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Belle of the ball
Romance, enchantment, and dancing appliances in Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s production of Beauty and the Beast
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Fort Wayne’s Civic Theater presents its take on one of Broadway’s modern classics Beauty and the Beast begins its run on July 22. It’s a live-action stage version of Disney’s Academy Award winning animated feature, and features all the songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman that made the film so memorable, as well as several new songs that Menken and the seemingly ubiquitous (when it comes to blockbuster musicals, at least) Tim Rice penned for the stage.
The basic story is familiar to everyone — the beautiful Belle (Elizabeth Piercy) lives in a French provincial town with her father, an absent-minded professor (Ron Smith). When her father doesn’t return from a trip to the local fair, Belle rushes off to find him, only to discover he’s being held captive in an old castle by a horrible beast (Tom Stoffel). She trades her freedom for his, tames the Beast, and lives happily ever after.
The Civic Theater’s production features a 37-member cast and an 11-piece orchestra, and a cast that calls for strong chorus singers as well as strong soloists. “It’s a major, major production,” says Harvey Cocks, who is moonlighting from his duties at Youtheatre to direct Beauty and the Beast. “It’s huge. It’s called ‘beastly’ I think.”
One of the show’s biggest challenges are its technical aspects. These days, special effects and lighting are a major part of the show in many of the blockbuster Broadway musicals. Scene changes are done via sophisticated electronics and gadgetry, some of which is a little out of reach for a community theater. “We have a marvelous cast, so we’re right on target with the music and the dancing and the scenes,” Cocks says. “Just those effects. The lighting, the sound, a little bit of everything… I mean, we have two transformations here from a prince to a beast and a beast to a prince.”
The orchestral side of things will be managed by Eunice Wadewitz, the Civic’s resident musical director. Three keyboards will supplement the orchestra’s flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone percussion, French horn and violin. “Normally, I’m limited to six musicians, so the fact that I can have 11 thrills me,” Wadewitz says. “We’re using the keyboards to give us more brass sounds and a fuller string sound.”
Wadewitz adds: “Probably the trickiest part is that this score is written for a lot of off-stage singing, and that’s always tricky, because if someone’s off in the wings not, in front of a conductor, going strictly by what they’re hearing in the monitors, it’s always difficult to make sure all those parts are coming out at the same time.”
By far, the biggest effort in the production is the costumes, courtesy of the Civic Theater’s costume designer Louise Heckamann. All the costumes were created from scratch for Beauty and the Beast (this is true for all Civic Theater Productions). Usually, the Civic Theater auditions seven to nine weeks before a show. This time around, they cast at the beginning of March to provide Heckamann ample time to create over 200 costumes for the production, including the clock, the teapot, the flower vase, the butter churn and all the other singing and dancing household appliances which make up the chorus of Beauty and the Beast. “The one that’s going to be the most unusual is probably Madame de la Grande Bouche, the Armoire (played by Janet Piercy),” Heckamann says. “There are some really bizarre objects in the production, but the armoire is the most intricate, with its moving drawers. And it’s probably the most restrictive costume, as far as movement.”
"Beauty and The Beast"
Performing Arts Center, 303 E. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802
July 22, 23, 29, 30, Aug. 5, 6, and 12 at 8 pm.
July 24, 31, Aug. 7 and 14 at 2 pm.
Tickets available at (260) 424-5220 or (260) 422-8641 x221, or at the Fort Wayne Civic Theater Box Office at the front entrance to the Performing Arts Center.