“Beauty and the Beast” is often regarded as a timeless animated classic by critics and audiences. So how does one capture that perennial essence in a stage adaptation of the familiar Disney film?
“Just by following the script,” Joey Hartshorn said with a laugh.
Easier said than done. The director of Sioux City Community Theatre’s upcoming production expanded further on her method, saying that one must capture the same magical spirit many felt when first exposed to the original 1991 film. It’s a challenge Hartshorn is taking head on with her cast 40 actors.
“Costumes, set, lights and having actors prepared enough step into this realm of magic so that they can make the audience believe that it’s happening on stage,” said Hartshorn. “This show, to me, is super precious. My oldest daughter, who is 30 now, grew up with this. I think what I’m striving for is to make it how she remembers it as a child.”
The vast set pieces and costumes are as detailed those hand-drawn frames in the film. Some wardrobe choices take creative liberties here and there, but one costume left relatively (or even completely) unchanged is the signature blue and white dress worn by Belle, played by Morgan Darrow.
Darrow’s character drives the story along with her beastly counterpart played by John Krager. The actress said “Beauty and the Beast” was her favorite Disney movie as a child.
“I remember I would watch it every day,” she said. “I loved Belle because she loved to read and I love to read. I really made the connection instantly when I watched it.”
Being able to play the character she admired so much as a kid, Darrow added, is a “dream come true.” A week ago, Darrow and the cast arrived and entertained in costume at a sold out luncheon in the mezzanine of the Sioux City Community Theatre.
“All the little girls were there dressed up as Belle,” said Darrow. “I remember being in their exact spot when I was there age. So it was really cool to be able to play one of my role models I had as a child.”
The musical, which opens Friday (Sept. 15) at the Riverside Boulevard theater, draws heavy influence from the Broadway version.
“There’s just a lot more music [and] a lot more dancing because there are bigger dance breaks that you can’t necessarily see in an animated movie,” said Darrow. “The biggest thing is the music. It has all the same music from the movie, except there’s more.”
Darrow had to learn tap dancing during a number for the song “Be Our Guest,” which she said was a bit of a challenge. As for the songs, she said she knows most of them by heart. As would many members of the audience come opening day. (Even us Weekender writers are already humming along to “Gaston” and “The Mob Song.”)
If there’s anything Sioux City Community Theatre’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” should accomplish, it’s striking feeling a familiarity. For John Krager, who plays Beast, the familiarity not only comes from the animated film, but the previous production of the musical.
“I was a part of the cast that did it 12 years ago [at the Sioux City Community Theatre],” said Krager. “It’s kind of full circle for me. I think I’m the only one that did it that last time 12 years ago and doing it now.”
Krager played multiple roles in that past production -- Monsieur D’Arque and a salt shaker in Beast’s enchanted castle. Now, he’s got the leading part he wanted to portray all those years ago.
“I auditioned for the beast back then,” he said. “When I heard they were going to be doing it, I thought ‘Oh man, it would be so cool if I could be the beast this time!’”
If it was a dream-come-true for Darrow and her part, then the same had to happen for Krager. As the beast, he will undergo a heavy makeup process and wear a matching heavy wig to capture Beast’s burly and animalistic appearance. Spending a lot of time in the makeup chair is no problem for Krager at this point.
“Just in the last few years because of the other roles I’ve done -- Shrek and Mr. Hyde,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time under the makeup brush.”
Krager said the production and songs bring back memories of when Krager first saw the Disney film.
“I’m really excited about the sound of the ensemble,” he said. “The big musical pieces are just great! I love it! It brings me back to when we did it the first time. I’m excited for the audience to get immersed in the legend again. It’s such a classic story. It’s fairytale, and everyone loves fairytale.
“I love it when the audience just loses itself into it. And that’s what I’m hoping happens.”