane Eyre," he and the girl went to his apartment, the statement said.
"We were laying (sic) on the bed and she spoke about losing her virginity to (her boyfriend)" and discussed sex acts, Barbour's statement said. "We did kiss, and then she originated again about sexual intercourse."
"At that time I sort of freaked out, said she was 16, and that I couldn't do this," the statement said. "The relationship stopped suddenly because I thought it was inappropriate and could get dangerous."
Assistant District Attorney Maxine Rosenthal also said there were tapes of Barbour speaking by telephone with the girl about the case.
"He himself refers to it as unethical," she said.
In New York state, the legal age of sexual consent is 17, reports AP.
An attorney for Barbour, David Smith, said there was nothing new about any of the charges.
"These are the very same allegations he was aware of several months ago," said Smith.
In arguing for lower bail, he noted that Barbour had no criminal history and that the girl made no claims of sexual intercourse.
Barbour's other Broadway credits include appearances in "Carousel" and "Urinetown."