Capturing the magic of 'Beauty and the Beast'
● By J. Chambless
Nicholas Pontrelli as the Prince and Julie Luzier as Belle in 'Beauty and the Beast.'
Beauty and the Beast at Longwood [13 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
By John Chambless
Out of all the things Paul Goodman had
to worry about on Monday evening, it wasn't the 75 cast members or
the microphones or the costume changes that topped his list. It was
the approaching storm clouds.
Although the dress rehearsal for “Beauty and the Beast” at Longwood Gardens started under a clear twilight sky, the forecast was calling for storms to roll in from the north, and the clock was ticking. The weather is always the chief concern when the Brandywiners put on their annual extravaganzas at the Open Air Theatre, and in all the years they've been doing this, the Delaware-based theater company has gotten accustomed to following the playbook from Mother Nature.
“The actors don't get paid, but the staff does,” Goodman said with a grin. But they definitely earn their money. While the crew scrambled to get everything ready for rehearsal on Monday evening, Goodman tallied the numbers: 75 cast members ranging from children to senior citizens; 16 body microphones that must be switched between actors at various points in the show; a fog machine for the magical moments; rolling set pieces that must fit through the narrow openings in the hedges flanking the enormous stage; elaborate costumes for the enchanted objects in the Beast's castle; an orchestra with its own set of microphones; and the pressure of maintaining a professional level of quality for hundreds of audience members each night. And the constant challenges of broiling summer days and occasional rain. Having lost Sunday night's rehearsal due to a downpour, Goodman was trying to make up for it on Monday evening, managing to keep a good attitude despite the pressure. He's a relative newcomer to the theater group, having been called into service two years ago to fill a vacancy in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Last year, he stepped up considerably and performed as the wisecracking Donkey in “Shrek,” which was also staged at Longwood. This year, since his wife, Shauna, was already serving as the choreographer for “Beauty and the Beast,” and their young daughter, Delaney, was tucked inside a cart as the enchanted Chip, Paul figured he might as well get paid for all the long hours of rehearsal.
Companies performing Disney's “Beauty and the Beast” can rent costumes and props that come with the Disney stamp of excellence, but they don't come cheap. Or, like the Brandywiners, they can go it alone. For this production, Goodman has rented the enchanted rose that drops petals at crucial points in the story, but most of the rest of the show is Brandywiners-made.
“If I was directing this show at any other theater, I would want a castle in the center,” he said. “I'd want a big, unit set. But everything here has to fit through the hedges. So that presents a lot of challenges. The sets we have are very large, so it's not just a matter of moving them, but of hiding them.”
This year's production is benefiting from the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” film that came out this year, reminding a whole new generation of the charms of the Disney version of the classic fairy tale. While the original story and a 1946 French film have a sinister edge, Disney has buffed off all the rough edges, and its 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” is a romp filled with hummable songs, whimsical enchanted furniture and a love-conquers-all message.
“It's a weird show if you think about it. She falls in love with a beast,” Goodman said. “But the message, of course, is that she comes to love him, even though is is a beast. And because of his love in return, he gets to turn back into a human.”
Even this long into a rehearsal process that started in May, Goodman is still enjoying the music. “Oh, the music if gorgeous,” he said. “We had the orchestra for the first time yesterday and I love that sound. When they start playing, it's just so great.”
With a frantic couple of evenings ahead of him as the show prepared for a Thursday night opening, Goodman figured he could relax “on the closing day,” he said, smiling. “When we finally get to open on Thursday, I'll be a nervous wreck. Then my daughter is sharing the role of Chip every other day, so her first night is Friday and I'll be nervous for her. And even if everything's going well, I'll be nervous about whether it's going to rain or not.”
His wife Shauna is officially the choreographer, but her duties have expanded to include handling the thousands of details involved in a show of this size. She has actually played Belle in the 27-minute version of the story that's staged at Disney World. “Well, we have to say we are 'A friend of Belle,'” she said, toeing the Disney line about the reality of their characters. “I was seasonal down there in 2000. I learned the show in seven and a half hours and I went on the next morning. But it just so happens that this is my favorite show.”
This is her third Brandywiners show, and she started, along with her husband, with “Fiddler on the Roof” three years ago.
“I just love doing choreography,” she said. “I do about eight shows a year. I choreograph for a lot of local high schools. I've learned how to make everybody look like they know how to dance,” she added, smiling.
The technical aspects are daunting. “Everybody has at least two costumes,” she said. “Everyone plays a townsperson, and everyone is an enchanted object. And some people are a third character, a maid or butler. So it's a lot. The curtain call has everybody on stage. Thank goodness we have two levels,” she said, referring to the upper deck of the stage area.
On closing night, she said, “I can say, 'Hey it's over!' But meanwhile I'll be backstage every night, helping make sure everybody's where they need to be.”
The Brandywiners will present “Beauty
and the Beast” at the Longwood Gardens Open Air Theatre on July 27,
28 and 29, Aug. 3, 4 and 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets include admission to the
gardens beginning at 9 a.m. on the day of the show, as well as a
fountain display after the show. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for
ages 14 to 21, and $15 for ages 12 and younger. Visit
for tickets and more information.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.