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Posted July 16, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Disney favorite closes out SU season

Jeff Brooks plays the part of Gaston
Jeff Brooks plays the part of Gaston in the Sheandoah University production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Rich Cooley/Daily

Actors rehearse for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast
Actors rehearse recently for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." The musical runs through Aug. 2 at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on the Winchester campus. Rich Cooley/Daily

Cast members rehearse
Cast members show their stuff during a rehearsal of the stage version of Disney's beloved animated film. Rich Cooley/Daily

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
David Weitzer plays "The Beast" and Beth Tarnow as "Belle" in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast". Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre will end its season happily ever after with its fourth show, "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."

"It's a real 'once upon a time,'" says director Hal Herman.

"[It's] totally different from the other shows. It's a romantic comedy; it's a period piece, set in France," Herman says.

The story tells of Belle, a young woman who lives with her father, Maurice, a quirky inventor. Inhabitants of the small, provincial town view Belle and Maurice as very odd, Belle because she would rather read than flirt with suitors, and Maurice because of his inventions.

This isn't to say the townspeople do not try to help Belle and her father become more like them. Belle's main suitor, to her dismay, is Gaston, a handsome though extremely conceited man, who will not give up on her easily when she turns him down time and time again.

"She's very particular about the guys in her life, and it's because of her dad," says Jeff Brooks, who plays Gaston. Constantly not receiving the desired answer to his proposals of marriage and consequently portraying the bad guy has not fazed him, though.

"I love it," he says. "The villain's the best guy. It's always fun to play the villain."

A terrible beast captures Maurice and Belle offers herself in the place of her father. The Beast accepts, and Belle finds herself facing a lifetime in the Beast's castle. Quickly befriending the castle's unlikely servants, Belle soon begins to notice that the castle holds a secret just waiting to be uncovered, such as that the Beast is really a prince under a magic spell.

The Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre performed the show four years ago and has since received countless requests for its revival.

"It has a magnificent set and there's a lot of imagination in the production," Herman says. "I've had a lot of people come to me and say, 'How did you do that?' and I say, 'It's magic.'"

"It's wonderful, it's wonderful for all people," says Nick Nerangis, who plays Maurice.

"It's based entirely on the film," Herman says of the Walt Disney animated film that premiered in 1991, though even that version was based on various fairy tales published in the 1700s.

"It's a beautiful story and it really was translated well to the stage -- it has a lot of excitement to it, and it's a very funny show," Herman says.

Costume designer Cheryl Yancey says she has tried to keep the show rooted in the late 1700s, like the plot indicates, but has had to make exceptions based on Disney's alterations, such as for the golden gown Belle wears in the final scene. Young audience members will expect to be carried over from the film version, she says.

"The gold dress is more Victorian, more 1860s," Yancey says, though she is not worried about elements of the story originating from different time periods. This only helps add to the fairy tale, she says. It's Disney's personal era, she explains, but mostly it's 18th century.

Disney era allows for other quirky characterizations, as well.

"[The townspeople are] peasants, but pretty peasants -- cartoon-land peasants," says Yancey -- not the sort of peasants that really lived in 18th-century France.

Since the plot is so saturated with magic, the cast and crew aim to convey that magic to the audience.

"The transformation of the Beast to the prince is an exciting moment in the show," says Herman.

"Objects that move seemingly on [their] own," Nerangis says also serve to convey that whimsical atmosphere.

Most of the real magic of theater, though, is bringing life to the characters.

"It's a lot of pressure. I feel like there's always a challenge to make her [Belle] a real person and not just what you see in the movies," says Beth Tarnow, who plays Belle.

"She's troubled ... she lost her mom, and it's just sort of her and her dad," she says. "She comes from a very lonely place, I think ... no one really gets her."

"The whole village thinks she's odd," says Nerangis.

"She is absolutely a dreamer," says Tarnow.

In the Disney film, "Crazy, old Maurice" is not as prominent a character as he is on stage, Nerangis says.

To help remain in character, even off stage Nerangis and Tarnow continue to act the roles of father and daughter.

"I am her support system, we are establishing our relationship," he says. "You have to have that to carry it on stage, because you have to be able to believe it."

Some of the most interesting characters, though, are the ones that most reflect the magic in the castle -- Lumiere (a candelabra), Mrs. Potts (a teapot) and Cogsworth (a clock). When the prince was turned into the Beast, his servants were also affected by the magic spell and were turned into household items.

To pull off the look, the actors will dress in giant costumes.

"My flaying hands can be challenging," says Matthew Gose, who plays Lumiere, but he says the costume is actually very comfortable. Gose, who is also the choreographer for the show, has planned sweeping dance numbers throughout the production, which help to pull off the magic, "without losing any of its original whimsy," he says.

Cast members say they feel that audience members, whether devout Disney fans or novices to the story, will each leave on a good note, humming the well-known tunes and reminded that beauty is found within.

"They'll have a wonderful time. They'll love the story, they'll love the comedy, and the production numbers are special fun," says Herman.

"Everyone old and young know this music," Brooks says.

David Weitzer, who plays the Beast, recommends that everyone young and old come: "Since this show transcends so many generations, [they should] take their kids and then come back with their own parents."

"I think it's a great way to end the season," says Tarnow.

"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" is the season's last musical in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre held at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre at Shenandoah University in Winchester. It begins July 22 and runs through Aug. 2. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. every Saturday and on July 29 and 30, at 2:30. For tickets or more information call the box office at 665-4569 or visit the Web at www.su.edu.

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