A tale as old as time will come to life when Umpqua Actors Community Theatre brings “Beauty and the Beast” to Umpqua Community College’s Jacoby Auditorium.
“I love ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” director Melody Schwegel said. “Beauty and the Beast is such a great family show. Everybody kind of knows the story. I grew up with this movie, I just love this movie.”
Based on the 1991 Disney film and dating back to a late 18th-century classic French fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of an arrogant prince cursed to live as a beast until he learns to love and be loved and the beautiful and intelligent Belle, who sacrifices her own freedom to save her father.
The Beast’s enchanted household, including such beloved characters as Mrs. Potts (Ashley Chitwood), Lumiere (Elliot Snyder), Cogsworth (Brian Simshauser) and Chip (Bryan Briggs), hope against hope as they watch Belle and Beast grow to understand and care for one another.
Schwegel said the play will delve deeper into these well-known character, making them more real. Each of the actors has worked to make these iconic roles their own.
Both Gaston (Tom Dunbar) and Lefou (Declan Whitworth) are darker and more villainous than their animated counterparts. Dunbar says his Gaston draws on the same charisma and unwavering confidence, but the character is a lot angrier and more willing to go the extra step to get what he wants than the original.
“One of the things that I think sets my Lefou apart from the one in the cartoon is that in the cartoon, he was kind of just a fool and he was redeemable but in this, he is still kind of goofy but he knows what he is doing and he likes it anyway,” Whitworth said. “I think he is a lot smarter than his cartoon counterpart.”
Hugh Heinrichsen, who plays Beast, draws more on feelings of regret, guilt and shame than the rage typically associated with the role. He believes that coming face-to-face with Belle and watching people he has known his whole life slowly succumb to the curse has the beast regretting the way he addressed the enchantress.
Autumn Carter (Belle) faces the challenge of both embracing a role she has wanted for a long time and bringing a Disney princess to life.
“She has a deeper love for her father in this and she is a little bit more reluctant to the beast,” Carter said. “Also, her hatred for Gaston gets heavier throughout the show and she doesn’t just push him aside but she more or less fights back, which I feel like the cartoon doesn’t as much. She is a deeper character and she has a lot more of her own girl power in this one.”
“This is kind of the princess everybody wanted to be,” Schwegel said. “She was smart and she was witty and she was very, very strong willed and as a woman it was a great character to kind of look up to in terms of Disney princesses.”
Each role brings with it it’s own obstacles: Snyder has struggled to find the right energy and accent for his Lumiere, Amy Cannaday, who plays Wardrobe, has vast experience as a singer and performer but little as an actor, and both Heinrichsen and Simshauser have wrestled with their costumes.
“For me, it’s actually the music side of it. There are so many of these songs that you grow up listening to as a kid but I don’t have a music background, so stepping into a musical-type role was definitely new to me,” Dunbar said. “But having someone next to you, almost in every scene, singing those songs, who is musically inclined definitely helps.”
The show will include famous songs from the movie as well as extras written into the Broadway play.
The production opens at 7 p.m. Thursday and will continue at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 4.
“As a kid, you’re just going to love it for the magic and the entertainment value,” Schwegel said. “For the adults, its the nostalgic characters.”