Actors are reciting lines, volunteers are arranging props and designing the set, and numerous names are being called out across the theater: The cast and crew of CenterStage’s “Beauty and the Beast” are tirelessly working to get each part of the musical down during a run-through one week before the Disney piece roars to life at Clovis’ Mercedes Edwards Theatre.
“It’s kind of crazy right now,” director Scott Hancock said as the cast of 29 and numerous volunteers did their first run-through with limited costumes and sets July 7. The show is set to run from July 14 to 23, with matinee performances on July 16 and 23.
Auditions began in early May and rehearsals started June 6. The cast did a week of vocal work, a week of dance work, followed by several weeks of work on staging, sets, costumes, props and blocking, which is organizing how actors will be positioned from scene to scene.
“It’s actually a really short time period,” said Terry Lewis, 45, who plays Lumiere, a candelabra with candles for hands. “For such a huge musical, it’s put together in a really short amount of time. Normally you get at least six weeks, and this was a little bit of a truncated schedule. But everyone pulled together.”
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“It’ll be kind of an arduous process,” Hancock said. “It won’t be completely smooth by any stretch of the imagination.”
CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has attempted to bring family-friendly live entertainment to Clovis. Led by a volunteer board of directors, the nonprofit group has brought musicals such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Mary Poppins” and, for this summer, one of the best-known musicals of the past 25 years, “Beauty and the Beast.”
The Disney story, which is based on a centuries-old French fairy tale, tells the tale of a cold-hearted prince who is transformed into a hideous beast by an enchantress. To break the enchanted spell, the beast must learn to love another and, in return, earn that person’s love.
Hancock was excited to take on directing duties for a musical as well-regarded as “Beauty and the Beast,” especially since he hasn’t directed any past productions of the musical.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Hancock, who also sits on the board of CenterStage. “It’s one of those shows that’s been on my bucket list to direct.”
But while performing such a famous musical has the benefits of being a crowd-pleaser with high name recognition, the cast says there are important pitfalls they have to avoid, like trying to copy the film too closely.
“I think there’s one set of expectations from the animated classic that many kids have grown up with and can recite verbatim,” Lewis said. “There’s also a whole generation that grew up with the original Broadway cast. So there are two different, very strong interpretations you could adhere to.”
The only viable option is to bring your own personality into it, Lewis said. “The bottom line is, you can’t ever be anyone else – you can try but you’re never going to be that person, so you may as well take it from your perspective and make it your own as much as you can.”
Isaac Ellis, 23, who plays the Beast, says it’s up to the director’s vision and the actor’s interpretation to bring their unique take to the musical.
“Just depending on what words are emphasized in any given sentence can really bring out emotion, can paint different colors with what message you’re trying to get across,” Ellis said. “So there’s one part where I say, ‘He came into my home, uninvited.’ If you emphasize the ‘my home’ it gives more of that sense of I’m feeling almost violated by this intrusion.”
Emphasizing other words can bring anger or other emotions to the line, Ellis said.
“I think it’s tempting to play it like the cartoon, since it’s so well-known but I think it’s much more interesting if you don’t do that,” said Lorraine Christiansen, 37, who plays Belle. “I mean, if people want to watch the cartoon, they can see that anytime.”
Christiansen has played Belle three times, in 2005, 2007 and CenterStage’s 2009 production. Christiansen knew she had to try out when auditions were announced.
“I saw the cartoon ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – I remember seeing it when I was maybe 13 and I just thought it was a really lovely story,” she said. “I was really moved by it, even at that age.”
Christiansen says that though she has played the role several times, she continues to find new nuances in the character.
“My interpretation of Belle is very different than it was 11 years ago; it’s very different than it was seven years ago,” she said. “That’s what I like about the show – I’m constantly finding new things in it, different meanings …
“It’s a really well-written piece of art that way. There’s a lot that you can find, if you look,” Christiansen said.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
- July 14-23, 7:30 p.m. all shows except July 16 and 23, 2 p.m.
- Mercedes Edwards Theatre, 902 Fifth St., Clovis
- Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students/seniors and $15 per person for groups of 20 or more. Seating is first-come, first-served.
- CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre, http://centerstageclovis.com/ or 559-323-8744