‘Beauty and The Beast’
EAGLE – Take one beautiful heroine in distress, mix in one tormented prince under a nasty spell, throw in an enchanted teapot and candlestick, and mix it all up with Walt Disney’s special brand of magic, and what do you get? A brilliant spectacle of fun and drama, tunes that stay with you for days and costumes to make the eyes widen in delight. It’s Walt Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast,” the Broadway version, and it’s coming to a stage near you. This weekend, April 7-9, Eagle Valley High School will present this musical extravaganza – the original of which won nine Tony Awards in 1994, and remains a sell-out production across the country.”Beauty and The Beast” is taken from a classic fairy-tale, and is not only enchanting, it holds an underlying lesson about finding a person’s true beauty. The magical tale is about an arrogant, selfish, young prince who is put under a spell by an enchantress until he learns to truly love and be loved. He is transformed into a terrifying beast, and along with him, his castle is changed and all his staff turned into household objects with unusual abilities. Meanwhile, beautiful Belle is growing up in a humble nearby town, more interested in books than life, dreaming about faraway places, until she is forced to change places with her captured father at the Beast’s castle. The unlikely meeting begins a magical, often hilarious, and sometimes touching duet as a budding friendship promises to change both Beast and Belle forever.”It’s a really hot show, right now,” assures director Cathy Strickler.
Strickler originally had planned to put on Disney’s “Aladdin,” but couldn’t find a stage version she liked. Then Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast” came to mind and the fit was perfect. Getting the costumes, however, was another matter. In fact, the play is so popular right now, Strickler was forced to change the school’s planned spring musical dates from before spring break to after to be able to rent the costumes she wanted. Otherwise, the costumes were booked two years in advance. And, bringing a beloved, animated film to life with dancing forks, spoons, wardrobes and carpets required special stage magic and Broadway-style costumes to make it happen.”This production was particularly challenging, to visualize the characters in human form,” explains Strickler. The stage version of “Beauty and The Beast” actually differs in several ways from the film version. When Michael Eisner decided to bring the story to Broadway more than a decade ago, he knew he had to flesh out the roughly hour-and-a-half animated story to add the length and depth required of a Broadway play. He and his talented crew added more dialogue and more musical numbers. We get to hear more of Belle, the heroine’s musings about longing for adventure, and are allowed a glimpse of Beast’s inner torments. “I’m fooling myself, she’ll never see me as anything other than a monster,” Beast laments. There are additional songs as well, such as the upbeat “Human Again,” where the inanimate objects sing about their dream of becoming real people again, as Belle and Beast form a tentative friendship.All the familiar, delightful lines, characters and numbers await theatergoers, as well. Children familiar with the animated “Beauty and The Beast” will happily recognize “Lumiere,” “Cogsworth,” “Gaston,” and “Mrs. Potts,” while meeting some adorable new characters, too.Strickler is modest when talking about her casting these memorable characters. Yet, as you watch Eagle Valley’s version, and see how perfectly the 62 high school students carry off their parts, you realize just how brilliant her casting choices really were.Strickler says it was easy to cast “Belle,” the bookish heroine. “Joanna (Storer) fit the part, she looks the part,” she says. Storer, a junior, proves a fine actress, showing both her character’s dreamy side, with her lilting singing voice, and her feisty, stubborn side. When Beast roars, “Why are you being so difficult,” Belle quickly retorts, “Why are you being such a bully?” “Beast,” played by senior Lewis Mirelez, is a sad, angry character, conflicted between the rude, domineering behavior of his past, and the desire to be loved by the beautiful “Belle.” Mirelez’ speaking voice has been digitally enhanced by soundman Gary Welker to make it truly terrifying, but it is during his songs we really get to know “Beast.” It is evident why Mirelez recently was named to the All-State Choir, his fine, masterfully-trained voice is both powerful and poignant, and he beautifully emotes his inner feelings through song.
“He’s an amazing vocal talent and dynamic,” Strickler says of Mirelez. “I knew he would rise to the part.””Gaston” is the antagonist of the play, the macho, vain, selfish town hero – too handsome for his own good. Played with gusto and appropriate bluster by senior Brad Gamble, Gaston is determined to marry Belle, even if he must resort to trickery and vileness to do so. Gamble’s voice is surprisingly strong, and his comic talents shine through as well. “As you see I have biceps to spare,” he boasts in the musical number, “Gaston.” Equally good at a comic turn, with his quick wit, is Gaston’s sidekick and perfect foil, Lefou, played by senior Andrew Hoza. “Maurice,” Belle’s inventor father, is played to doddery perfection by Alex Gamble, also a senior.”Beauty and The Beast” is one play where even – especially – the inanimate objects are a riot. Senior Ashley Woodworth gives kindly “Mrs. Potts” a lively, yet comforting demeanor, making her everybody’s favorite auntie. Woodworth also did all the choreography for the play, although her rotund costume limits her own dancing.”She’s amazing as Mrs. Potts,” notes Strickler. Mrs. Pott’s son, “Chip,” is traditionally played by a boy, but junior Steffie Mansfield tackled the part for a charming twist.Lumiere (sophomore Rudy Olin) and Cogsworth (junior Lakotah Doig) play off each other beautifully. With Cogsworth the clock’s slightly puffed up image of himself, and Lumiere’s suave, flirtatious French demeanor, as he pursues the sexy, and somewhat vain “Babette,” the feather duster (Lauren McNeil, a junior and the play’s student director). The two provide much of the play’s comic relief. “They are a crackup, and are really getting into their French accents,” says Strickler.
The wardrobe (senior Jennifer McConnell) is a hoot, too, and the village girls are sassy and adoring. In fact, all the chorus is spirited and obviously enjoying their parts, making the audience enjoy them, too. It is this playful interaction of such unlikely characters that makes the play so much fun to watch – no matter what your age. “The kids all do just a really good job,” says Strickler of her entire cast.There are also eye-popping musical numbers. “Be Our Guest,” is a showstopper with Lumiere’s crooning, Mrs. Potts’ singing, and spoons, salt-and-pepper shakers, plates and even the kitchen stove twirling and dancing, with a chorus-line finale. The tavern musical, “Gaston,” is a rowdy joy, and offers the entire ensemble a chance to strut its stuff. “Every guy here’d like to be you Gaston,” sings Lefou, as the scene gives way to slapstick comedy and a short dance number where the village girls kick up their heels in a couple can-can steps.So, hurry and grab those tickets. “Beauty and The Beast” is expected to sell out.For tickets, call Nickie Fowles at 328-5258; Cathy Strickler at 328-5813; or Tiffany Myers at the Eagle County School District Office at 328-6321.Vail, Colorado