‘Beauty and the Beast’ coming to TBT

One of the most beloved Disney classics, “Beauty and the Beast,” opens this week at Thunder Bay Theatre where cast and crew members have poured all their creative energies into interpreting the show for the theatre’s small, intimate stage.

“This is something audiences here have never seen before at TBT,” said core company member Jeff Mindock, who landed the plum role of the Beast.

The traditional fairytale of “Beauty and the Beast” was first published in France in the mid-18th century. It is the enduring story of love and friendship that has been translated into hundreds of versions worldwide. When Walt Disney released the animated feature film in 1991 with a score by composer Alan Menken and the late lyricist Howard Ashman, it was hailed as an instant classic.

Unique costumes play a key part in the production, and TBT was helped along by a $2,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan that was earmarked specifically for the show’s wardrobe.

How best to use the restricted space and how to adequately convey all the different locations without cumbersome set changes presented additional challenges, but those involved in the production process are excited about their finished product. The large cast of 21 is a mixture of core company members and community residents who have melded together and are now ready to thoroughly entertain audiences coming to see the show.

“Everyone realized this was a big undertaking for us and made it happen,” said TBT core company member Nickie Hilton.

“It’s been great,” agreed Mindock. “It’s been an all hands on deck with everyone a part of the company now it’s not just the six of us.”

Even with the grant, TBT Artistic Director Kevin Reams said he quickly found out that renting elaborate costumes from a professional source cost considerably more than the $2,000. Everyone brainstormed and sent out feelers amongst those they knew in the theatre world, with Mindock ultimately finding a school in his hometown in Pennsylvania willing to let TBT use the most difficult costumes to replicate, such as the teapot and the lumiere.

Costumer Suni Speaks needed to tweak several of the borrowed pieces for the various actors. She also made or pulled together many additional costumes.

“We put the costumes and the performances as the two highest priorities,” said Reams, adding that he’s extremely pleased with the singing and acting ability of everyone in the show.

When it came to the set, the production team opted to make use of an 8×10-foot projection screen for backdrops, scenery and some shadow puppetry. This freed up more space for the cast to move around on the stage, especially for those with awkward sized costumes or during big musical numbers.

“The show takes place in a lot of locations, and our stage is so restrictive,” said Hilton, who besides playing Mrs. Potts is technical director. “Our stage also is a little too small to be rolling in pieces, so we started creatively thinking.”

Besides Hilton and Mindock, other TBT core company performers with major roles are Amy Groen as Belle and Rocky Cooper as Gaston. Groen and Cooper also teamed on musical direction for “Beauty and the Beast,” with Lara Dunleavy Torres as choreographer.

Nick Hartman plays LeFou, Rick Messler appears as Maurice, Scott Meier is Monsieur D’Arque, Karisa Meier is Babette, Dylan Goike is Lumiere, Colin Marshall is Cogsworth, Josh Meier is Chip and Beth Matzke is the Wardrobe.

Others cast in the show include Hannah Matzke as a silly girl/enchantress; Nikita McCallum and Kristen Mainkal as silly girls, Bill Powell as a bar patron/baker, Garrett Powell as a bar patron, Pam Powell as a bar maid, Allison Kania, Lillian Broad and Jessica McEachern as townspeople/enchanted objects and wolves; and Conor Larkin as a bookseller/crony.

Behind the scenes, Puja Tolton serves as stage manager, Joe Rybarczyk on lights, Pam Powell on scenery painting, and Zach Clement on set and lights.

Performances of TBT’s “Beauty and the Beast” are slated for Nov. 21-Dec. 15 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

No performance is scheduled on Thanksgiving. For reservations, call the box office at 354-2267.