A new spin on an old story

Juneau Lyric Opera mounts a production of Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast'

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2007

Disney's 1991 award-winning animated version of "Beauty and the Beast" turned "Be Our Guest" into a household refrain. But those who catch the Juneau Lyric Opera's take on Disney's Broadway adaptation can expect a different spin.

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"Anyone who comes will recognize the songs, the characters and the story, but this won't necessarily look like a Disney adaptation," director John Longenbaugh said.

"Cartoons can do things that people on a live stage can't; but conversely, I think we've found humor and details in it that are very different from the cartoon. I think people will appreciate the difference."

"Beauty and the Beast," the surrealistic fairy tale of a blossoming romance between a belle and a half-man/half-monster, opens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Tonight's scheduled performance was canceled.

JLO's version is true to Disney Theatrical's Broadway version, which closed this January after 13 years on Broadway.

'Beauty and the Beast'

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 11; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, March 16-17.

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

Tickets: $18 for general audience; $14 students and seniors; at Hearthside Books and at the door.

Longenbaugh, from Sitka, lives in Seattle and received his directing degree from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. His last play was a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" with Seattle's Theatre Babylon. His last role in Juneau was a nonsinging part in the JLO's 1988-89 production of "Kismet."

"What this story tells us is there comes a time when as a child you have to transfer the love that you feel for your father to the love for someone that's more suitable," Longenbaugh said.

"Change is necessary and sought after. And secondly, part of becoming an adult is to learn to give your love to someone who frightens you at first, but ultimately turns out to give you a deeper sense of romantic attachment."

Alan Davis produces, Sally Smith serves as the musical director and William Todd Hunt handles the orchestral direction.

Many of the costumes in the play were acquired from Fairbanks Light Opera Production. Becky Engstrom visualized the choreography, Tanna Peters designed the set and Lucy Daigle controls the stage's elaborate projections.

The cast includes JLO regulars - Kathleen Wayne, David Miller, Phillipe Damerval, Brett Crawford and Jay Query - as well as a few new faces.

Lisa Ray, a 25-year-old Juneau actress, plays Belle, the beauty. This is the first theater experience for the 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate. In high school, she mostly played the flute in the pit orchestra.

Ray didn't try out specifically for the role but was asked to sing one of Belle's songs in a callback audition.

"When this came up, I thought it would be fun and it might open up the whole field of music theater," Ray said.

"The beast is going through a transformation, but she's going through this transformation too," she said. "She's starting to learn that things aren't always what they seem and you can't judge a book by its cover. She's a young person, so she's new to the whole idea of love."

Pennsylvania tenor Mark Kratz, fresh from his turn as Tamino in Opera to GO!'s "Arctic Magic Flute," plays the beast.

It takes 45 minutes to an hour in makeup to turn him into the beast. But there's just 47 seconds allotted for his transformation back into a man late in the play. No putty or plasticene is involved.

The beast has six opportunities to sing in the musical. None of those pieces are in Disney's animated version.

"Now that the beast has these songs, the first thing I had to think about is 'How do I act like an animal?'" Kratz said. "I spent a lot of time watching 'Animal Planet' and things like that trying to mimic some animal moves. You'll see moments where I am walking like a man, and others where I am much more beast."

Kratz lives just outside Philadelphia. He came to Juneau the day after Christmas to work on "Magic Flute." Three weeks into rehearsals for that play, he was invited to stay and work with Juneau Lyric Opera.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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