The tale may seem as old as time, but “Beauty and the Beast” is a complicated show both technically and thematically.
The Patriot Players’ show opens Thursday in the Walker Fine Arts Theatre at Patrick Henry Community College.
Physically speaking, the show is full of moving parts that take significant coordination, Stage Manager Austin Gilbert said. “This has twice the set pieces as an average show would,” he said – and there’s something moving all the time.
“Much like blocking for the actors, we have just as much blocking for the set pieces,” Gilbert said. First, the movement of the pieces had to be choreographed to be done smoothly, and then the actors and crew had to learn how and where to move pieces – at exactly the right times.
The show also is “deceptively deep” in terms of its themes, Director Justin Hall said.
“It has so many mature themes, so many life lessons,” Hall said, such as with the Beast. He and his entire household were cursed for a mistake he made when he was young. “He pays for it until adulthood,” he said.
That curse turned a callous young prince into an ugly beast and all of the people around him into household items. Only if he truly loved someone – and were loved in return – would the curse break and everyone return to normal.
Then Belle comes into his life, and it “becomes a crash course in becoming a man,” Hall said. The Beast has to learn how to go on a date, give a gift selflessly and be kind and respectful in a short time, as opposed to the normal duration of the teenage years of development.
“Beauty and the Beast” is the Patriot Players’ 30th show – and Isaiah Young’s 19th with the Players.
“I’m usually cast in more comedic, sidekick kind of roles,” he said. And he more often sings gospel and R and B, so playing the Beast, with his classic theater songs, is a new experience.
“Everything about this role is vocally different from any other role I’ve done,” he said.
“The Beast is always brooding, unhappy, depressed, mean, surly” and vicious, Young said – the opposite of his normal roles, which are “airy, fun, all kicks and giggles. It’s a big change.”
Young never has worn prosthetics, and only once has he worn a wig for a brief time. Now he has arm-length gloves and a massive headpiece that covers his entire face and includes long hair and horns.
Chelsea Lavinder, who plays Belle, is a theater major at Averett University. “I love all the things that she represents – that it’s OK to be different,” she said.
She played Belle in a junior version of the show when she was a teenager and now, at 22, having the full character “is really cool. The songs are longer. I delve into Belle more,” she said.
This show is Devin Pendleton’s second go-round as the candelabra Lumiere on. His first was nine years ago, when TheatreWorks Community Players put on the show. He said the role did not come back to him as automatically as he had assumed it would.
“I thought I was already going to know the lines – it was absurd,” he said. He still had to put in effort to to memorize them anew.
On stage, he has to hold both arms up at 90-degree angles. Nine years ago, that was easy on 22-year-old arms, he said – but “now I’m more aware” of the physical effort it takes to do that.
Pendleton is PHCC’s director of student affairs and the show’s artistic and technical director.
Janemarie Laucella, last seen on the Patriot Players stage as Mama Calhoun in “Memphis: The Musical,” portrays Mrs. Potts, the teapot. The tranquility and smoothness of the character belies the physical intensity of the role: She has to hold up one of her arms high at all times to represent the teapot’s spout.
“It is definitely very painful in Act 2, trying my best not to let the arm go down at all,” because she is on stage for an extended period of time then, she said.
Mary Quirk, 10, who plays Mrs. Potts’ son, Chip, also has a physical oddity in her portrayal: only her head, encased in a cardboard-and-cloth teacup shape, is the character. Her body is hidden inside the table on which the cup rests.
Her first two roles with the Patriot Players involved quite a bit of singing and dancing, so being confined “is very hard but fun, too – a challenge,” she said.
However, she can create a bit of action for herself: “I have to move my head to the dancing. I just kind of … twist it, move it back, forward to the side and shake it around kind of.”
The Silly Girls are portrayed by Taylor Hundley, Morgan Young and Liz Ashby.
Young does double duty as a dance captain, “being helpful to other cast members” with their dances, especially when the choreographer, Jane Leizer, is not there, she said.
The Silly Girls swoon over the vain Gaston, who in turn is pursuing the reserved Belle. As a Silly Girl, “you have to be super obnoxious” on stage, especially in their attentions on Gaston, Hundley said.
The ensemble includes several children, including 9-year-old Mia Waddell, in her second Patriot Players show. She has gained accolades not only for those performances but also in dance recitals with Anne Norman’s class at Carlisle School.
The Patriot Players’ routine, which includes four or five 4-hour rehearsals a week, is demanding, she said, but the joy of dance “just takes away everything” of concern.
Her role in the ensemble involves portraying a wolf, a saltshaker and a villager. The toughest part, she said, is the ultra-quick costume change from wolf back to villager in the very next scene.
“It’s harder to do a Disney show, because people have got something to compare it too,” Pendleton said – but it should compare favorably.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.