The West Hartford Community Theater production of ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’ opens Nov. 11, 2016.
By Ronni Newton
Most people know the story of “Beauty and the Beast,” but Dana Sachs, who is directing the West Hartford Community Theater’s (WHCT) upcoming production, said this version is definitely different from what’s usually seen in community theater.
The musical tells the story of a young woman named Belle and the Beast – a prince who has been trapped under a spell and can only be transformed if he learns to love and be loved. Time is running out for the Beast as well as his household, all of whom have been turned into semi-human objects and risk the threat of being “doomed for all eternity.”
“There’s the whole princess-y thing, but our Belle doesn’t fit that stereotype,” Sachs said of Anna Kelly, who plays Belle. “She’s a bit different, but in a good way,” he said.
Sachs, who is from southern Connecticut and has an extensive resume spanning 45 years as an actor and director, said the intent is to make the production unique, “without taking away from the fairy tale.” It’s a classic, and this is the Disney version of the musical, he said.
“I haven’t changed the lines, haven’t changed the music, haven’t changed the characters – yet as artists they want to find something to make it their own production,” he said.
Sachs’ interpretation is slightly darker, but he thinks it creates a better balance and makes the show not just a comedy played for laughs.
The Beast is played by the very talented Michael McDermott of West Hartford (whose wife, Meghan McDermott, is the choreographer). The Beast has a line, Sachs said: “‘There’s so little left of me.’ It’s such a striking line, and he’s watching it happen, unable to stem the tide of what’s happening to him,” said Sachs. He thinks it’s better for the actors to be able to explore the fuller territory of their characters.
“The moment that really strikes me is when the Beast is singing the emotional song ‘If I Can’t Love Her,” Producer and WHCT President Terry Szymanski said. “Dana [Sachs] said that you have to show the audience your pain so they will sympathize with you.” His characters are not caricatures, she said.
“The audience knows they’re supposed to root for him, but the character should earn that,” Sachs said.
Sachs made the Beast’s mask himself, out of surgical gauze. It’s sculpted to the exact specifications of McDermott’s face so it stays on much more securely and you can see his eyes. “He’s a very physical Beast, and he can be that without worrying that his mask will slip,” Sachs said.
Another difference in the WHCT production is that the wolves are somewhat scary. “I didn’t want cute wolves,” Sachs said. “There should be a sense of danger, earning what the audience should feel.” Szymanski agreed that it’s a “dark scene.”
One other obvious difference is variety of actors, who range in age from 10 to almost 70. Sachs said that all rise to the occasion. “I think that actors will generally deliver only what you ask them to. I always want their literacy level to be one step above, and they’ve been up to every challenge,” he said.
They’ve taken chances, and have been great, he said. “My little wolves are ferocious,” said Sachs. He appreciates that the company has been so supportive of his approach.
Despite the somewhat darker vision of some scenes, the overall show is a comedy and there are many laughs, Sachs said. “Beauty and the Beast is a good book. Audiences are going to be very entertained and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Many in the cast and the production team of WHCT’s “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” are from West Hartford and surrounding communities, but others come from as far away as Cheshire, Middletown, Enfield, Suffield, and Preston. They are a dynamic mix of amateur and professionally trained actors, singers, and dancers working side-by-side, Szymanski said.
Many have worked on previous WHCT productions. “I think we’re a great group of people, welcoming right away,” Szymanski said.
The musical is directed by Dana Sachs and produced by Terry Szymanski, with musical direction by Ed deGroat and choreography by Meghan McDermott.
The musical, intended for people of all ages, will be performed at Hall High School, with six performance dates scheduled: Nov. 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 13 and 20 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (860) 992-9428 or purchased online at westhartfordtheater.org.
Cast members are:
Belle – Anna Kelly
Beast –Michael McDermott
Gaston –Ken Schroeder
Maurice –Peter Robinson
Cogsworth –Kyle Riedinger
Mrs. Potts –Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker
Lumiere –Nate Strick
Chip –Declan Smith
Babette –Rebekah Battersby
Madame de la Grande Bouche –Sarah Petersen
Lefou –Drew Lyon
Beggar Woman –Melissa Reda
Monsieur D’Arque –Bill Mullen
Abigail Burns, Maggie Keane, Alexandra van der Hulst
Meghan Fitzsimonds (also mini-Babette), Francesca Giordano (also mini-Babette), Gabriella Giordano, Jewel Hazlett, Zoe Healey, Mallory Mitzel, Yumeko Stern
Michael Dolan, Elijah Frazer, Matt Nelson, Peter Krzyzek, Bill Mullen, Lucas Pauluk, Harry van der Hulst
Sue Bailey, Ewa Callahan, Miriam Callahan, Lisa Camargo, Noreen Cavanaugh, Joan Delaney, Karen Finnegan, Tina Frazer, Jean Guthrie, Peter Krzyzek, Julie Levine, Matt Nelson, Nancy Ritter, Karen Shakun, Terry Szymanski
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