There are many potential "wow" moments during the CSD Theaters production of the Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast," opening tonight at Corvallis High School.
Moments like the Beast, standing nearly 7 feet tall in a pair of custom-built stilts disguised as clawed feet, roaring at a pack of wolves as he rescues Belle.
Moments like Belle descending the central staircase of the show’s multilevel castle set in her iconic ball gown.
Or watching as the pleasant forest scene depicted on a panel filling the stage turn ominous through lighting changes.
But for the actors playing the show’s romantic leads, the show’s most impressive moment comes in the song “Be Our Guest.”
Madelyn Clark, a Corvallis High School senior who plays Belle, said the scene combines everything that makes the show magical: music, story and dance, all performed by a large and passionate cast.
Alex Sims, a Corvallis High School senior who plays the Beast, said all the big musical numbers like “Be Our Guest” give cast members the chance to bring something unique to their characters, while still honoring the legacy of the versions of the show everyone knows.
“People may have seen this show before, both the movies, and you may think you know the story, but everyone here ... adds a little something new to their character,” he said.
"Beauty and the Beast" runs through March 10. (See above for dates, times and ticket information.)
Director Laura Beck-Ard said the iconic status of “Beauty and the Beast” is also one of the challenges of staging it: The production has to compete with the audience’s expectations for what everything should look and sound like.
“You can’t do it halfway. You have to get the kids to the level of our expectations. That can be a tall order,” she said.
She said each minute of the show has been workshopped and rehearsed by the cast for hours. The opening scene alone, she said, required 15 hours of work.
The show is a large production — it features a cast of 54, 120 costumes handmade for the show, an orchestra of 30, a crew of 35 and four separate sets that collectively took 25 gallons of paint to cover. Beck-Ard said many people in the community have poured time into the show to make it possible.
“(The show) has been a labor of love for the community,” she said.
Beck-Ard said costuming alone has been a huge effort: the production has an all-volunteer crew of more than 30 people making all the costumes, some of whom were putting in 16 hours seven days a week as opening night drew near. Cast members who often have to wear bulky structural costumes to portray people transformed into animate objects, also had to undergo extra training to prepare for the show: before costumes were ready, Beck-Ard tasked the performers with rehearsing wearing backpacks or weighted fanny packs.
Perhaps the most complex costume in the show is that of the Beast, which includes stilts and custom-made masks constructed on plaster molds of the performers’ faces. Beck-Ard said this work also had to be done in triplicate for Sims as the Beast, his understudy and his body double, who appears on stage in some scenes while Sims, offstage, provides the voice.
Sims said playing the Beast has been a huge effort; he spent hours on weekends just learning to walk in the stilts. He said he’s also had to learn to adjust his movements to move convincingly, as if he is as large as the Beast. With all the fur and padding to bulk him up, he said, the costume is also hot, adding to the role's physical challenge.
“If you’re not sweating when you come off stage, you’re not doing it right,” said Sims.
Sims, who played Baby John in the CSD production of “West Side Story,” said in addition to the physical challenges of the role, he’s also had to adapt to playing a character who is angry and misunderstood. Sims, who said he is naturally pretty extroverted, has spent a lot of time studying the character and watching versions of Beast from the movies and recordings of the Broadway production of “Beauty and the Beast.” He said he’s also worked a lot with Beck-Ard to understand the other layers to the character to portray more than just anger.
“It’s daunting, for sure,” he said of playing the Beast. “It’s such a complicated role because the Beast has a lot of emotions going on all at the same time that you have to convey all at once.”
He added that he’s made custom playlists to listen to get him into the mood for the show. “Jungle” by the X Ambassadors is one of his favorites for getting into the anger of the Beast and “Let You Down” by NF is helpful in getting into the more conflicted parts of the character.
Clark, who has been in the ensemble in several past CSD shows, said Belle is by far the largest role she’s taken on.
She said the part is so large that she struggled at first. However, she said, the cast has been supportive as she’s learned the role.
“It’s stressful but it’s magical. The show is magical.”
Clark added that she has grown a lot through learning the role and being a leader in the show. She said she also has learned a lot from getting into the character of Belle, who is kind, strong and always herself.
“She is who she is and she’s unapologetic for it,” she said.
As for the rest of the cast, Clark said they've put so much of themselves into their characters that the show will be a fresh experience even for people who've seen "Beauty and the Beast" before.
“It’s an experience,” she said. “It’s an amazing emotional journey.”