By MIKE CHAIKEN
Bristol Theatre Arts is a community theater. And that mission helped guide director Cassie Taylor when she led the effort to bring the musical, “Beauty and the Beast” to the Memorial Boulevard Stage this weekend.
Cassie explained she wanted to direct the Disney musical because “BTA is a community theater, and we really pride ourselves on that. We aim to produce shows that everyone in Bristol and its surrounding areas will want to attend and love.”
BTA’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” two years ago was what gave Cassie the insight to tackle the 2012 production. When BTA performed “The Wizard of Oz,” Cassie said “the community was so delighted with the show.”
Thinking about the whys and wherefores, Cassie said she felt the positive response was due to “The Wizard of Oz” being “one of those timeless tales everyone can enjoy.”
Cassie sees “Beauty and the Beast” as being in the same vein as “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I’m almost 30 and my friends and I love ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and its characters, just as much as my 6-year-old niece.”
The story line for “Beauty and the Beast” in some ways has become a literary archetype as many creative ventures took inspiration from the tale’s basic premise.
“I really believe this story is about what it means to be human at the end of the day,” said Cassie. “That’s what makes it so timeless and why it has remained popular for hundreds of years.”
Cassie continued, “As humans, we are all prone to judge. It is natural. However, in doing so, we risk making false assumptions about people. ‘Never judge a book by its cover.’ ‘First impressions aren’t always what they seem.’ I grew up hearing these things and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is the perfect example of how wrong we are in our judgments sometimes. By choosing not to give someone a chance, you could miss out on your soul mate (e.g. Belle and the Beast), a potential best friend, or a life changing experience.”
The music of the show also appeals to Cassie as a director and performer.
“Alan Menken, the composer, is amazing,” said Cassie. “Although I pretty much love any score he creates (such as ‘Little House of Horrors’ and ‘Newsies’), I consider ‘Beauty and the Beast’ some of his best work,” said Cassie. “The music is the perfect blend of uplifting and dramatic.”
Cassie said, BTA’s musical director, Sally Kish, feels it’s one of the loveliest scores she played.
The lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice are just as important to the show, said Cassie. “If you come see the show, listen closely to Gaston’s song ‘Me.’ It is hilarious. The lyrics capture the character of Gaston perfectly.”
To put BTA’s own particular stamp on the show, Cassie said she has added a children’s chorus to the proceedings. The children serve as the enchanted castle staff in songs like “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again.”
Ask to speak about her leads, Cassie said, “I feel so humbled to be working with this phenomenal cast. Everyone is so incredibly talented.”
“For example,” Cassie explained, “Gaston, played by Vinnie Santiago, has a very physically demanding role. He not only has to sing and dance, he has to sing and dance while picking up some of his cast mates and carrying them around the stage. Our Lefou, Zach Cote, is a great sport by the way. He’s typically on the receiving end of everything Gaston does. He gets smacked across the face, bonked on the head, temporarily blinded, knocked down…you name it. Yet he never misses a beat. His comedic timing is impeccable.
As for BTA’s choice for Belle, Elizabeth Adams, Cassie said, she “is quite incredible too… (She) graduated with a vocal performance degree from Boston Conservatory. She has two big ballads in the show and I get chills every time she sings them. She is just lovely.”
And you can’t have “Beauty and the Beast” without the Beast. And Jimmy Donohue takes on that role. Cassie said of the title character, “He is able to portray the Beast’s wide range of emotions well… With Jimmy… you start to see that there is a tender teddy bear hidden under all that grizzly fur. Trust me, he does get scary, but a transformation occurs.”
“Finally,” Cassie said, “if you are a fan of the Broadway production, you will adore our Maurice, Robert Harrison. No joke, he sounds exactly like Tom Bosley, who originated the role. The vocal quality is uncanny.”
BTA will be performing “Beauty and the Beast” in the auditorium at the now closed Memorial Boulevard Middle School, which at one time served as the city’s high school.
“Any theater lover who has stepped foot in the Memorial Boulevard knows what a gorgeous and unique stage we have sitting right here in Bristol. They don’t make venues like that anymore. It may have been built in the 1920s, but whoever constructed that theater knew what they were doing. This isn’t a stage you would usually find in a school building. There is a mezzanine, dressing rooms, a work area for construction purposes, a ticket office, fly space for set pieces and other aspects that are only typical in professional theaters,” said Cassie.
“Memorial Boulevard has always been on the top of our list for show venues,” said Cassie. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t always perform there when the school was open… (since) the theater doubled as a band rehearsal space. Therefore, bringing our annual October production to the school would have been disruptive to the students.”
But now, with the school closed as an education facility, BTA is able to fulfill its dream.
“Memorial Boulevard carries a lot of positive energy from decades of theater productions here in Bristol,” said Cassie. “Since my husband and I moved to the area (he’s from Bristol originally and is a St. Paul’s graduate), I’ve met so many theater people who have shared wonderful memories with me of their performances on the Memorial Boulevard stage.”
In fact, there will be a connection with those productions of old when “Beauty and the Beast” opens. Claudia Peronace, who plays the part of Madame De La Grande Bouch, the castle’s wardrobe and resident opera diva, used to perform at Memorial Boulevard with Bristol Civic Theatre, which was the predecessor to Bristol Theatre Arts.
Cassie said, “I’m really excited to watch actors like Claudia share the Memorial Boulevard stage with a whole new generation of actors as young as five-years-old who have never experienced the space. It will be like a passing of the theater torch here in Bristol.”
Tickets are now on sale for Bristol Theatre Arts’ production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” which will be performed Oct. 5 to 7 at the Memorial Boulevard Middle School Theatre in Bristol. Tickets are available on-line at www.bristoltheatrearts.org. Tickets also will be available for purchase approximately one hour before each show at Memorial Boulevard Middle School.
Ticket prices range in cost from $15 to $20 for the 2 p.m. matinees on Oct. 6 and 7, and $17 to $22 for the 7:30 p.m. evening performances on Oct. 5 and 6. There is a $2 discount for seniors and children under 18.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN