Since Disney released “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991, the world has embraced the heartwarming French fairy tale with open arms.
The film was the first animated movie to receive an Academy Award “Best Picture” nomination and spurred the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” production released in March that became the highest-grossing PG-rated movie of all time in the Unites States. Adapted for the Broadway stage, the musical “Beauty and the Beast” had 5,461 performances from 1994-2007 and off-Broadway productions played in 13 countries.
Capital City Productions has broken new ground of its own with the popularity of “Beauty and the Beast.” The Jefferson City theater company’s production of the musical has sold out tonight through Sunday and Aug. 17-20. The community can still catch production-only performances of “Beauty and the Beast” at 7 p.m. Aug. 24-25 and at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Shikles Auditorium.
The musical closely follows the classic film, where a young, cold-hearted prince is cursed by an enchantress to live out his days with the appearance of monstrous beast. His only salvation is to learn to love a woman and earn her love in return by the time the last petal falls from a magical rose. A young maiden, Belle, presents that chance when she offers to take her father’s place as the prince’s prisoner in his castle. Through the aid of the enchanted castle staff, Belle learns to appreciate her captor, with their budding romance possibly breaking the curse’s bonds.
Despite producing countless musical favorites for the past 20-plus years, Capital City Productions has never presented “Beauty and the Beast.” They decided to pull out all the stops in set design, costumes, theatrics, music and community involvement for this show.
Show director Nate Grey built more than a handful of large storybook pages, which were cleverly designed and painted with the help of his sister, friends, cast and crew, to lay the backdrop of each scene — including the woods and the castle library.
“(Shikles Auditorium) is a unique space. We don’t have wings … so we have to create our own wings. … To create our own wings, we built these books. They open the pages and add to the scene,” Grey said.
Grey and his crew also designed a lot of their own props, including the antler- and fur-adorned chair of arrogant antagonist Gaston, the tea cart and LED-lighted candelabras that provide the baroque castle ambiance to the stage and audience seating area.
The theater company has partnered with Vertigo, a professional flying effects company that has helped install tracks in the auditorium and trained cast members who will take flight during the show.
“We have eight people who will be flying in this production; that may be the most that has ever flown in Jefferson City,” said Rob Crouse, the theater company’s founder and president. “We had part of the apparatus in place when we did ‘Mary Poppins,’ but they have extended it further. … They can now fly the length of the auditorium.”
Audiences will also be dazzled by ornate costumes through another partnership with Costume World Inc. Marilynn Wick, CEO of the company and managing executive producer of The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum, has spent most of her life acquiring America’s largest collection of Broadway wardrobes, Crouse said. Iconic pieces seen on the local stage like Lumiere’s magnificent golden garment — complete with candle hands controlled by fans, lights and paper flames — bring an even more whimsical and elaborate flair to the live performances.
Producing “Beauty and the Beast” has brought another first for Capital City Productions. For two weeks in July, 36 children participated in the group’s first theater camp, performing “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” for their families and the community Aug. 4. Camp director Troy Donehue the campers not only learned their scripts and rehearsed, but also learned about background in theater, terminology and putting on a production.
“They learned along the way even though it is geared toward one show. But now they can use that information in any show they are in,” Donehue said, noting many of the children are excited for next year’s theater camp, with a production of “Shrek Jr.” before Capital City Productions’ presentation of “Shrek The Musical.”
Some new faces will grace the Capital City Productions’ stage in this production, like soon-to-be college freshman Tim Campbell, who sheds light-hearted humor to the enchanted candlestick, Lumiere. Many other seasoned actors have secured lead roles in this large musical cast, including Tori Stepanek as Belle, Brandon Sankpill as the Beast, Josh Lehto as Cogsworth and Audie Cline’s final stage performance as Maurice.
Cast members also invite the community to be their guest for a tea party noon-1:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at Shikles Auditorium. Families can interact with their favorite production characters, as well as participating in crafts, sing-a-longs, taking photos and other activities.
Those attending the shows and in the community are also encouraged to donate to the theater company’s book drive. More than 1,100 books have already been donated “to help boost Belle’s library,” the show’s co-music director, Michael Dodson, said.
“She will take the donation of her books to help the children at East Elementary School on Aug. 25, the last Friday of the production,” he said. Kindergarten through fifth-grade books are accepted, specifically third- through fifth-grade chapter books. Donations can be dropped off when attending the show or by contacting the theater company.
With the opportunity to visit with the cast following the performances, guests will have the complete experience of seeing a live Disney-inspired classic and making memories they won’t soon forget.
“Those moments and the anticipation for this show is what is so exciting. It is going to be a remarkable experience,” Crouse said. “We are so fortunate in Jefferson City to have this talent and quality of talent that we have. Many people would have to go to St. Louis or Kansas City to see something of this quality, but they can buy a ticket right here in their hometown.”
Tickets are $20 each for the four remaining production-only shows. To order tickets or for more information, call 573-681-9612 or visit capitalcityproductions.org.
Read a special Q&A with Tori Stepanek — or Belle — here.