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Directors dream to bring 'Beauty and the Beast' to Victoria becomes a reality

By Bianca Montes
July 31, 2013 at 2:31 a.m.

Brett Jones stands after getting his make-up and costume finished for his dress rehearsal of "Beauty and the Beast" at the Leo J. Welder Center in Victoria.

The Story behind the stage

Live theater is magical.

From the opening moment when cool air circles your body as the curtains slowly rise to the grandest of stories unwinding as the actors sing and dance from the stage - it's surreal.

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" opens Aug. 1 at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts bringing one of the greatest love stories to Victoria. Many will walk away hypnotized by Belle's enchanting voice and the emotional transformation of the Beast, and behind the mystery, glamour and artistry of the grand production is a crew that brings everything together.

There's a big ol' beast on the stage at the Leo J. Welder Center, and it's not the handsome prince who turned into a monster.

Powered by two motors and a computer, the $20,000 "Beauty and the Beast" set twists, turns and moves up and down the stage, showing off a dungeon, library, balcony and bedroom, and it's all operated by one man.

Paul Locher has worked in numerous positions in the theater for more than 27 years, and when he saw the 500-pound-beast of a set, he knew it would be him operating it.

Locher works with computers at Industrial Motors and wasn't afraid of the computerized set despite having limited room to move it around the stage.

"They told me, 'just get ready for it - you're going to hit a wall,'" he said. "I've hit the wall a couple times."

When the Beast roars, the audience will feel his growls ripple across their skin, and it's all because sound designer Curtis Short is getting creative with sound.

"I'm responsible for everything the audience hears," the 20-year theater veteran said. "So when he growls, the whole audience will feel it."

When it comes to a musical, the sound is just as important as the lighting, Short said, so he's stacking the theater with 18 microphones to amplify the experience.

"People come to see, but they also come to hear," he said. "After the performance, if my ears are slightly ringing, I feel that I've done a good job."

Laura Klimist has been with the theater for almost 30 years and never has it had a production as big as "Beauty and the Beast," she said.

Thirty-seven characters will perform on stage and every one of them has their own story to tell, whether it's through dialogue, music or dance.

"Each one is different; that's what's so cool about this show," she said. "Everyone on stage has their own specific character that they're portraying for the audience, and they each have their own movements."

Klimist said typically a play of this magnitude has years to be perfected on Broadway, but this crew had only a couple months.

"There are times where I'll go through the process and I'll think, 'this is not going to work,'" she said. "Then all of a sudden, things start falling into place."

Klimist said while "Beauty and the Beast" is a huge ordeal to pull off, she's up for the challenge, saying she came out of her mother's womb dancing.

"I'm always looking for a challenge because it keeps it interesting and fun," Klimist said. "It's thrilling to empower people on stage and watch them become these characters."

Show dates and times

• WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Wednesday and Aug. 8-10, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

• WHERE: Leo J. Welder Center, 214 N. Main St.

• COST: $25 adults, $22 seniors and $19 students, military and children

• CONTACT: 361-576-6277

When Scott Mohon began working with Theatre Victoria, he immediately thought about what he wanted to bring to his stage.

"Beauty and the Beast" was one of the first movies he thought of.

"The only way to do 'Beauty and the Beast' is to do it right," he said. "I knew it was a massive show from sets, costumes, lighting, sound - everything."

But when he saw the price tag associated with bringing the production to Victoria, he knew there was no way the theater could afford it.

The entire production cost was in the six figures, Mohon said. The stage alone was $30,000 to rent and deliver to Victoria.

But over the years, the theater garnered support from sponsors and private support from the community, and eight years later, "Beauty and the Beast" will open at Theatre Victoria.

Q&A with the director

Is this the same Disney story that we all know and love?

It's exactly the same story as the movie. It's about acceptance, and it's about love, kindness, first impressions and getting to know people. It's about stereotypes - we have them all - and to watch the people change through the progression of the play; it's just a very well-written show.

There's comedy. There's drama. There's scary moments - you have a beast, and at the beginning, he's not so lovable. You have Gaston, and he's a buffoon. You have Belle, who's a princess, but she's not your typical princess; she's pretty strong.

How does it differ from the animation?

What you get to see is the humanistic aspects that you don't necessarily get to see in the movie. The one thing I love about theater is you get to see a more three-dimensional character and a little more of the humanistic emotions because you do have humans playing these characters who are becoming caricatures in a sense. You get to feel those emotions as they're delivering them on stage. That's the aspect of watching the movie come to life.

"Beauty and the Beast" has been referred to as the greatest love story ever told. How did you find the right chemistry in the actors during auditions?

During the audition process, we don't really find the chemistry, but we see what the possibilities are. What we do is we get to bring that relationship to life, and that's where the acting comes in.

What was it about Brett Jones that made you cast him as Beast?

I've worked with Brett on a few shows. He has an incredible voice. He's a very funny actor, and one of the roles I could have cast him immediately in would have been Lumiere just because he's kind of a natural for that. When we auditioned, I went, "I want to dig deeper into this, and I want to stretch and see where he goes because I know he can do it." He's an amazing talent.

Did his transformation into Beast surprise you?

When I first saw him in the makeup, I couldn't talk to him. That's the man I've known for seven years, and I could look into his eyes and I saw the man in his eyes, but there was nothing else there. And, it's not because the makeup is flawless but because of the physical transformation.

What about Kate Klimist as Belle? Why did you cast her?

She's just a charm and a delight and an unexpected surprise. She came in, and she made the role hers. It's not the role I would have initially thought for her just because I didn't think of her as the leading ingenue. In auditions, I went "where did this come from?" I knew she could dance. I knew she could act, but she can really sing.

And she's a younger performer. The maturity level of which she approaches the work and the discipline that she's given to the show; she learned that through her school and through our education program.

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