No one wants to spend their holiday season arguing over entertainment. So, if you’re looking for a classic musical that’s sure to please the whole family this holiday season, check out the Arvada Center’s newly imagined production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast!”
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This tale as old as time is the third show in the Arvada Center’s 2022–2023 season. The plot revolves around the relationship between a prince, whose arrogance caused him to be magically transformed into a beast and caused his servants to turn into household objects, and Belle, a lonely girl who feels more at home in a book than in her hometown. The witch who curses the prince told him that in order to break the spell, he must learn to love another person and have them love him back.
Watch the Beast and Belle fall in love in this timeless story that features Alan Menken’s original songs, dancing candlesticks and a mob of angry French people determined to keep them apart! The stage musical is based on the 1991 Disney movie of the same name. Since the 1930s and 1950s, Disney has been attempting to create an animated adaptation of the Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve fairytale Beauty and the Beast, but has had difficulty adapting the story for the big screen. It was not until the studio decided to musicalize the project that the project managed to get off the ground and was developed into the iconic Academy Award-winning film.
The studio chose to turn the movie into a stage musical as a result of the movie’s enormous critical and financial success. The production featured six new songs written by Howard Asham and Tim Rice in addition to the eight songs from the original animated film and a musical number that was brought back to life after being cut from the movie. The musical opened on Broadway in 1994, where it was a massive commercial success and ran for over thirteen years. The production was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won one for costume design. It has since gained popularity and become a staple production for regional and community theaters across the world.
Leading the Arvada Center’s production of Beauty and the Beast is director Kenny Moten. This is Moten’s first production as a director at the Arvada Center, but he is a seasoned professional. It’s been a rather busy year in the theater world for Moten. He directed “Murder on the Orient Express” at the Candlelight Theatre, “Freaky Friday” at the Aurora Fox and “Cabaret” at the OpenStage Theatre Company, as well as coordinated the national tour of the 2017 show he produced and directed called “Motones vs. Jerseys.”
Moten was overjoyed at the prospect of working with the Arvada Center on Beauty and the Beast.
“This is just such a fun show, and it was exciting to do a show for the holidays that wasn’t specifically about a holiday,” Moten said. “The show has something for everyone, and I think it’s just such an escape from the harshness of the world.”
Moten’s first exposure to the story was through hearing the original fairytale as a little kid, but the version that made the biggest impression on him was the Disney film. “It’s the film of my generation,” Moten said. “But I do have a special place in my heart for the Broadway musical version that I attended while working as an actor in New York.”
Moten is excited to work on a show that honors the previous adaptations while creating new moments as well.
“I didn’t want this to feel like an amusement park show,” Moten said. “This is theater. The reason this story has been around for 300 years is that it’s tethered to real human emotions. So, while it is still the Disney extravaganza that you remember from the movie, we’ve talked a lot about playing this version a little more human and allowing this special group of people to create stellar musical theater.”
Zina Ellis stars in the production as Belle and is thrilled to be making her Arvada debut. She has always admired Belle and felt a connection to her as a strong, intelligent character with a big heart. Ellis admires how Belle sticks to her convictions but is also able to see beyond appearances, which inspires those around her to be their best selves, too.
“I hope to find the human, truthful moments in every part of her journey, from not fitting into her hometown and her relationship with her father to experiencing magic in the castle and finally connecting with the Beast,” Ellis said. “It’s an honor to play a character who is such a great role model and who means so much to so many people of all ages.”
Though the characters are surrounded by a community of people who care about them, The Beast and Belle are both isolated characters. Moten was interested in exploring the effects of this isolation and how the characters create community again after being so cut off from the world.
“It’s the same story, but the isolation piece, I think, is something everybody can identify with after the experience of these past few years,” Moten said. “We all experienced such intense isolation and had to relearn how to meet each other again after the pandemic. I think there’s a part of that in this story that I want to come through.”
While he’s dedicated to bringing the script’s themes of isolation to life on stage, in the rehearsal room, Moten focuses on the joys of creating with other artists. He jokes that even on their worst days, it’s still better than when they were all on Zoom. Moten is enjoying the rehearsal process and the opportunity to work in person on musical theater again.
Local actor Barret Harper, who plays Lumiere, the Beast’s loyal candlestick servant, described the creative process as a refreshing synergy that both honored the source material and gave the character a modern sensibility.
“The greatest opportunity with a stage musical adaptation of an animated film is to take a two-dimensional animated character and make them real,” Harper said. “Kenny has brought a lot of new vision that gives the audience a lot of what they expect but also challenges some of those traditional looks and has made something very visually and mentally engaging for all audience members.”
For Moten, this show overall has been a reminder of the power of community.
“This has been such a joyous collaboration with the designers here at the Arvada Center and every single other artist on stage and offstage that made this production possible,” Moten said.
Ellis enjoys having the freedom to make the character her own and have fun during the rehearsal process. “There has been so much thought put into all of the direction, designs, and choreography, but the team has also been open to the ideas the cast has brought in,” Ellis said. “This process has been truly lovely, and I’m excited to share what we’ve been working on.”
“Beauty and the Beast” opened on Nov. 25 and will run through Dec. 31 at the Arvada Center, located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. in Arvada. For tickets and more information, visit The Arvada Center’s website at arvadacenter.org.
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