Sadness at summer’s passing has been tempered in recent years with the knowledge that exitStageLeft Productions will be back with another amazing musical production.
Excitement is mounting for the local take on Disney’s hit Beauty and the Beast, which opens at ArtSpring this Friday, Aug. 23.
“We try to pick shows that you can’t compare to the previous year, ones that stretch us and our people artistically,” said Christina Penhale, exitStageLeft’s co-artistic director, who is also co-director and co-producer of Beauty and the Beast.
“We also choose shows that we’re passionate about, and those ones usually happen to have bigger meanings; we like to make our audiences think,” said Jekka Mack, who partners with Penhale on all of the above roles.
This summer’s show is more about having fun, but it does exercise the company’s skills. Beauty and the Beast features not only the largest cast ever assembled for an exitStageLeft show but also the most ambitious set design and elaborate costumes in the company’s history.
Bringing a popular musical to the stage is no easy task for a small-scale theatre company, but having islanders with professional training in theatre, music and dance means there is a great team to work with. Music director Wendy Milton says there is an incredible amount of work involved in creating a musical, and endless hours to bring the musicians and singers where they need to be. As one of the musicians herself, as well as conductor, Milton has to understand both the overview and the intricacies of each part.
In addition to working with each singer to ensure they sing in tune, in time with the correct harmonies and diction within the chorus, Milton had to assign the parts so the company’s seven musicians could cover for five other instruments not in their collective.
“I worked measure by measure through a 980-page orchestral score to sort out who is able to cover the missing parts, and communicate these to each player, who then had to actually cut and paste them into their already busy parts,” Milton said.
Performer strength can make or break a show. The magic of theatre wouldn’t be as effective, though, without the elaborate preparations that go into creating a full world on stage with integrated design in sets, props and costumes.
Multiply the challenges by a few magnitudes when the show’s plot revolves around actual magic. Beauty and the Beast production director Therin Gower had to contend with a monster as a main character and his entire staff of animated household objects as supporting cast.
Beauty and the Beast’s fabrication team of Christie Roome and Andrea Perrino has gone all-out. They’ve included lighting devices, such as wolf masks with red LED eyes (courtesy Roome’s husband Loch), and had help from island friends in software engineering and robotics to create a truly believable magic mirror. Great fun was had devising inventions and headgear for Maurice, who is the eccentric father of the heroine, Belle.
On the whole, the team has been able to accomplish what they wanted to create by thinking things through and creative brainstorming.
Beauty and the Beast has seven shows between Aug. 23 and 31 at ArtSpring. The Aug. 25 show is a special Sunday matinee performance at 2 p.m. featuring discounted youth tickets.