Theatre Guild of Simsbury presents a tale as old as time to enchant the Farmington Valley this November with a unique interpretation of Disney’s “Beauty & The Beast,” 25 years since the Disney animated film.
Artistic Director Jane Cerosky, making her debut at TGS, has assembled a talented cast of about 40 adults and children to bring this classic Disney fairytale to life, staging it as a bedtime story-inspired dream.
“I am very honored for the trust TGS has put in me to direct this show. My vision is to be true to the story, in part by making the audience relate to the characters as real people, not just caricatures,” she said.
TGS jumped on the opportunity to be one of the first adult community theaters in Connecticut to perform the musical once the rights became available again at the close of the Broadway tour in July. The group read it back in 2010. It’s an “enchanting story for young and old,” TGS president Donna Sennott said.
Years after an enchantress turns a prince into a beast (Patrick Spadaccino), he takes bookish Belle (Kimberly Korfel) as prisoner in place of her inventor father Maurice (Rick Anderson, of Simsbury). Belle may be Beast’s last chance at true love to break the spell before the last rose petal falls.
“I’m thrilled to be playing the Beast because this play is a powerful story of love and transformation, with lots of wonderful music and humor sprinkled in – there’s a little something for every audience member to enjoy,” Spadaccino, of Middletown, said. “Since I wear heavy makeup through most of the show, I can’t depend as much upon facial expressions and similar physical subtleties. I need to convey a range of emotions – scorn, regret, anger, tenderness, sorrow, love – while most of my body and face are obscured.”
Meanwhile, manly, narcissistic hunter Gaston (Geoff Ruckdeschel) has his sights set on wooing and marrying Belle much to her distaste. When rejected and publicly humiliated, he orchestrates a dastardly scheme, amid his daily diet of five dozen eggs, to put Belle’s father in the loony bin with the help of his goofy sidekick, Lefou (Al Girard, of East Hartford), and Monsier D’Arque (Rick Rendiero), head of the asylum. When Gaston sees Beast as a threat to his future with Belle, he rallies a mob to kill him.
Going beyond a fairytale about love and good versus evil, “Beauty & The Beast” teaches “how appearances can be deceiving, for beauty is found within.” The physical transformations of the Beast and his subjects symbolize personal transformation and character arcs.
“Transformation stories are very powerful, but in order for such tales to work, the audience must witness and become engaged in the transformation,” Spadaccino said. “Both Belle and the Beast change dramatically over the course of the show, and audiences need to care about these characters. They must want them to change and celebrate with them when they do. So, while this play is a fantasy, there needs to be enough realism to create that audience engagement.”
Deeply immersing himself in the character, he wrote a journal in Beast’s perspective about his backstory.
“That helped me to better understand why the Beast is the way he is. What made him so cruel and uncaring? Why was his generous, loving nature suppressed for so long? What is it about Belle that helps him finally change?” Spadaccino said. “Physical training was also part of my preparation for this role because the Beast has both dance and combat scenes. I experimented with different movement styles to help convey the discomfort and awkwardness of changing from a man into a beast, and I did weight and aerobic training to reduce the likelihood of injuries.”
Windsor Locks native and Torrington resident Ruckdeschel, who is playing a lead character and villain for the first time, also worked out a lot to build Gaston’s physique. He enjoys putting his own take on the character, also mindful of “certain expectations for the well-known villain of ‘Beauty & The Beast.’”
Korfel studied musical theater performance at Hartt, where she met choreographer Tracy Funke, of Manchester. In addition to singing a lot, she has been “studying the character as Disney created [Belle] and using what we know about the beloved princess to help complete unwritten pieces of her story.”
“I am so grateful to be joining this wonderful group of dedicated and talented performers! Playing the role of Belle is an absolute dream!” Korfel, of North Granby, said. “She has always been one of my favorite Disney characters and I am beyond honored to bring her to life in this production.”
It’s also a blessing to have the rare opportunity to act alongside her oldest daughter in the show, she said.
“I could not be more proud as I watch her learning how much hard work goes into a production of this scale and seeing her rise to the challenge,” Korfel said.
A 20-piece orchestra, led by music director Willard Minton, plays Alan Menken’s award-winning score.
“From boisterous full ensemble production numbers like ‘Gaston,’ ‘Human Again’ and, particularly, ‘Be Our Guest’ to sensitive and introspective solos and duets sung by Belle, the Beast, and Mrs. Potts (who gets to sing the title song!), the score is one of the most beautiful I have ever worked with,” Minton said. “The very first Disney animated musical to be fully adapted to the Broadway stage, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a show that speaks to all ages, and should not be missed.”
Costumer Cindy Braunlich sews even more magic into the production with elaborate and stunning costumes, including rentals from three warehouses and others she is building with the help of volunteers.
“You have to strike the right balance between what the audience expects to see (i.e. Belle’s golden ball gown) and putting your own mark on the show so it is a visual exciting to watch,” said Braunlich.
Cerosky said she is proud of the work the leads have done to prepare and that she knows the musical “will be a blockbuster” with the talented cast and production team – including set designer Doreen Cohn, lighting and sound designer Michael Hunter, Dian Pomeranz on set dressing and props, stage manager Heidi Bengraff and Assistant Director Randy Ronco, who is overseeing stage combat.
“This is a big show that requires the best team in the area and we all are going to make TGS very proud with this production,” Cerosky said.
You can see the magic of “Beauty and the Beast” at Simsbury High School, 34 Farms Village Rd., on Nov. 12 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 13, 19 and 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $19 for students/seniors and $22 for adults when purchased in advance online at www.theatreguildsimsbury.org, $21 for students/seniors and $24 for adults at the door and $18 for students/seniors and $20 for adults when purchased after Oct. 17 at the Simsbury Senior Center or Fitzgerald’s Foods in Simsbury.